The Three Types of Cocoa Bean

Over the years the cocoa trees have merged and mingled in the process called cross-pollination and this has resulted in a diverse range of beans that have distinct characteristics.

These produce a diverse range of flavors and are used for different types of chocolate production. While there are dozens of varieties of cocoa trees used in cocoa production around the world, there are three main varieties that make up the majority of trees you’ll find on a cocoa farm. Below is a brief description of each of these three.

Forastero

This variety is relatively easy to grow, so it’s a popular choice and is by far the most widely grown cocoa tree. In fact, over 90% of the world’s cocoa comes from Forastero trees.

Criollo

This is the bees’ knees in cocoa terms and is known for its high quality beans. These trees don’t produce as many pods as the Forastero so it’s rarer. They are also prone to disease and take a bit more work to sustain. Chocolate connoisseurs would say it’s well worth the effort as the end result is discernibly better but obviously, this comes at a price. Criollo trees aren’t grown in many countries and Venezuela is one of the biggest growers.

Trinitario

This is pretty much a combination of Forastero and Criollo trees and, as you would expect, it combines the good bits of both, although it’s seeds are thought to be better quality than Forastero. It’s basically a good compromise between quantity and quality. The Trinitario is hardier than the Criollo and puts up more of a fight against diseases. To try and alleviate problems with disease and production, many plantations will have a variety of trees and even if they don’t, the trees themselves are rarely identical.

Cocoa Bean Growing Conditions

As we’ve already discovered, the cocoa tree is native to the forests of Central and South America, enjoying a hot, humid environment but also a little shade. It’s now grown in many more regions but it is still limited to a relatively thin area around the equator, as pretty specific conditions are required for the trees to thrive.

It’s a pretty sociable tree and prefers to grow alongside other trees and plants. It’s for this reason that cocoa plantations don’t always follow the traditional style of uniform rows of trees evenly planted in an exposed area of land. The cocoa tree is a bit more haphazard and I think that’s a nice touch. Despite this rather bohemian attitude, the tree is actually pretty fussy when it comes to climate. Shade is good, but not too much, likewise just the right amount of sun and rain are essential. People have tried to persuade the cocoa tree to settle in places that don’t fulfil its rather exacting standards but the tree just wouldn’t play ball. Quite right too I say – when you’re producing the raw ingredient for the world’s favourite treat you can afford to make a few demands.

In the wild, the trees can reach up to an incredible 20 meters in height, however, when they’re planted they tend to be a bit shorter than this, to enable workers to more easily reach the pods. Can you imagine the ladders you’d need to reach cocoa pods at the top of a 20-metre tree? You definitely would want to suffer from vertigo.