Posted in Kafevend Blog
Following on from our article earlier this week about how chocolate is made, today we are going to travel backwards along the process and examine the beans themselves and their varieties.
Whilst all cocoa beans can be transformed into a myriad of chocolatey treats, all cocoa beans are not created equal. I'm sure most of us by now know about arabica and robusta coffee. Handily, cocoa beans are similar in that there are a small number of types used around the globe that go towards making the vast amount of the chocolate we consume. Let's take a look at them, shall we?
First up on our list is forastero. It is easily compared to the robusta variety of coffee as it is the most common and is typically seen as producing a lower grade of cocoa. It is also a hardier plant and produces a higher yield than criollo, which we will discuss in a while. Forastero is believed to have originated in the Amazon basin, but has since travelled further afield. Africa in particular uses mainly forastero trees to produces its cocoa crop.
Criollo is the crème de la crème when it comes to chocolate. Originating from Central America and making up only a tiny percentage of the cocoa grown worldwide, it is nevertheless widely sought after by the more fanatical chocolate eaters. Whilst it is capable of possessing more complex flavours than forastero, the plant's weakness to disease has seen it decline over the last couple of centuries. Those that remain however are still highly prized and serve as the basis for some truly gourmet chocolate.
The final item is Trinitario whose name may give you a hint as to its origin. Trinitario is a hybrid of the criollo and forastero varieties and emerged from the island of Trinidad in the middle of the 18th century. Almost a century before, criollo trees were brought from Venezuala to Trinidad and served as an important cash crop. However, their susceptibility to disease saw a crop failure in 1727. Forastero trees were brought in, and the two were interbred to create the hybrid Trinitario. Like forastero, trinitario can now be found across the globe in places like Africa, Sri Lanka and Samoa.
Returning to history once more, cocoa's travels around the world occurred as the result of European influence- namely sharp sorts who recognised a money spinner when they saw it. As the first from the Old World to get their hands on it, Spain was the first to start bringing cocoa from its homeland in Central America to the coasts and islands around the Caribbean. When the other European powers learnt about cocoa, they also established plantations on their conquests around the area. As their empires spread, so did cocoa. It made its way to South Asia and crept further north and south into the Americas, but the biggest impact of all was in Africa, whose many cocoa growing nations now see the continent producing the largest amount of cocoa in the world.