The Cacao Plant
Cacao beans are seeds found inside the fruit or pod of the cacao tree. The cacao tree is cauliflorous, which means the fruit sprouts from the trunk or large branches. The tree begins to bear fruit three to five years after planting, and has a productive life of about thirty years. Cacao trees are typically planted three meters apart, with taller shade trees planted every twenty meters.
Depending on variety, a cacao tree may produce from 20 to over 100 pods per year, but the average is around 30. Each pod contains about 40 cacao beans. On a well maintained farm, each cacao tree will produce between two and three pounds of dried cacao beans per year.
Approximately 500 cacao beans will produce a pound of bittersweet chocolate.
The pods are harvested individually by hand, then sliced open to remove the seeds and surrounding pulp, which are gathered into piles for fermentation. Approximately 500 cacao beans are needed to produce one pound of bittersweet chocolate. One worker can harvest about 1500 pods per day—enough to produce nearly 120 pounds of bittersweet chocolate—while another worker takes a day to open those pods for fermentation.