The key ingredient for chocolate treats from cake to hot cocoa lies within the cocoa beans. The production of cocoa beans is essential to chocolate, but not everyone knows what goes in to cultivating cocoa beans. The process of turning cocoa beans into chocolate starts in tropical regions of the world.
Thirty-three countries across the tropics grow cocoa, according to the World Agroforestry Centre. Cocoa trees were originally found within the Amazon basin but have since been cultivated for chocolate production in other areas between 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator. Countries such as Ghana, Ecuador and Malaysia all cultivate cocoa trees.
Cocoa trees (Theobroma cacao) need climates with high temperatures and lots of rainfall and humidity. The natural shade conditions of the rainforest lead cocoa trees to do well growing within shade. The soil has to be filled with organic matter and have balance in nutrients. Because of the specific requirements, the trees usually grow within carefully controlled nurseries until they are old enough to be planted in the field.
After reaching 3 or 4 years old, cocoa trees begin to produce their fruit -- the cocoa pod. Each tree produces between 20 and 30 pods, with each pod containing around 30 or more beans. Workers remove the ripe pods from trees using large knives, then split the pods to cure the beans by fermenting them, then drying them out.