Theobroma Cacao – the cocoa tree – originates in tropical South and Central America, but thanks to human intervention can now be found around the globe.

In the sixteenth century, the Spanish were the first Europeans were first introduced to cocoa. The beans were made into a beverage, which had little resemblance to the chocolate we know today, but Europeans quickly developed a taste for it. Beans were sent back to Spain and from there to France and by the seventeenth century, it had spread throughout Europe.

Around the same time, Europeans were colonising Africa and they took cocoa with them. They quickly found that soil and climate conditions in these newly conquered territories were ideal for growing the crop. Today, cocoa can be found growing around the world in a band stretching roughly 20 degrees north and south of the equator, but production in Ivory Coast and Ghana far exceeds that in the any other country in the world.

Cocoa Varieties

The genetics of cacao are complex and the subject of a great deal of scientific research and debate, but there are three main varieties:

Criollo

Criollo beans represent around 5% of the world’s total cocoa harvest. They are generally considered the finest flavour beans, but are more difficult to cultivate and yield smaller harvests.

Forastero

Forastero is the most common variety of cocoa, and is most commonly found in West Africa. It yields a bigger crop than criollo and is much hardier, but does not have the interesting flavour characteristics of criollo. Forastero beans are most commonly used in cheaper, bulk chocolate and confectionery products.

Trinitario

Trinitario is a hybrid of Criollo and Forastero and has some of the characteristics of both. As the name suggests, it originated in Trinidad after bulk Forastero was introduced to the local Criollo crop.

One of the most interesting things about cocoa is that there is almost an almost infinite array of genetics within these varieties. When combined with varying soil conditions and climates around the world, this helps produce a vast array of flavours in the finished chocolate.

Cocoa Origins

The varieties of cocoa being grown and local soil & climate conditions result in some cocoa growing regions (“origins”) having distinctive flavour profiles. Although much of the flavour of your chocolate bar is a result of the skill of the chocolate maker, chocolates from some origins often have distinctive flavours of their own.

For example, a chocolate made with West African cocoa often has a very one-dimensional profile, with a strong chocolatey flavour, but few of the more interesting flavour notes.

A Madagascan or Grenadan origin chocolate on the other hand, will often have very strong notes of red fruits or citrus, with variety of background flavours.

Part of the joy of tasting is learning to recognise different flavour notes and origins and discovering new ones for yourself. Our mission at Cocoa Runners is to help guide you through that process of discovery, bringing you the best chocolate from around the world while, and equipping you with the knowledge to seek out the best chocolate yourself.