The cocoa plant is very difficult to cultivate, as it is not fructiferous outside the band between the Tropical of Capricorn and the Tropical of Cancer, the so called "belt of cocoa" which spreads along the Equator line. Once pollinated, the flowers become a pod ("cabosside") which contains about 30/40 seeds of almond shape known as "beans", which are surrounded by a sweet and juicy mucilage.
The plant has not a proper system to open the berry and scatter the beans: this means that the fruits must be cut by labourers who open the pods with a thin sharp knife and go ahead with the 4 successive stages of the production.
After the pods are cut from the trees, the beans with the adhering pulp are removed and covered with banano leaves in order to start the process of fermentation. This is really a very important stage because it develops the distinctive cocoa flavour and reduces the bitter taste of cocoa and the acidity of the seed. Fermentation takes 5 to 6 days, according to the different varieties of cocoa.
The beans are dried out by being spread out in the sun for 1 to 2 weeks: during this process the seeds change colour and lose more than half their weight. The humidity of the seed reduces from 60% to 5-6%.
This is really the starting point of chocolate and has a great value, as it creates the taste and the flavour of the cocoa through a series of chemical transformations, which allow the beans to lose more humidity and make the cocoa a little more friable and a little less astringent.
In this stage the tegument covering the cocoa beans is removed. Now the bean can be ground to obtain the cocoa paste.