Cocoa: Different varieties rule the world of Lindt & Sprüngli
A fundamental distinction is made between consumer and fine flavor cocoa. Consumer cocoa is cocoa with a robust flavor. It accounts for the largest share (90-95%) of total global cocoa production and is farmed mainly in West Africa. The remaining 5-10% of worldwide cocoa harvests are fine flavor cocoa. Fine flavor cocoa is a high-quality cocoa with nuanced, fine aroma. It is mainly farmed in Latin America and the Caribbean. We use special bean blends in our recipes. The blends are well-guarded secrets and give our chocolates the exquisite flavor. Nevertheless, we’ll tell you this much: Around one-third of all cocoa beans processed by Lindt & Sprüngli are fine flavor cocoa beans.
Here are the most important examples:
90-95% of the world’s cocoa harvest is commercial cocoa. Mainly cultivated in West Africa.
5-10% of the world’s cocoa harvest is fine flavor cocoa. It is cultivated mainly in Latin America and the Carribean. These types are famous for its fine aromas.
Cocoa - An extraordinary plant
Cocoa grows up to 20 degrees latitude north and south of the Equator. It is a shade-tolerant, moisture-loving, understory rainforest tree.
Cocoa grows from seed. The seeds will germinate and produce good trees when taken from pods not more than 15 days underripe. The original Criollo and Forastero cocoa trees take longer to become productive. Hybrid varieties can be harvested three to four years after planting.
Factors such as farm management, soil type, variety of cocoa tree, climate, diseases and pests have an immense effect on productivity. The yield of cocoa trees starts to decline around 30 years after planting. Rehabilitation in the form of replanting or grafting must be carried out during this period to restore the farm to its original state.
Optimal climate for cocoa trees
Cocoa trees respond well to relatively high temperatures with a maximum annual average of 30 to 32ºC and a minimum average of 18 to 21ºC.
Cocoa trees will make optimum use of any light available and are traditionally grown in the shade. Their natural environment is the Amazonian rain forest, which provides natural shade trees. Shading is indispensable, especially during a cocoa tree’s early years. On plantations, temporary (i.e. plantains) and permanent shade trees must be planted to protect the young seedlings from excessive sunlight or heat. A hot and humid atmosphere is essential for the optimum development of cocoa trees. In cocoa-producing countries, relative humidity is generally high: often as much as 100% during the day, falling to 70-80% during the night.
Rainfall plays a greater role in annual variations in cocoa yield than any other climactic factor. Trees are very sensitive to a soil water deficiency, so rainfall needs to be plentiful and well distributed throughout the year. An annual rainfall level of between 1,500 mm and 2,000 mm is generally preferred. Dry spells, where rainfall is less than 100 mm per month, should not exceed three months.
Correct maintenance – a key element of the cultivation process
Cocoa trees have the very unusual quality of bearing both flowers and fruit at the same time. The white, odorless flowers cover the main trunk of the tree. They are pollinated by midges (gnat-like insects) and occasionally by bats. Pollination usually occurs in the morning and the flowers die within 24 hours if not pollinated.
Pruning of a cocoa tree involves the removal of dead and lower branches, multiple stems, chupons, mistletoes and epiphytes. It is done after the main harvest. It is essential because it enables cocoa trees to receive more sunlight, improves aeration, and prevents black pod disease. Lack of pruning will result in too much shade on the farm. The farm will be too cold and diseases and pests such as black pod, moss and stem borers may attack the cocoa, which can reduce the yield of the farm.
The crowning glory
The main harvesting season usually starts in October and ends in March. The pods are suitable for harvesting every three to four weeks, after which they become overripe and the beans begin to germinate. It is therefore necessary to harvest at regular intervals as the pods do not all ripen at the same time. During harvesting, it is important not to damage the flower cushion, which produces the flowers and fruits of subsequent harvests. Care must also be taken not to harm the tree, which would make it much easier for parasitic fungi to penetrate the tissues of the tree. The pods are therefore harvested manually by making a clean cut through the stalk with a well-sharpened blade.
Each tree produces around 1,000 cocoa beans a year, which is only enough to make one kilogram of chocolate.
After harvesting, the beans are fermented and dried in the country of origin. They then set off on the long journey by ship to Amsterdam and on to Switzerland by train. Once here, we process them into cocoa liquor in our own factory and then transform them into many different types of chocolate products – but that’s another story.