Theobroma cacao L., family Sterculiaceae
Cocoa is the processed product derived from the beans of the cacao plant.
World production of cocoa exceeds a million tons, with Ghana producing 429,000 tons; Nigeria, 201,000 tons; Ivory Coast, 105,000 tons; Cameroon, 73,000 tons; Brazil, 94,000 tons; and Equador, 35,000 tons, with other countries of North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Oceania producing the balance. Of this amount, the United States consumes 25 percent; Germany, 13 percent; United Kingdom, 10 percent; and the Netherlands 9 percent ( Purseglove 1968*). Europe, as a whole takes over 50 percent and the American countries about 40 percent of the entire crop.

Description of the Cacao Tree
Theobroma cacao is a small understory tree native to the American tropical rainforest, which has evolved to utilize the shade of the heavy canopy. It originated in clumps along riverbanks in the Amazon basin on the eastern equatorial slopes of the Andes.

Cacao   Tree

Cacao Tree (Crillo)

The Cacao Tree is a shade tolerant, moisture loving, understory rainforest tree. It naturally favors riparian zones so often in the wild is found along rivers. The trees live for up to 100 years, but cultivated trees are considered economically productive for only about 60 years.
When grown naturally from seed the tree has a 2 meters deep taproot -- however in cultivation, most plantations use vegetative reproduction (cuttings) and that results in a tree without the taproot. Naturally Cacao grows to a height of 15 meters but cultivated trees are trimmed shorter to make harvesting easier. The main stem of the tree is called the Chupon and the leaves budding off of the chupon (where a fruit was) are a fan. When grown from seed, the Chupon grows single for 1.5 meters and then spreads into layers.
The leaves of Cacao are smooth bright green, oblong, about 15 cm by 8 cm. It is deciduous (it looses it's leaves) with new leaf growth in spurts 2 to 4 times a year. Shade leaves are longer than sun leaves in canopy area. Young leaves are reddish, making them less affected by the intense tropical sun and hang vertically to minimize sun damage. What is really fascinating about Cacao leaves is that they can move 90 degrees from vertical to horizontal and back to get better sun access and to protect young leaves! This is done with a node at the base of the leaf which changes its stiffness with temperature.

 The New chocolate - a revolution
Three varieties?

Criollo - the original
After the conquest of what is now Mexico, Spanish monks recorded the trade in cocoa beans, which for the Aztecs were both a form of currency and a drink of religious significance taken only by their aristocracy. The Aztecs traded in beans of differing quality in full knowledge of the origin of the beans - they were connoisseurs. When the Spanish adopted the use of cocoa as a drink, they followed the Aztec example, being very conscious of the quality and origin of the beans they used.
Later the Spanish gave various names to the original cacao beans so precious to the Aztecs but in the end the collective name that stuck was 'criollo', meaning (in this context) 'of the new world'. Beans of the criollo kind are still known and sought after as the best available and are used in many fine chocolates.ฺBut today account for only a few percent of the world's cocoa production.


Forestero - the foreigner
Once the habit of drinking chocolate made its way back to Spain and so on to France, England, Italy and the rest of Europe, demand soon soared. Slave labour from Africa was taken to the New World to replace the native population decimated from the diseases carried by the colonialists. They were put to work growing not just cocoa but also the sugar now obligatory in the chocolate being drunk in Europe (sweetening - with honey - being just one of the many flavouring options used by the Aztecs).
As Europeans explored the Amazon basin, they discovered another type of cacao growing wild. Known to the native population only as a fruit, the Europeans recognised this plant as cacao and soon found they could also produce cocoa from these plants. Later on these trees acquired the generic name 'Forestero', meaning 'foreign', to distinguish it from the Criollo grown and harvested for generations by the Maya and Aztecs.

Trinitario - The hybrid
Forestero was not the only answer to rising demand, and as the Spanish struggled to raise production in Mexico after millions of the indigenous population died from disease, they began planting Criollo in their other colonies; in Venezuela where it mingled with its ancestors and in the Caribbean. However, after waves of disease wiped out most of these trees in the 1720's, new Forestero trees were brought in as replacements.
These new trees naturally crossed with the remaining Criollo and soon a new variety was born - stronger than Criollo, better tasting than Forestero. The hybrid was named after the island where it first became commercially known - Trinidad. 'Trinitario' was born

.cacao tree

Development of Countries
The New World to thank for chocolate, but in the hands of the English, Swiss,  Dutch, and French it became the raw material for hundreds of tantalizing new users. In 1828 a Dutch chemist named Van Houten devised a press to extract cocoa butter from the mass of roasted ground beans. Soon other Dutch chemists learned that by alkalizing cocoa beans, they could reduce their characteristic bitterness.  A rough-textured  candy bar was created in England during the 19th century by Cadbury's.  Soon the Swiss entered the field, inventing machinery to knead the chocolate paste until its flavor was intense and its texture silky. The first Swiss chocolate factory was built in a former mill near Vevy, on the shores of Lake Geneva, by Francois-Louis Cailler who had learned chocolatemaking in Italy.  In 1879 another Swiss, Rodolphe Lindt developed the chocolate kneading technique known as conching which produces a smooth-textured solid eating chocolate.  Henri Nestle, a Swiss baby food manufacturer, developed a way to incorporate condensed milk into the candy, creating milk chocolate and Switzerland's place as the chocolate capital of the world. At the same time in the United States, Milton Hershey substituted fresh whole milk for the condensed milk  and the Hershey Bar was born.
Swiss chocolate has preserved its world fame for excellence because it has maintained and keeps improving its chocolate technology.  For example, one of the firms has developed a microfine structure in the chocolate after setting, increasing aroma and sheen and virtually eliminating the white coating (bloom) that sometimes appears on chocolate due to wide temperature fluctuations. The Swiss chocolate industry operates without any "corner-cutting," using the best raw materials which are necessary for flavor and aroma .
Switzerland is a dangerous place for a chocoholic on the wagon. There are about twenty chocolate manufactures operating in Switzerland today. The top four according to volume are Nestle, Tobler, Suchard and Lindt.  Forty tons of chocolate products are produced each day by Lindt.  There are about twenty chocolatier shops in Geneva alone.  In the Lake Geneva Region,  Confiserie Zurcher in Montreaux is considered the number one place on the rue du Casino for people watching while sipping hot chocolate and enjoying a splendid view of the lake.  The Zurcher family were among the pioneers in the Swiss chocolate industry who more than 100 years ago created a chocolate empire in this country so far from where cocoa beans are grown.  Everything for sale is handmade in the upstairs kitchen, including the classic Zurcher chocolate truffle in all of its variations. Besides its fame as a chocolatier,  Zurcher also produces cakes, cookies and pastries and their street-front store serves as a neighborhood bakery, pastry shop and tea room.  Chocolate master Max Muller, went through a classic Continental apprenticeship, a system still very much alive in Switzerland. At about fourteen or fifteen a young man combines his schooling with work and after three years has an excellent knowledge of his trade. At Zurcher for most of his career, he said  "We buy the best ingredients in small quantities so they stay fresh:  rich Suchard chocolate, heavy cream and butter, the finest fruits and nuts and no preservatives.  No tub of margarine has ever invaded these premises." Carefully packaged,  the truffles and other chocolate candies are sent all over Europe, America and, especially to Japan. The very first Zurcher establishment opened its doors in 1879 in the Hotel de Montreux. Arnold Zurcher, the founder, retired after 53 years at the helm of this family business.  Four generations later, Zurcher is now managed by Antoinette Zurcher, and Zurcher chocolates are still considered world class.  Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, mocha truffles, champagne filled truffles, cherries dipped in chocolate, almonds dipped in chocolate-there is something for everyone's tastes. The slim Muller , who admits to eating 15 to 20 chocolates a day, notes, "Chocolates are a happy product.  As everyone knows, eating something chocolate always makes you feel better!" Although it was milk chocolate that made Swiss chocolate famous, the "black" chocolate (bittersweet) is now the most popular.

In the 17th century,  Venezuelan cacoa displaced Mexico as the principal exporter of cacoa and by 1810 it was producing half the world's cacoa. With the coffee boom in America displacing cocoa and a war with Spain, its main trading partner, Venezuela's cacao trade went into a decline. With the discovery of petroleum at the beginning of the 20th century,  cacao plantations languished and growers shifted their attention to the more profitable oil industry.  Now cacao farming is making a comeback.  "That's good news," says Maricel Presilla of Chocolates El Rey,  "The cacao plantation is a wonderfully sound ecological system.  Cacao grows well with many other crops-coffee which is often grown underneath the towering cacao trees. Even small cacao farms can provide a respectable living.  This has meant the farmer has stayed on the land instead of going to the slums of Caracas. Where you see cacao, you see life. Maybe too much information: ( Between 1975 and 1989 the Venezuelan government held a monopoly on cacao, and bought beans from growers for a set price, regardless of quality.  As a result, the quality of the cacao crop declined. In 1989 the government endeavored to reorient the country towards a market economy by eliminating previous market distortions and creating a more free internal business environment.) Jorge Redmond Schlageter, a third generation Venezuelan and the president of Chocolates El Rey, a major Venezuelan chocolate producer, is working with farms to develop cultivation programs for criollo and trintario beans. For more than 400 years Venezuela sent most of its cacao to Europe for processing but in 1995 El Rey became the first Venezuelan firm to export its own premium chocolate. "The world's best chocolates have always depended on Venezuelan cacao beans to impart that extra touch of fragrance and aroma.  Yet, due to the fact  that so little Venezuelan cacao has been traditionally available on the world market, no major company was producing chocolate using 100% of this prized raw material" remarks Mr. Schlageter. "I see good times ahead in the renewal process of a world class agricultural business" he continues. To this end, El Rey has established an agricultural division to grow cacao with the most modern techniques available and to serve as a model for other cacao growers, so that top-quality beans will always be available in the future. "Chocolate is the original comfort food-after mother's milk, it's the taste children love the best," he says. Chefs and consumers now have greater choices with single source and chocolate blends. Mr. Schlageter cautions, Don't think in terms of the best chocolate, but use different chocolates in different recipes.  There are different styles and flavors just as with Burgundy, Bordeaux or Zinfandel."
Chocolate seems to have maintained its exotic, even romantic, image throughout the centuries and shows no sign of declining. Our selection features sinfully rich treats to make for your favorite valentine.