Cacao beans, also called cocoa beans, are the primary constituent in making chocolate. Grown in tropical areas in South and Central America, West Africa and Asia, the cacao tree is often raised on small, family-owned farms, where the beans are harvested and prepared for market by hand. The beans grow in pods that form on the trunk and branches of the cacao tree. There is a specific harvesting process required to ensure the beans are ready for use in making chocolate, which include careful collection, fermentation, drying and packaging for shipping.
Identify ripe pods on the cacao tree. Cut the pod away at the stem using a machete or other sharp instrument. Remove pods high in the tree with a special knife mounted on the end of a pole.
Split each pod open by carefully hitting it with a wooden club or other blunt device to split the pod in half. Remove the slippery, light yellow, white or purple-colored seeds and the sweet, sticky, gelatinous pulp from within. Place the seeds and pulp into a sack or container for transport. Repeat this process until all the ripe pods have been harvested.
Place all the seeds and pulp into a large container with drainage holes in the bottom and allow them to ferment. Leave the container for four to five days, stirring the seeds and pulp once or twice during this time, until the seeds have turned dark brown and the pulp has liquified. The fermentation process causes the seeds to undergo a chemical change. Bitterness within the seeds will diminish and the chocolate flavor will develop.
Remove the seeds from the container and drain any remaining liquid from them. Spread the fermented cocoa beans on mats or screened trays in a single layer to dry in the sun. Turn the beans daily, over a period of five to seven days, to allow them to dry evenly. Once completely dried, bag and label the beans.