From Farm to Snack
Follow the journey
Even in direct trade, there are countless steps to bring pristine cacao from remote, tropical farms to your door.
Scroll down to see their entire journey, step-by-step!
A Cacao Pod in the Making
Cacao starts in this tiny flower the size of your thumbnail. Each flower, when fertilized by resident midges, has the potential to turn into a colorful cacao pod.
Notice how they grow directly on a main trunk or large branches. Keep reading to find out why!
The Fruit of the Cacao Tree
Cacao pods can grow to up to one foot in length and typically weigh about 1 pound when mature. That’s why they can’t grow on smaller branches and shoots like other fruit.
Notice the different colors? The midges aren’t particular about which trees they choose for cross-pollination. Pods, like children, can have different genetics.
Chocolate Grows on Trees!
Cacao trees can grow beyond 25 feet high, but farmers often prune them shorter so the pods are easier to harvest. Proper pruning also prevents mold, fungus or other pests from taking hold in the warm, tropical, rainy environment.
Do you see the tiny flowers on the branches? Cacao has two harvests per year. One is starting while the other is ending!
Farmed by Ruse
CACAO READY TO HARVEST
Most mature trees can grow up to 20 pods each harvest, though 10-15 is more common. Check out this beautiful, pod-laden tree proudly shown by Ruse in Pongo, South Sulawesi, Indonesia. She is the first female cocoa farmer we ever met!
Ready to Open
HARVESTING CACAO PODS
Cacao pods typically have a 2-4 week window to harvest for peak ripeness. Our partners coordinate their harvest between farms so the cacao can be combined for better fermentation.
The harvested pods may be gathered over many hours or sometimes days. Just before the co-op collects the cacao seeds, also known as wet beans, the farmers will open the pods all at once and empty the seeds into buckets or bags for easier transport.
A Different Kind of Bean Pod
About 20-40 cacao seeds, aka cacao beans, are hidden inside mature pods. The seeds grow around a center “placenta” (like an umbilical cord to feed baby seeds) and white, fleshy fruit covers each seed. Similar to grapes or apples, the fruit’s flavor differs significantly based on variety. Most cacao fruit is both sweet and tangy. Beyond that, it can vary from floral to citrusy to sweet. These flavors are the starting point for the nuances found in great cacao.
Where Our Difference Begins
Many "roads" in rural cacao farming areas are impossible to reach by car or truck. Therefore, fresh cacao beans are brought to a meeting point where they are weighed on a portable scale. Farmers are paid by weight and quality.
During collection, we set-aside cacao for Good King. Larger cacao beans command a premium from chocolate makers because they’re easier to machine-process. We prefer [and pay an equal premium for] smaller cacao beans because they make a better snack! Win-win.
From Farm to Country Road
The coop coordinates with each individual farmer to carry bags as heavy as 200 pounds via their horse, donkey or motorbike (or sometimes even by foot!) to a one-lane, difficult-to-traverse dirt road wide enough for a 4-wheel drive pick-up truck.
Hub & Spoke
WET CACAO LOGISTICS
When the pickup truck is full, it hands off to a small lorry waiting on a paved road wide enough to carry the cacao to the fermentation facility!
The pickup truck makes as many as 4-5 trips between the farms and the lorry until all of the cacao is collected from the farms.
Arrival Within 24 Hours
CACAO FERMENTATION FACILITY
This isn’t glamourous, but it has a huge impact on quality. Once pods are opened, seeds don’t wait to begin fermenting. And since fermentation is one of the biggest influences on flavor, it must be handled carefully.
For this reason, our partners literally work around-the-clock to ensure beautiful, fresh cacao reaches the fermentation facility from hard-to-reach farms within one day.
The Next Step in Great Cacao Flavor
Fermentation is a key difference between mass market and fine flavor cacao – and one of the reasons our cacao beans can tantalize your taste buds with a variety of flavor notes ranging from ripe banana to tart cherry to sweet almond.
Fermentation methods vary – the most common being wooden boxes or large heaps piled on banana leaves. Regardless of where, the important part is that the fermentation pile is big enough for heat to rise (up to 120°F!) and begin to transform the flavors of the cacao beans.
Closely Monitoring Each Day (and Hour)
CACAO FERMENTATION CUT-TEST
Cacao fermentation varies widely based on origin, genetics and the desired flavor profile. Our cacao partners ferment between 4-7 days, carefully monitoring temperatures, sampling and turning the cacao each day after the first 48 hours to ensure smooth, chocolatey beans reach their fullest flavor potential.
Notice how the fruit color changes from white to brown as the days go on.
The Secret to Great Quality
In our experience, this step is nearly as important as fermentation. Cacao quality is best when sun dried. In a tropical climate where it rains often, this is far more difficult than it sounds! Like the story of Goldilocks - dry too fast and cacao can taste harsh and astringent. Dry too slow and it will mold. Dry it just right and it will make your mouth sing.
Waiting to Travel
Cacao is dried to 6-7% moisture content and then stored in a warehouse in large bags of about 100-150 pounds (all without a fork lift!). When stored properly, guarded from pests and kept in a dry, dark environment, cacao beans can last up to 5 years. Wow! From there, it is shipped to local cocoa processors and chocolate makers or to the port for export.
Better Quality, More Income
After drying, while it is still fresh, the women of the community delicately shell the dried seeds by hand. Keeping this step local improves quality and provides our partners with up to 80% additional income over exporting the same beans without value-added steps.
Creating a Crave-Worthy Snack
Many customers remark on our cacao’s smooth flavor. Our secret (now out!) is that our cacao is roasted after it’s peeled. This rare approach creates a smoother flavor than roasting cacao beans in their shell.
No matter which flavor you choose, it’s always our goal to let cacao’s crunchy texture and rich, well-rounded flavor shine.
Now it's ready to be packed up and delivered directly to your door.