Cacao Growing Regions

Origin is an important piece of the flavour jigsaw.

Chocolate enthusiasts are just as passionate about the origins of their chocolate as wine connoisseurs are about their wine regions.

Let’s do a quick fly-by of the cacao growing regions.

Terroir: image by kind permission Terese F Weiss
Terroir: image by kind permission Terese F Weiss

MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA

Mexico and Mesoamerica are the historical heart of chocolate where Cortez and his Spanish conquistadors first recognised the value of this mystical fruit.  Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala have retained their reputation for fine cacao and we are seeing some superb fine-flavour varieties being rediscovered and re-established in Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Mexico.

Cacao flowers: by kind permission Terese F Weiss
Cacao flowers: by kind permission Terese F Weiss

SOUTH AMERICA

South America is a continent of fine chocolate extremes. From Brazil’s simple structured, intense, earthy Forasteros to the delicate tastes of Venezuela’s prized white Porcelana beans.  Beans from Ecuador and Peru deliver floral, nutty and fruity profiles. Wild indigenous cacao and varieties with very respectable parentage from Bolivia and Colombia, give some delightfully subtle, and nuanced flavour profiles.

From flower to fruit
From flower to fruit

CARIBBEAN

The Caribbean islands deliver everything you would expect from their cacao: molasses, deep tropical fruits, spices, rum and tobacco. Trinidad and Tobago is the birthplace of the Trinitario hybrid varieties and today boasts some excellent tree-to-bar makers. You will find bold fruit and spice in beans from the Dominican Republic.

Fermenting  the beans: image by kind permission of Terese F Weiss
Fermenting the beans: image by kind permission of Terese F Weiss

AFRICA

Africa is home to 70% of the world’s cacao. The vast majority is destined for the industrial market, but initiatives in countries such as Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo are nurturing trees with fine flavour characteristics, improving fermentation and drying techniques, and giving growers access to the speciality chocolate market. Africa’s jewel in the crown is Madagascar where the unique terroir produces some of the world’s brightest and fruitiest chocolate. Once tasted, never forgotten.

Drying of fermented beans: by kind permission of Terese F Weiss
Drying of fermented beans: by kind permission of Terese F Weiss

ASIA

Cacao was introduced to Asia by its European colonisers throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Asia, just like Africa, is predominantly a producer of bulk cacao but this landscape is changing due to fine varieties being grown in Vietnam, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Java, Bali and (more recently) Solomon Islands, Fiji and India.  You can explore fruity, earthy and spicy profiles in these new origins. The use of wood fires to dry beans in Papua New Guinea adds a distinct smokiness to the final flavour.