Harvesting Cocoa — It is all About the Details

Harvesting cocoa is all about paying attention to details. After cocoa is harvested, the pods are often split open by cracking them open carefully with a machete. The pods are not simply split but instead are cracked and then opened by hand. A skilled worker can safely split the cocoa pod with a machete without harming the beans inside or hurting themselves. It is amazing seeing how skilled the workers are at harvesting cocoa and handling a machete. The pods, while relatively hard, are brittle and hence are easily cracked open with a machete. The pod is hit gently—just enough to break the outer hull.

Cocoa Pods and Harvesting Knife after cocoa harvesting

Cocoa Pods and Harvesting Knife

Then the pods are easily opened by hand and the beans removed. Some workers choose to split the pods open by hitting them with a wooden stick or hitting the pods with a rock. Often, some workers will dedicate themselves to opening the pods while other workers scoop out the beans. The beans are heaped into piles on beds of banana leaves, or on to tarps.

Opened cocoa pods after harvesting with the beans and harvesting knife.

Opened cocoa pods with the beans still attached.

It is important to emphasize that the process of harvesting cocoa pods, their breaking, and the collection of the beans is a social affair. As the pods are harvested from the trees, the workers will joke with each other, share stories and local news, and gossip. This is especially the case when they sit together as they open the cocoa pods. It is a time when the workers and community bond t as they watch the fruits of their labor grow in piles of ever-increasing size.

Since it is hot, the workers will also “sample” some of the beans by sucking off the sweet white pulp that surrounds the beans. It is sweet, tart, and floral, very much like a light lemonade. On a hot day, it is totally refreshing. There is no need for a refrigerator.

Cocoa pod hulls turning into compost after harvesting.

Cocoa pods turning into compost.

The empty cocoa pod hulls are gathered first in small piles and later collected into larger piles, usually in an open field. The cocoa pod hulls then quickly start to turn black and begin to decompose. It is not uncommon for cocoa plantations to have numerous piles of rotting cocoa pod hulls wherever free space may be found, all turning into compost. This rich, black compost is later used as fertilizer throughout the plantation.

The beans are gathered together so that they may undergo fermentation. Fermentation is important, for it is a critical component in the development of the chocolate flavor. The fermentation sometimes takes place on the cocoa plantation.

Additionally, some farmers choose to take their beans to a fermentation house that serves a wide variety of farms. The fermentation house weighs the beans upon their arrival, the farmer is paid, and the beans are then moved into large wooden fermentation boxes that are three to four feet square.

Cocoa bean weighing station where the farmers bring their cocoa after harvesting.

Cocoa bean weighing station at the local fermentation house.

Whether the fermentation occurs at the local fermentation house or on the farm, the process of harvesting has now ended. The cocoa farmer can look back over the hard work from the last six months, sigh a breath of relief, and be satisfied over a job well done. Meanwhile, the cocoa beans continue on in their journey. They will be fermented, dried, and then sold to the chocolate makers of the world, who with loving care will transform these beans into chocolate that brings delight, passion, and love to people throughout the world.

Cocoa Harvesting Part 1
Cocoa Harvesting Part 2

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