Harvesting of the pods in cocoa beans is very labour intensive. During peak season, ripe pods are gathered every few weeks. Workers use large knifes attached to poles to cut down the high pods. Other workers collect the pods in baskets and carry the basket on their heads to be piled up and ready for splitting.
These pods are split open by hand and the seeds/beans (that are covered in sweet white pulp) are removed so they are able to undergo the two part curing process, called fermentation. Methods of fermentation very between countries, however, there are two main methods – Heap and Box.
The Heap method is usually used on farms in West Africa. In this method wet cocoa beans, surrounded by pulp, are piled on banana or plantain leaves. These leaves are spread in a circle on the floor. More leaves are then placed on top of the heap and it is left for 5-6 days. The pods are turned to ensure even fermentation.
During fermentation the pulp of the beans is removed as the sugar in the pulp begins to turn to alcohol and other vinegary liquids, which drain away and the true chocolate flavour starts to develop. At the completion of the fermentation process the wet mass of beans is dried, traditionally by being spread on mats in the sun.
In places such as the West Indies, Latin America and Malaysia the Box method is used in plantations. Box fermentation involves using strong wooden boxes with small drainage holes/gaps in the base (to allow an air passage and the removal of liquid products). This process takes 6-8 days and in this time the beans are mixed twice. The fermented beans are then dried using special drying equipment rather then the sun.
The cured beans are then packed into sacks and transported all over the world.
As well as the fermentation and harvesting process, cocoa beans must also go through the process of drying and bagging; where the mass of cocoa beans is dried, winnowing; where the beans are cracked and the shell is separated from the nib, roasting; where the nibs are roasted in special ovens at between 105-120 degrees Celsius, grinding; where the cocoa nibs are ground in stone mills so that the nibs become a thick liquid called cocoa mass and the final stage is the pressing stage; where the cocoa mass is pressed using large machines into cocoa butter, which is vital for making chocolate.