Cacao beans and coffee share a great deal more in common than many realize. While one creates a creamy culinary sensation and the other a bold, brisk drink, the bean selection process is vital for both. When it comes to cacao, the selection process is extremely important for the resulting flavor the chocolate will take on. If the bean is substandard, chances are the chocolate will be, as well.
Cacao is grown in various locations around the world. It tends to favor warmer climates. Just like coffee, the location of a cacao bean's production can factor greatly in the tastes that will result.
Cacao tends to come in three main forms. Commercial producers typically choose Criollo, Forasteros or Trinitario beans for their products or a blending of the three. Each bean gives off a distinct flavor that results in different tastes in the chocolate produced from them.
The Criollo beans are the oldest known variety of cacao. This is the bean the Europeans first came across in 1502 when they were given to Christopher Columbus, who mistook them for odd almonds. Cultivated in South America, this bean has the reputation for producing some of the finest chocolates in the world. The Criollo enjoys mild climates with very rich soil. Many master chocolate makers prefer this variety because it is quite low in acid and has a high aromatic quality. These two factors combine to make the Criollo very well suited for fine chocolate production.
South America is also home to the biggest production point for the Forasteros beans. Although these beans are not as favored for fine chocolate production, they do account for roughly 80 percent of the world's chocolate bean production. These beans are generally a bit more bitter than Criollos. They also have weaker aromatic properties. The Forastero bean is sometimes used in the creation of high quality chocolate, but it does take an expert touch to compensate for the slight bitter bite.
Trinitario beans are generally grown in the Caribbean and a few other locations around the world. They are considered a hybrid. This bean tends to taste more like the Criollo, but can be produced in the quantities of the Forasteros.
Cacao bean selection is considered the first and perhaps most important step in the creation of edible chocolate. When the beans are of the highest quality, master chocolate makers can work wonders on them to create everything from delectable truffles to rich chocolate sauces and more. When carefully processed, fermented, ground and blended with other ingredients, the end result is a far cry from the bean that starts it all.