Cocoa bean to exotic chocolate: An Odyssey begins in Madagascar

Cocoa Beans

An enthusiastic discoverer…who embarks on a journey to unveil the secrets – that’s how I felt when I went to Madagascar to visit the cocoa farms, as part of my job profile. More than 65 % of the world’s cocoa supply comes from Africa.

Since childhood, I had an insatiable obsession with chocolates that celebrated some of our happiest moments. As a child whose only aim was to enjoy chocolate to the last bit, even if it meant smudging it all over – my imagination was too small to explore its roots.

But for me the greater allure has been its colour from the lightest to the darkest shade, its versatility and the velvety smooth taste melting down my throat – an irresistible temptation for most. As the years passed, and I grew to be an adult, my fixation to understand the science of chocolate making only became more intense.

Finally the fateful day came and I travelled to Madagascar – a lucky opportunity for me. I could feel the rustle of crisp leaves beneath and the sunshine peeping through the canopy of tropical trees, under the shade of which cocoa trees thrive well. In the distant, tropical forests on the mountains, silhouetted by the morning rays echoed the sounds of gregarious animals and birds, instantly drawing you to this place.

Being strictly a tropical tree, cocoa requires hot and rainy climate and grows to become 15 to 25 feet tall. Out of the thousand pink to white flowers that blossom on the truck and main branches of this tree, only less than 10 percent develop into cocoa pods. Contrary to what I imagined, the oval shaped pods strangely jut right out of the main trunk.

The farmers were busy harvesting ripe pods with huge machetes, collecting only bright yellow golden to orange coloured pods. It takes a lot of experience to select right pods that in turn affects the quality of the raw cocoa beans. Pods ripen throughout the year as the growing season in tropics is continuous.

From here begins the labour intensive journey of scooping out the light yellow coloured beans, along with the gelatinous sugary pulp. This is then converted into raw cocoa beans that area bagged and shipped to chocolate manufactures around the world.

Truly speaking, I was simply happy to be so close to the tree that gave mankind the most amazing product, relished across all continents.

Cocoa is traditionally grown on small family run farms in Madagascar, large plantations are few. These small family farms grow cocoa in a more sustainable way because rich bio-diversity exists on such farms and that’s exactly where cocoa trees develop better – under the canopy of shaded trees.

Madagascar evokes a mystical charm. Ah, yes, I almost forget to mention the mighty ‘baobabs tree’ – one that grows with roots above its trunk…not literally though. Well folks, welcome to Madagascar – the land of vivid landscape, an exotic hotspot, greenest of the meadows and above all a place where rare agrobiodiversity exists abundantly.