Cacao (a.k.a. cocoa beans) comes from the cacao tree or Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is a Greek word that means "food of the gods." The cacao tree is an evergreen found in over 50 tropical countries, and estimated to be grown by 2 million to 2.5 million producers, 90% of whom are small-scale farmers with 12 acres or less.
The tree can grow up to 30 feet but is often pruned to make harvesting easier for the farmers. Once a tree is planted, it can take up to five years before it produces cacao pods, and it can continue to produce pods year round until it is 25 or 30 years old. Every year, cacao trees grow thousands of flowers on their trunks and branches. Only a small percentage (as low as 1%) of these flowers will actually produce a cacao pod or masorca. This pod, which is the fruit from the tree, can be similar to the size and shape of a football and grows out of the trunk and branches of the tree. Pods can be found in a range of colors from dark brown to orange, red, yellow, and green. A cacao pod will begin to ripen 5-6 months after it flowers. Each pod contains beans, the seeds of the fruit that are shaped like a flat almond, surrounded by a sweet pulp. There are roughly 30-50 beans in a typical pod. These beans are what ultimately get transformed into cocoa powder or chocolate.