The name Theobroma cacao was given to the cocoa tree by Carolus Linnaeus –the father of taxonomy. Theobroma comes from ancient Greek and translates as ‘Food of the Gods’. Cacao is the Mayan root word retained by the Spanish colonizers of Mesoamerica to describe the tree and its produce.
Cacao thrive in the equatorial region from Central and South America to Africa and Indonesia up to an altitude of 600 meters above sea level. The climate must be warm, with a consistent temperature of 25-27°C, thus significantly restricting the ‘cocoa belt’ where these precious pods can grow. The tree cannot withstand extremely dry nor wet periods. Rainfall should ideally be regular and between 1250 and 2500 mm per year. The tree is also highly sensitive to strong winds and direct sunlight. For this reason, it grows best under the shade and protection of other, tall-growing plants and trees. The cocoa tree prefers soil that is slightly acidic and well drained, but also capable of storing some water to fall back on in drier times.
In two cycles of six months, thousands of delicate flowers adorn the stem and main branches. Each flower blooms for only a single day and among these thousands of flowers, only approximately 40 will eventually develop into fruit.