Once cacao trees begin producing fruits, called cacao pods, those fruits must be cut off from the tree at peak ripeness. Although there are heavier seasons, cacao pods ripen year round, meaning that harvesting does too. Harvesting cacao requires a sharp implement to remove the large pods from the tropical trees on which they grow. The most common tool used to harvest cacao pods is a machete, a long sword-like object which allows farmers to cut pods from the base. Since cacao, or cocoa, can grow directly on the trunk of the tree, farmers have to use very sharp tools so as to not damage potential future pods.
When a pod is ripe it often changes color, signaling to farmers that it may be ready to be picked. But not all ripe pods will fully change color, so some farmers also knock on pods to check ripeness; if the seeds have just started to loosen, then the pod is ripe enough to harvest. You can also scrape the outside of the husk to check the color of the shell. If it’s green underneath, then it’s still not ripe enough to be harvested. If you remove cocoa before it’s ripe, it won’t continue to develop off the tree, but rather begin to germinate or ferment.
During harvest, farmers must be careful not to open the pods, as that exposes them to air and exposes the seeds to potential damage. Typically they’ll use the machete to cut the fruits directly from the tree, collecting them in a nearby basket or bag. From there the pods are brought to a central location to begin processing. The faster they can begin post-harvest processing, the better the cacao will taste.