Varieties Of Cocoa Beans

No discussion of good chocolate can be complete without delving into the origin of the fruit, and its varieties.

A good chocolate maker, like any maker of good wine or coffee, pays attention to the raw beans being used to produce chocolate. More than 80% of the world’s chocolate comes from low quality bulk beans of the forastero variety. Craft chocolate makers use mostly fine, and sometimes rare bean varieties to make some of the amazing chocolate we feature in our boxes.

Cacao Trees and the Origins of Theobroma Cacao

cacao trees theobroma

Scientists at the International Center for Agricultural Research and Development (CIRAD) believe that the world’s original Theobroma could be millions of years old, and the particular species we now regard as the cacao tree could be about 10 to 15 thousand years old. The cacao plant first appeared in the Amazon basin, and was likely domesticated by the Olmecs civilization, predating the Mayans.

For the next 3 to 5,000 years, the Mesoamerican civilizations including the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs cultivated and domesticated the T. Cacao plant extensively. The fermented and dried cacao beans were regarded as “food of the gods,” and also used as a form of currency.

Bulk and Super Fine Bean Varieties

cacao varities

There are four main varieties of the cacao plant: forastero, criollo, trinitario, and nacional.

Both the criollo and forastero variety originated in the Amazon basin. And while the criollo  is delicate and difficult to cultivate, the forastero  variety being easier and hardier made its way to Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese colonies in west Africa, south Africa, and southeast Asia. The 1700’s brought upon a new variety of cacao beans in the Caribbean islands. Disease and disaster eradicated almost all the criollo cacao plants, until farmers on the islands planted forastero to strengthen what remained. This hybrid strain is now known as trinitario.

Forastero Cocoa

Forastero  variety still dominates in world chocolate production. The high yielding plants of forastero made it an easy choice for growers, and even up until the mid 20th century, growers replaced the criollo  crop with the low quality forastero for this reason. (Think of forastero  as your regular grocery store tomato, and the criollo as that heirloom tomato that creates tastes explosions in your mouth.) Forastero is primarily cultivated in West Africa and is known as bulk cocoa. This cocoa is generally earthy and simple.

Criollo Cocoa

Due to its fragile state, susceptibility to disease, and low production, criollo  plants now make up less than 1 to 5% (the experts vary on that number) of the total crop production in the world. Partly due to the rarity, and definitely due to its unique, complex flavor, criollo  beans are regarded as super fine cocoa and many heirloom varieties are sought after by craft chocolate makers. Within the criollo variety, there are porcelana, chuao, ocumare beans, referencing a particular terroir of the criollo bean. Criollo  cocoa is often fruit forward, very aromatic, and has very little bitterness.

Trinitario Cocoa 

Trinitario  beans while not as rare as criollo still only make up less than 10% of the total cacao production. This hybrid strain spread from the Caribbean islands to South America in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Trinitario being the least pure has the a wide range of tastes and profiles of any other variety. The ratios of criollo to forastero, and terroir greatly influence the complex flavors found in this bean.

Nacional Cocoa

The least known cacao, and fourth variety is nacional. This bean variety was only recently rediscovered in Peru in 2011. In its purest form, it is regarded as the world’s rarest cacao. Chocolates made with nacional  beans are rich, creamy, and with little bitterness.

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  • Award Winning Chocolate Makers

    Bar & Cocoa is the premier purveyor of exceptional craft chocolates from award winning chocolate makers. We hand pick exceptional makers to feature.

  • Ethically Sourced

    Ethics is a key ingredient to the world’s best chocolate. Our selection supports a supply chain that is more transparent than fair trade and big-brand chocolate — and tastier!

  • Fine & Rare Origins

    The chocolate we offer is crafted from fine quality cacao. You can taste the uniqueness and complexity of different cacao origins with nuanced flavors, unlike mass-produced chocolate.


What makes Bar & Cocoa different?

At Bar & Cocoa, we're not just another chocolate shop; we're a chocolate experience. We meticulously curate a selection of the finest chocolates from artisanal makers around the globe. Our focus is on quality, ethical sourcing, and sustainability. We go the extra mile to educate our customers about the complexities of cacao cultivation and chocolate making through detailed product descriptions, flavor profiles, and origin stories. When you shop with us, you're not just indulging in a treat; you're becoming part of a community that values the art and science of chocolate making.

What is bean to bar chocolate?

Bean to bar chocolate is chocolate that is made from scratch by the same producer, starting from the raw cacao beans and ending with the finished chocolate bars and treats. This process allows the chocolate maker to control every aspect of the chocolate making, such as roasting, grinding, conching, tempering, and molding. Bean to bar chocolate is often more flavorful, nuanced, and ethical than mass-produced chocolate. It reflects the artistry and craftsmanship of the maker and the quality and origin of the cacao.

How do you source your chocolate? Is it ethical and sustainable?

We source our chocolate from award winning craft makers who use high-quality cacao beans and go beyond fair trade. We work with over 50 fine chocolate makers from around the world who share our values and passion for real chocolate. Some of the countries we source our chocolate from include Peru, Vietnam, Brazil, Colombia, Nicaragua,, Philippines, India, and many more. We are always on the lookout for new and exciting origins and makers to add to our collection.

Do you have vegan, or keto-friendly or soy free chocolate?

Yes, we do! We have a variety of chocolate options that cater to different dietary preferences and needs. You can browse our collections of organic chocolate, vegan chocolate, keto-friendly chocolate, sugar-free chocolate, dairy-free chocolate, gluten-free chocolate, soy-free chocolate, nut-free chocolate, and more on our website. We also provide detailed information on each product page about the ingredients and allergens of each product.

How do you pick your chocolate makers?

When it comes to selecting our chocolate offerings, we're basically the chocolate sommeliers you never knew you needed. Our process starts with rigorous research and tastings. Yeah, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it. We scour the globe for artisanal and craft chocolate makers who share our commitment to quality, ethical sourcing, and innovation in flavor.

We scrutinize everything from cacao origin to production methods and flavor profiles. Only the best of the best make it into our curated collection, offering you a world-class chocolate experience in every bite. Each bar has a story, a unique flavor profile, and the power to transport you to a different part of the globe. We're not just selling chocolate; we're offering an edible journey.