Both craft chocolate and specialty coffee place a high value on the raw product, by this we mean the cocoa and coffee beans respectively. The regions and farms where these beans are thoughtfully grown and processed are referred to as “origin” and celebrated by specialty shops. Interestingly, there is a lot of overlap between the two products.
Cocoa is harvested from Theobroma cacao - a small tree that thrives in tropical regions. Like coffee trees, there is a similar cocoa belt around the world where Theobroma cacao flourishes. This geographical area is along or near the Equator in Latin America, as well as the tropics of western Africa, and Asia.
Cocoa beans are in fact seeds that are extracted from the fruit that grows on cacao trees, in the same way that coffee beans are harvested from berries that grow on coffee trees. Cocoa beans are found inside oblong, football-shaped cacao pods that produce 20-60 seeds per pod. Coffee beans are extracted from coffee berries that produce, on average, two beans per berry.
Coffee beans have a few main varietals, like Arabica and Robusta, from which various offshoots or mutation varietals have developed over time. Like coffee and even wine, cocoa beans also have different varietals - Forastero, Criollo, Trinitario, and Nacional. Each cacao varietal thrives in various geographical regions and conditions, and has unique characteristics in terms of appearance and especially flavor. Depending on those qualities and the available supply, some varietals like Criollo are more valuable than others.