Facts on the Cocoa Plant


Chocolate lovers can thank the theobroma cacao tree for producing cocoa, the main ingredient in their favorite treat. Stimulants theobromine and caffeine naturally occur in cocoa, which comes from the bean of the cacao tree. Like most agriculture products, the cacao tree needs certain conditions in which to grow, and the process of harvesting fruit can take several years.


  • Cocoa trees have been cultivated for many thousands of years, going as far back as the Mayan tribes of Central America circa 1500 BC. The first known hot chocolate drink was made by mashing beans of the cocoa trees approximately 1,000 years later. The Mayas and Aztecs used the cocoa bean as currency. Cocoa arrived in Europe in 1585. The first chocolate bar was created in 1848.

Growing Conditions

  • The cocoa plant is now grown in hot environments primarily near the equator, although crops can be found as far north as southern Mexico. The plant requires shaded, rainy conditions at an altitude below 1,000 feet. Farmers who grow Theobroma cacao protect it from wind and sun. The plant cannot survive in very dry conditions. According to the Rainforest Alliance, since the plant thrives in the shade, the rainforest does not need to be destroyed in order to cultivate it.

Size and Lifespan

  • The Theobroma cacao tree grows to approximately 15 to 25 feet. It will begin to produce fruit, in the form of pods, in its fifth year, although some trees produce pods earlier. A tree will continue to produce pods for several decades; a tree's peak pod production comes 10 years after it first produces fruit. Pods continue to produce for an additional 12 to 13 years, or even longer, after this peak point.


  • Cocoa beans are found in the four- to 12-inch long pods that grow from the Theobroma cacao tree. Each pod contains 20 to 60 cocoa beans; it takes seven to 14 pods to create one pound of cocoa beans. The green or maroon pods grow on the trunk and branches of the tree. The color of ripened pods changes to gold or scarlet with specks of different colors.

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