The Three Cocoa Beans

Saying Theobrama Cacao is a mouthful. But few plants, if any, can claim to giving humans as much pleasure. Yes, theobrama cacao create the cocoa seeds that make chocolate. But chocolate goes through much before it is the recognizable taste that is the king of sweets, the emperor dessert. Not all seeds produce the same taste. Other than origin, harvest method and weather, there are different varietals, much like wine. The taste difference can be profound, even for people who are not chocophiles. Frequently, the beans are carefully mixed to create a distinctive taste.

Three cultivar groups produce the world’s chocolate, each with different characteristics. They are Forastero, Crillo and Trinitario.

Forastero: Your Average Bean

Unless you are a connoisseur of chocolate, the one you are most familiar with is Forastero. More than 90% of the world’s chocolate is Forastero. Normally, Forastero is much hardier than Crillo. Farmers normally get significantly higher yields on the same land (often more than 10 times). Consequently, Forastero is cheaper.

However, Forastero is known for its strong, bitter taste even though you’d think Forastero is isolated to milk chocolate, most people primarily identify the robust flavor of Forastero beans with dark chocolate. Nonetheless, it may small amounts of other beans, but for the most part Forastero overpowers those bean’s flavors, which only have a subtle influence. Forastero normally has little variation in taste; however, a type of Forastero from feral (wild) trees in Bolivia is cherished in much the same fashion as other beans. In general, Forastero comes from Africa and is exposed to the sun.

Crillo: A Rare Gem

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Crillo. Crillo was the bean that the Mayan’s prized. It is confined to the rain forests of Central and South America, as it has been for centuries. It only makes up a very small percentage of the world’s chocolate and is expensive. The most generous estimates are 10%, but it’s probably closer to 1%.

It is the equivalent of a pure breed dog, having been in-bred for its milder, sweeter flavors over the centuries. This makes it a much more fragile bean and vulnerable to disease.

This susceptibility made it go from being the main source of the world’s chocolate to a rarity. It’s unlikely that Crillo will make a comeback. You just couldn’t satisfy the world’s demand for chocolate without severely hurting the rain forests and sending prices up enormously. Despite its rarity, the reputation of this aromatic and less bitter bean has not suffered.  The complex tasting notes that arise from Crillo beans are frequently described as spicy, earthy, fruity and highly acidic. If one bean has the range of flavor that wine does, it’s Crillo. You should definitely taste chocolate made completely of Crillo beans and see if you prefer it. Some do that, especially as we spent most of our life eating Forastero.

Trinitario: The Compromise Bean

Trinitario, a hybrid of the two other beans, tries to have the best of both worlds. It is almost as resilient as Forastero, and mimics the flavors of Crillo. Therefore, it makes up slightly over 5% of the world’s chocolate.

Connoisseurs can tell the difference between the beans, and the degree of mixture. If chocolate is made completely of one varietal, you probably can taste the difference. But this is the first step to knowing chocolate, from tree to wrapper.