The Cacao Tree


A Fascinating, Finicky and Fabulous Tree


With fruit of all shapes, colors and textures growing straight out of its slender trunk, the cacao tree is clearly a bit peculiar. And then there's the fact that fruit can be harvested year round. Theobroma Cacao is constantly budding, blooming and ripening football-sized pods all at the same time. The incredible range of colors—bright green, alizarin crimson, purple, orange and yellow—and indiscriminant ripening makes it particularly tough to know when to pick the fruit. That's why some of the best cacao is still farmed by families who walk the orchards daily and pass their knowledge down through the generations.



Theobroma Cacao is delicate and temperamental. It only grows within a narrow band of the tropics 20 degrees north and south of the equator. To be farmed right, so that the fragile trees thrive, cacao must be grown under a varied canopy of shade trees, protected from sun and wind, so that its leaves don’t burn and the surrounding soil stays moist.  When this ecosystem of companion trees is destroyed, cacao is highly susceptible to disease. Much of the world’s supply of cacao is currently under threat from fungal infection and climate change. But even in the best of circumstances, each tree yields far less fruit than its profusion of flowers would suggest. Cacao is rare and persnickety, but if treated with care and respect it produces nothing less than the Food of the Gods.