Varieties of Cocoa

As there are different cépages or grape varieties, so there are different families of cocoa trees that produce the pods containing the future cocoa beans. These pods have different characteristics, which play a major role in determining the flavor and quality of the finished chocolate.

The finest chocolate and allRICHART gourmet chocolates are made from Criollo cocoa. But the three main varieties date from the Spanish conquest of the New World:

  • The word Criollo is derived from Creole, meaning native, authentic and indigenous. The Spanish called cocoa trees planted in Venezuela Criollo; but they actually came from neighboring Mexico and Guatemala.
  • Forastero, means foreigner or stranger. Hence, the Spanish called cocoa trees from the Amazon Forastero.
  • Trinitario takes its name from the island of Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela where it originated. It originated in a series of climate changes, but also because planters made a conscious decision to grow it on the island.

If you are to understand the process of making chocolate you need to know a the main varieties of cocoa.

Criollo (1-5 Percent of Production)

Crillo grows in very small numbers in Mexico, Nicaragua and Guatemala, as it did 3000 years ago, accounting for five to eight percent of cocoa grown.

Criollo can also be found, but in rather purer and more restricted form in Venezuela, Colombia and some Caribbean islands, including Trinidad, Jamaica and Grenada. Criollo also grows on the islands of the Indian Ocean, such as Java, Madagascar and the Comoros.

Criollo Characteristics:

  • slightly bitter but not unpleasantly so;
  • offers aromatic power combining strength and delicacy after processing;
  • only mildly astringent and low in tannin;
  • pale in color giving chocolate a reddish tinge;
  • and offers flavor finesse that can be compared to that of arabica coffee.

(Criollo is considered the finest cocoa and is the only cocoa that can create RICHART quality fine chocolates.)

Forastero (80-90 percent of production)

Originating from the Upper Amazon region, Forastero grows in several South American countries, including Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Guyana, French Guyana and in southern Venezuela near the Orinoco.

They are also found in West Africa, in the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Cameroon and São Tomé, as well as in South-East Asia.

Forastero Characteristics:

  • very, sometimes extremely, bitter;
  • very tannic and astringent and can be overwhelming with its forceful aromatic power, but lacks finesse and diversity;
  • offers a limited range of flavors;
  • and is comparable to robusta coffee.

Trinitario (10-15 percent of Production)

Trinitario, from the island of Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela, is a cross between Criollo and Forastero. The two varieties were first crossed in the eighteenth century when the island’s Criollo plantations were almost wiped out by an environmental disaster.

Trinitario trees are now grown wherever Criollo is found, and also in Trinidad and other islands of the Lesser Antilles, as well as in Java, Papua-New-Guinea and Sri Lanka, in the Indian Ocean. Cameroon also produces large quantities of Trinitario.

Trinitario Characteristics:
Trinitario is halfway between the two other categories in every respect in terms of organoleptic qualities; it is well known for its strong aromatic power.

‘Maverick’ varieties.

Our list must also include the ‘mavericks’ found in South America, which cannot be classified with the three main varieties. The most important of these is Ecuador’s ‘national’ cocoa tree, with its large, green, wrinkled pods and its large purple beans. Less well known is the Forastero cocoa tree of Surinam.

The ‘national’ cocoa of Ecuador, otherwise known as ‘Arriba’ is highly aromatic; it is, however, much more tannic than Criollo and darker in color.