How many types of cocoa beans are there? This is a common question, however the answer can be quite complex.
The simple answer, which I’ll go over here today, is that there are three types of cocoas. Each has their own unique features and caveats. I should strongly note that while this is a simplification, the following information explains the genetic families that each cocoa tree resides.
Let’s jump in.
Criollo - I start with Criollo because, as a small batch cocoa maker, this is largely where my experience is. Criollo is said to be the best cocoa variety out there. Criollo stock is known for being more fruity and creamy in flavor. It also lacks the bitterness commonly associated with cocoa. It’s generally considered a delicate bean, requiring a gentle roast.
As a chocolate maker, I can say that Criollo has one of the widest ranges of flavors. You can vary the roasting of the beans and get flavors from a fruit and cream explosion on your palate to a deep and robust, or more traditional, chocolate flavor out of these beans. I tend to go in the middle ground and aim for keeping as much of the subtle flavors as possible while also fully developing the chocolate flavor in the bean.
The big reason more chocolate isnt made with these beans is that they tend to be low-yeild trees. On top of that, they’re susceptible to disease. So from a commercial farming standpoint, they’re harder to take care of and produce fewer beans. This creates a slight rarity of these beans in the market place; which also increases the price. As a result, only about 3% of the worlds chocolate is made with Criollo beans.
Forastero - This is the classic bean that most everyone who has ever eaten chocolate before has tried. Approximately 85% of the world’s chocolate is made from Forastero beans. These beans tend to be very deep earthy flavors and richly chocolate flavored.
These beans are made widely available because they produce the most per tree. They’re also quite disease tolerant, making them more robust for commercial farming. Easy to take care of and abundant yeilds are the hallmark of a good commercial crop.
As a chocolate maker, I am almost exclusively using this bean for the time being. The Marañón origin bean from Peru is of the Forastero family of cocoa. This bean is somewhat an oddity on many fronts, but tends to veer towards an almost criollo-like fruity subtleness. This cocoa produces a rich and bold chocolate with little to no bitterness and astringency. Most beans of this variety though lend to earthy flavor notes and can have some intense bitterness.
Trinitario - This variety I saved for last. This one is actually a hybrid of the other two varieties. Bred to be the best of both worlds; abundant yeilds and disease resistance while still fruity and delicate in flavor. This bean seems to be more available because of it’s resistance and demand for the more delicate criollo flavors. This bean is primarily grown in the Carribean and Central America.
As a maker, this bean behaves amazingly similar to Crillo. There’s usually a wider variety of flavors that can be targeted during the roast than Forestero, however the subtle flavors are more subtle. If you’re not looking for the fruity or creamy notes, you may just miss them altogether. This isnt a bad thing by any means, just a difference in the variety.
Now, as a maker, I tend to stick with the more luxurious Criollo. Why? I just like the flavor of the finished chocolate better with these beans than the others. However, something important to note is that you cannot tell the quality of the cocoa just by it’s variety. I’ve gotten some abhorrent Criollo beans and some fantastic Trinitario. I’ve also tasted chocolates from all over the world and have found some truly excellent tasting Forastero chocolate, including the Marañón origin all of my current stock is made with. There are just too many variables come into play to determine if a cocoa is good, bad, or ugly.
Hopefully you feel you are more educated at the end of this post. I wanted to introduce a little of the the cocoa varieties and what to expect from each. The cocoa’s origin and terroir play a whole lot into what the final chocolate is going to taste like.
In future posts I’ll delve a bit more in depth as to what goes into the chocolates I make, and of course a full in-depth discussion on the origins available in the shop.