Cocoa is the name given to the seeds of the cocoa tree and the powder produced from these. The cocoa tree is an evergreen tree with the biological name “Theobroma cacao” (food of the gods), which is resident in the tropical rain forest and can reach a height of 15 metres. Cocoa powder is needed to produce chocolate and is one of the most important export commodities from the developing countries. The cocoa plant is relatively demanding. It only grows on nutrient-rich soil at temperatures in excess of 16 degrees. It also requires large amounts of water. The only regions which are suitable for cultivating cocoa are the warmest and rainiest tropics between the 20th parallel north and the 20th parallel south. Although there are around 20 different species of cocoa, only two species are used to produce chocolate: Criollo and Forastero. Criollo makes up just 15 per cent of the world’s cocoa output, but it is the most expensive and highest quality cocoa species. Its producing regions are in South America. Forastero is less demanding and more robust. It is cultivated in African countries and used in cocoa mixtures.
The most important producers of cocoa are the Ivory Coast, Ghana, Malaysia and Brazil. Cocoa is imported primarily by rich industrialised countries such as the USA and Europe. Within Europe, Germany is one of the main importers of cocoa.
Cocoa was discovered over 3,000 years ago. The Mayas and the Aztecs worshiped the cocoa tree and used a drink made from its fruits in religious rituals. The tremendous importance of cocoa is also apparent from the fact that they sacrificed gold, precious stones and cocoa to their dead. Cocoa beans were also used as a means of payment. In Europe, chocolate was a luxury product for a long time and could be found in every noble household from the baroque era onwards. In England, however, chocolate was already being consumed by ordinary citizens, while in Italy, France and Germany it was still reserved to royalty. Spain held the monopoly on cocoa until 1728, when it relinquished control of the cocoa trade to Holland. When, during the 19th century, the middle classes rose up against the nobility, drinking chocolate was initially forgotten. It was not until the industrial revolution that cocoa and products produced from it enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.
Today, the majority of the world’s cocoa output is processed further to create chocolate; only around a third is still used to produce cocoa powder for drinking chocolate. Either cocoa powder or cocoa butter can be obtained from the beans of the cocoa tree. In recent years, however, increasing numbers of substitutes for the latter have emerged and been used in chocolate production, leading to a strong decline in the demand for real cocoa butter. For this reason the cocoa producers are now concentrating on cocoa powder.
The most important trading venues for cocoa are the New York Board of Trade (Coffee, Sugar and Cocoa Exchange, in short CSCE) and the LIFFE in London. Cocoa is traded in US dollars per tonne; the futures contracts each relate to a quantity of 10 tonnes, however.