Chocolate is grown in the tropics near the equator. The biggest crops of cacao come from Brazil and the Ivory Coast in Africa. Cacao refers to the tree as well as its fruit and seeds. Yellow-green grooved, oval fruit, about 12 inches long, grows directly from the trunk and lower branches of the tree. At harvest, the pods are cut from the trees, split open, and emptied of their 24 to 40 navy bean-sized seeds. The seeds are then fermented by heaping them into bins and covering from three to five days, during which they are shoveled and turned daily. Without proper fermentation, there is no possibility that the seeds, or cocoa beans, can be transformed into good chocolate later.
After fermentation, the seeds are dried in the sun before they are bagged and shipped to chocolate factories. At the factory, the cocoa beans are cleaned, roasted, and winnowed to remove their hulls. Winnowing also breaks the hulled beans into pieces, called cocoa nibs. Nibs from different varieties and origins are usually blended after roasting, to create different chocolates with distinct flavor characteristics, just as grapes are blended in making wine. After blending, the nibs are ground into chocolate liquor, which you know as unsweetened baking chocolate.