(Much of the material is from True History of Chocolate by Sophie and Michael Coe)
Few words need clarification
Cacaos are the beans that chocolate are made from. The trees are known as cacao trees, the fruit cacao pods. Cacao becomes cocoa after the beans have been processed, until then it is referred to as cacao.
Cocoa is the product made from processing the cacao beans.
Coco generally refers to coconut, no relation to cacao or cocoa.
Coca is the plant from which the narcotic drugs are prepared.
The botanical name for Cacao is Theobroma Cacao. Cacao trees grow between the latitudes 20 Deg north and 20 Deg South. These tropical trees produce white and pink blossoms right from the trunk or main branches. The white flowers are female and the pink are male. The blossoms are pollinated by insects called midges. Cacao trees flourish under shade trees because the shade trees help form the habitat for the midges.
Only about 1 to 3% of flowers produce fruit. The fruits look like a football in size and shape and it is called a pod.
Each pod contains 25-50 beans (seeds) surrounded by a sweet white pulp. The trees flower year around and produces fruits year round but there are two main picking seasons.
Cacao are finicky, they need humid weather with rain year round. To grow new trees the beans have to be planted within three months of harvesting them, otherwise they will not germinate. The trees are also affected by many fungi.
There are mainly three types of cacao trees: Criollo, Forastero and, Trinitario.
Criollo is the most delicate of the three and has the most flavorful beans used only in very high quality gourmet products.
Forastero is the hardiest, least expensive and has the least flavorful beans. These beans are mainly used in mass produced chocolate.
Trinitario is a hybrid of the two and is used with Criollo in high-grade gourmet products.
Cacao trees under shade - Fairtrade Foundation, UK
Trees with fruit - Fairtrade Foundation, UK
Open pod showing pulp and beans - Transfair USA
Trees with ripe fruit - Fairtrade Foundation, UK