Cocoa Beans

From Cargo Handbook - the world's largest cargo transport guidelines website
Infobox on Cocoa Beans
Example of Cocoa Beans
Origin This table shows only a selection of the most important countries of origin and should not be thought of as exhaustive.
  • Europe
  • Africa: Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, other West African coastal countries
  • Asia: Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Java, Samoa, Philippines
  • America: Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Mexico
  • Australia
Stowage factor (in m3/t)
  • 1.92 - 2.26 m3/t (jute bags, 60 - 65 kg)
  • 2.00 - 2.15 m3/t (bags)
  • 2.26 - 2.40 m3/t (bags)
Humidity / moisture
  • Relative humidity: 70% - 75%
  • Water content: 6 - 8%
  • < 8%
  • Critical water content: 8%
  • Maximum equilibrium moisture content: 65%
Oil content 39 - 60%
Ventilation Recommended ventilation: air exchange rate 10 - 20 changes/hour (airing)
Important: Good ventilation is required, so a suitable ventilation program must be drawn up depending upon external temperature, relative humidity, cargo temperature and moisture content of the cocoa beans.
Risk factors Sweat/mold damage
Under suitable ambient conditions (temperature > 25°C, high relative humidity, lack of oxygen supply) and due to their high oil content, cocoa beans have a tendency to self-heating and postfermentation. Some species of fungus, such as Aspergillus fumigatus, participate in the self-heating.

Cocoa Beans


Cocoa trees grow in hot, rainy tropical areas within 20° of latitude from the equator. Cocoa harvest is not restricted to one period per year. Usually it occurs over several months and in many countries cocoa can be harvested at any time of the year. Pesticides are often applied to the trees to combat capsid bugs and fungicides to fight black pod disease.

Immature cocoa pods have a variety of colors but most often are green, red, or purple, and as they mature their color tends towards yellow or orange, particularly in their creases. Unlike most fruiting trees, the cacao pod grows directly from the trunk or large branch of a tree rather than from the end of a branch. This makes harvesting by hand easier as most of the pods will not be up in the higher branches. The pods on a tree do not ripen together; harvesting needs to be done periodically through the year. Harvesting occurs between 3–4 times to weekly during the harvest season. The ripe and near-ripe pods, as judged by their color, are harvested from the trunk and branches of the cocoa tree with a curved knife on a long pole. Care must be used when cutting the stem of the pod to avoid injuring the junction of the stem with the tree, as this is where future flowers and pods will emerge. It is estimated one person can harvest 650 pods per day.

The harvested pods are opened —typically with a machete— to expose the beans. The pulp and cocoa seeds are removed and the rind is discarded. The pulp and seeds are then piled in heaps, placed in bins, or laid out on grates for several days. During this time, the seeds and pulp undergo "sweating", where the thick pulp liquefies as it ferments. The fermented pulp trickles away, leaving cocoa seeds behind to be collected. Sweating is important for the quality of the beans, which originally have a strong bitter taste. If sweating is interrupted, the resulting cocoa may be ruined; if underdone, the cocoa seed maintains a flavor similar to raw potatoes and becomes susceptible to mildew. Some cocoa producing countries distil alcoholic spirits using the liquefied pulp.

A typical pod contains 20 to 50 beans and about 400 dried beans are required to make one pound (880 per kilogram) of chocolate. Cocoa pods weigh an average of 400 grams and each one yields 35 to 40 grams dried beans (this yield is 40–44% of the total weight in the pod). It is estimated one person can separate the beans from 2000 pods per day. The wet beans are transported then to a facility so they can be fermented and dried. They are fermented for four to seven days and must be mixed every two days. They are dried for five to fourteen days, depending on the climate conditions. The fermented beans are dried by spreading them out over a large surface and constantly raking them. In large plantations, this is done on huge trays under the sun or by using artificial heat. Small plantations may dry their harvest on little trays or on cowhides. Finally, the beans are trodden and shuffled about (often using bare human feet) and sometimes, during this process, red clay mixed with water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories in the United States, the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and other countries. Drying in the sun is preferable to drying by artificial means, as no extraneous flavors such as smoke or oil are introduced which might otherwise taint the flavor.

The beans should be dry for shipment (usually by sea). Traditionally exported in jute bags, over the last decade the beans are increasingly shipped in 'Mega-Bulk' bulk parcels of several thousand tonnes at a time on ships, or in smaller lots of around 25 tonnes in 20 foot containers. Shipping in bulk significantly reduces handling costs; shipment in bags, however, either in a ship's hold or in containers, is still commonly found.

Cocoa beans have numerous similarities to Coffee Beans, with some important differences in processes. They are both fermented (fermented cocoa almost looks already roasted), roasted and ground for use. Cocoa beans come in three primary species, Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. The Criollo is analogous to Arabica coffee in that it is the cream of the crop and has the most delicate and complex array of flavors. The Forastero can be compared to Robusta coffee in its disease resistance and higher production, but that is where the comparison ends. Where robusta is just horrid 99% of the time, Forastero is not like that. It has a strong full cocoa flavor, but depending on the grade and preparation, can be rather dull. Well prepared Forastero is what most of us are used to eating in chocolate. Finally, Trinitario is a hybrid of the two, and can have various characters of both parents. Often a Trinitario bean is spoken of as having a strong or weak Criollo influence.


For the production of Cocoa Powder and further processing into all kinds of foodstuffs.

See also Cocoa Butter


Shipped as break-bulk in bags and also in freight containers. Mostly shipped with a franchise to allow for normal shrinkage. Beans which have not been properly dried, and retain over 7,5% moisture, may turn mouldy in transit. If mould cannot be satisfactorily removed, the beans may have to be used for a less valuable product than that for which they were originally intended. Chocolate made from such affected beans will have a musty flavour. Damage to cocoa in the country of origin may not be noticeable from the external appearance of the bags, but should be established on sampling. Country damaged cocoa is usually of grey appearance and internally mouldy. This should not be confused with the natural bloom on the shell, which in appearance can suggest mould but is a natural occurrence and not detrimental to the commodity. On arrival at destination, bags should be stored in a dry place and in the event of water damage, cocoa should be reconditioned without delay. Cocoa has a natural inherent infestation, the tropical warehouse moth, which, if left untreated, can cause considerable damage to the bean plus a great degree of webbing. The condition is controllable by fumigation, and if so treated is normally acceptable to receivers. Cocoa beans are also liable to infestation by worm, which leads to a depreciation of value. Chocolate manufactured from such beans will itself be liable to damage from worm. Loss in colour of the shell through external sources usually has no detrimental effect. Some beans, if shipped in damp condition, may lose colour and become white. Cocoa beans in freight containers have shown damage by way of mould and/or discolouration of the beans. In many instances the condition of the bags giving no indication of the damage to the beans. The use of plastic material inside freight containers has led to considerable sweating and subsequent damage. Containers should be stripped immediately on arrival. Containers should offer good ventilation capability. In certain circumstances, where damage by sweat is encountered and the receivers are only prepared to accept the cocoa with considerable allowances, it may be possible to obtain a better result by separating the damaged beans to be sold separately, delivering the sound portion to the receivers.

Cocoa is packaged in Hussein/jute/poly lined bags or in bulk inside containers. In the latter mode a topless plastic inner liner is fitted into the container to hold the bulk. This is for sanitary reasons.

Condensation damage, taint and infestation are the main risks associated with carriage and loss of quality. When cocoa beans are overheated a separation process produces acid (emitting a sour smell) and combined with moisture this corrodes container paintwork. Direct contact of cocoa beans with steelwork should be avoided at all times.

Container equipment which in general is used for the transport of cocoa beans includes:

Size Type General information
20/40 GP Particularly 20 ft's
20 High Vents Bare steel to be sheathed
20 Open sides Limited stocks

It is essential that containers are properly prepared in order to achieve good quality transport out-turn as follows:

In GP containers:

  • Floors and side walls to be covered with corrugated Kraft paper, cardboard, or a double layer of single paper;
  • Special care required at container corners. Corrugation ribbing (rough side) must face the container walls, on floor and sides, except on top and facing the door where reverse applies;
  • “Dry Bag” desiccants must always be used for condensation control, e.g. for a 20 ft GP undergoing maximum seasonal influences in north south traffic, 20 x 2 kg bags should be used. They are arranged in two rows of eight in a fore and aft direction on top of the Kraft paper covering the bags and four facing the doorway on the floor;
  • Containers fitted with passive vents must have the vents taped off on the inside of the container to prevent moisture development
  • Japanese receivers for shipments from Ghana insist on the container floor being overlaid with pallets in addition to aforesaid requirements.

In High Vents:

  • There are two types of high vents namely: all steel inner or plywood sheathed;
  • Floors to be covered with corrugated Kraft paper, cardboard, or a double layer of single paper;
  • The bare steel version should be lined with corrugated Kraft paper, cardboard, or a double layer of single paper between the upper and lower vents on the side panels, front panel and on the doors;
  • Both versions should have similar protection in way of the corner posts;
  • After stuffing, depending on the routing, paper should be placed on the top of the cargo for sanitary reasons;
  • Never use desiccants such as “Dry Bags” in high vents. (Only works in an enclosed space).

In Open sides: Short Intra Asia Runs:

  • Care must be taken to ensure that side curtains are rolled down when on the terminal or on inland transport. Stowage on board ship must be under deck and with the curtains rolled up;
  • No paper is to be placed on the floor as moisture is easily absorbed in this environment. Wooden gratings or pallets must be placed on the floor to avoid possible moisture damage to the bottom bags (only seasoned wood is to be used).

In Bulk:

  • A polypropylene topless linerbag is used, large enough to fit into the sidewall corrugation ribs. For a standard 20 ft GP the bag should be of minimum dimensions: 550 cm (length) x 234 cm (width) x 240 cm (height);
  • The topless linerbag is fitted to a span wire along the top rail of the container. (Avoid torsion in the bag so that tearing does not occur during loading). Double sided tape is used to lay the liner into the corrugation ribs of the container panels. This also prevents beans from slipping between the liner and container walls during loading;
  • In order to contain the cocoa bulk, either an independent or integrated bulkhead must be fitted in way of the door in such a way that closing of the doors is possible on completion of blowing in the load (at least 10 cms clear of the door);
  • Positioning of the bulkhead can be achieved by horizontal steel bars fitting into the doorway recess;
  • A criss-cross lashing of 2 to 4 mm nylon rope, attached through the top rail lashing eyes, is used to secure a Kraft paper liner to the inner roof. (See fig);
  • “Dry Bag” desiccants must always be used for condensation control. 16 x 2 kg bags are customary per 20 ft GP and arranged as per diagram (Bulk A) or as per fig;
  • Affix a warning sticker to the door close to the seal similar to coffee diagrams;
  • Manifests must clearly state that contents of the container is in bulk;
  • Bulk loadings should only be accepted on FCL/FCL terms because of risks arising from incorrect rigging of inner liners by parties involved.

General handling instructions:

  • In both terminal stacking and ship stowage due regard must be given to protection from radiant heat by allocating “cool stows”. Load lists and manifests must clearly record: AWAY HEAT/COOL STOW;
  • Containers must be clean dry and odourless;
  • When accepted on LCL terms never accept cocoa which is over 8% moisture content. In the event of this happening please refer to local trade management;
  • Fumigation is normally to customers' requirements in accordance with local regulations. (See fumigation);
  • Cocoa beans are often transported under fumigation (phosphine) and appropriate warning stickers should be affixed to the container;
  • Discharge ports must ensure that the right hand container door is cracked open on discharge for ventilation purposes (Ajar) and fixed by rope or chain to left hand door;
  • Cargo to be received by consignee as soon as possible particularly in cold weather. (Under freezing conditions moisture arising from condensation is arrested).

Stowage, voyage and ventilation instructions (conventional shipments)

  • The bags of cocoa beans should be loaded on top of double dunnage, crosswise applied. The dunnage should be applied in such a way that the bags cannot touch the steel tanktop plating. The bottom layer of dunnage should be applied longships, the top layer should be applied crosships. In this way possible sweat water on the tanktop can reach the bilges.
  • In normal hatches, not double skinned and/or boxed shaped, the bags should be stowed free from the bare steel ship's parts. Preferably dunnage wood should be used.
  • The bags must be stowed in such a way that the air flow from the ventilators is forced to go over and along the stow of cocoa beans. This means that the ventilation ducts should be stowed free in order to enable a free airflow and the top of the stow. Furthermore the bags in the hatchway, should be stowed free from the sides and ends of the hatchways in order to enable a free airflow.
  • No fresh ballast water has to be taken in during the voyage and/or in the discharge port. This will definitely result in condensation on the steel plating which can effect the cocoa beans.

The following advises may be given regarding the transportation and ventilation of a cargo of cocoa beans, carried from a relative warm region to a cold(er) Northern region.

The temperature will slowly decrease during the sea voyage going to the North (and possibly increase again if approaching the discharge port in a climatologically milder region). The (nature and impact of the) general instructions given below are not to be considered exhaustive or conclusive and should at all material times be carefully considered as circumstances such as sea- and weather conditions may require and should by no means affect the duty of the carrier to take any and all precautions necessary to ensure a safe, complete and undamaged arrival and discharge of the cargo at the discharge port(s).

  • The ventilation should be based on comparing the dewpoint of the hold air and the outside air. Ventilation should be carried out if the dewpoint of the hold air is higher than the dewpoint of the outside air. The hold dew point should be determined after stopping the ventilation for approx. 5 minutes.
  • When cocoa beans are carried from warm regions to cold regions, the moisture in the cocoa beans will migrate out of the centre of the stow to the side of the stow and finally evaporate in the air.

This means that if ventilation is stopped because the dewpoint of the hold air is lower than the outside air, it should be checked again one hour after stopping the ventilation.

  • The dewpoints should be determined every watch and at least four times per day.
  • The holds should be entered and inspected daily on the presence of condensation against sides, bulkheads and underdeck areas.

In case of serious sweating, it may be considered to open the hatches partly during smooth weather and sea conditions only. It should be avoided at all times that spray and/or seawater enters the holds.

  • In case of spray, ventilators on deck should be protected in order to avoid ingress of seawater and to safeguard the continuation of ventilation, when necessary.
  • Ballasting with relative cold seawater should be avoided at all times.
  • The bilges of the holds should be sounded daily and should be kept empty. An increase of the bilge level may indicate serious condensation.
  • Ventilation should be continued in the discharging port(s), even during the discharge period, following the above instructions and weather and other port conditions permitting.
  • All particulars should be noted in the (ventilation) logbook. At least the following particulars should be timely and properly recorded:

A. Outside air dry-bulb temperature
B. Outside air wet-bulb temperature
C. Outside air dew points
D. Hold air dry bulb temperature of all holds
E. Hold air wet-bulb temperature of all holds
F. Hold air dewpoint of all holds
G. Times of ventilation. Clearly mentioning stopping and starting times
H. Sea water temperatures
I. Weather/sea conditions
J. Particulars of the visual inspections in the holds

Risk factors

- Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion
- Oil content: 39 - 60%
- Sweat damage (mold damage):
- Vapor damage
- Odor
- Contamination
- Mechanical influences
- Toxicity / Hazards to health
- Shrinkage/Shortage
- Insect infestation / Diseases