Chocolatiering DIY Chocolate Making

How to Grow Cocoa Beans for Chocolate Making

how to grow cocoa beans for chocolate making

Curious about growing your own chocolate? In this botanical guide, we explain how cocoa is grown for chocolate production, and how to grow cocoa beans at home.

For those who are self-sufficiency oriented and who take bean-to-bar chocolate very seriously, growing your own cocoa is a beautiful long-term goal to have. However, as you can imagine, like growing any fruit tree, it’s not just a simple thing you can tackle in a weekend or even a year.

Learning how to grow cocoa requires a balance of the right climate and land conditions, patience and persistence, but for those willing to give it a try the satisfaction of making your own truly bean-to-bar chocolate can be huge. And lucrative, if you decide to grow cocoa on a small hobby farm or larger scale.

In this guide, we introduce you to growing your own cocoa. We’ll start with the theory of how cocoa is grown commercially including climate conditions, and then explain how to grow cocoa beans at home.

How Cocoa is Grown Commercially

Growing a cacao tree is no easy feat, and specific conditions are required to nurture seedlings through the early stages before hopefully fruiting cacao pods after 3-5 years.

Where is cacao grown?

So, where is cacao grown? Cacoa trees are tropical, typically growing in rainforest plantations with high rainfall, partial shade from other trees, and a temperature rarely dropping below 60°F (15.5°C).

However, carefully adapting growing conditions allows it to simulate a tropical environment where trees can thrive. It’s important to be realistic that if you plan chocolate production from your cacoa trees, each pod only produces about 30-40 seeds, and at least 400 seeds are required to produce 1lb (453g) of cocoa. 

where is cacao grown climate conditions 2
Pictured: Australian Chocolate Farm in Tropical QLD Australia. This location receives high humidity, high rainfall and tropical heat. Image Source: Ayla Marika.

Growing Environment: Indoor or Outdoor

Choosing where to plant is much more straightforward if you live in a tropical climate.

In the US, temperatures stay elevated throughout the year between USDA zones 11-13 (including California and some Southern states). In Australia, a band across the northernmost region mimics tropical temperatures, so planting outside could be suitable with adequate irrigation. The cooler climate of the UK always necessitates planting in heated greenhouses.

Ideal Environment

Cacao trees enjoy a temperature range of 65°F to 90°F (18°C to 32°C), with plenty of rainfall, shelter from high winds and not too much direct sunlight.

When deciding how to grow cocoa beans on your home property, you will need to be able to provide a space outdoors or simulate in a greenhouse these precise growing conditions. Cacao plants are quite fussy, and will not tolerate conditions that are too far removed from those just described.

If you are unable to provide these conditions, then a good alternative is to buy raw cacao pods and beans for your chocolate-making which will still give you the bean-to-bar making experience. However, if you can provide these environmental conditions and you’re ready to try growing cacao plants, read on.

how to grow cocoa beans at home

How to Grow Cocoa Beans at Home

Equipment for Growing Cocoa

Cacao seeds or germinated seedlingsread more about choosing cacao plant variations here

Selection of medium-sized pots

Garden location – outdoors in a tropical climate, or an outdoor greenhouse. Or choose a warm indoor site in cooler climates.

Soil and fertilizer – Plant seedlings with an equal mix of sterilised potting compost, perlite or coarse sand, and orchid bark. The perlite significantly improves compost drainage. Feed seedlings with a slow-release fertiliser formulation that will extend the feeding period.

How to Grow Cocoa Beans

How to Germinate Cacao Beans (from Cacao Seed)

Only use cacao seeds (beans) that are fresh from the pod or that have been kept moist. Sometimes, seeds sprout while still in the pod. If the seeds have already dried, they are unlikely to germinate.

How to Grow Cocoa Beans from Seed (Germination):

  • Wash the white pulp off the cacao seed and carefully peel off the outer shell. Place the seeds in a bowl of water and leave for 2 days. A shoot should appear from the side of each seed.
  • Fill the pots with the mixed compost. Plant individual cacao seeds shoot side down, only halfway into the soil. The seeds must be half out of the soil, as they rot easily.
  • Seal each pot in a clear plastic bag to retain heat and moisture. Leave them to germinate and water twice a week. The leaves might take a couple of weeks to form on your seedlings.

How to Grow Cocoa Beans from Seedlings

Once each seedling has 3-4 leaves, remove the plastic bag.

Transplant the cuttings into larger pots using the same compost, and place into your prepared garden area. Regularly spray the leaves with water to hydrate them and to help create a humid atmosphere.

If conditions are right, a sapling with a thin trunk should grow several feet in a year. As the trees grow, keep replanting to ensure plenty of root space and good drainage.

Cocoa Plant Pollination

When the cacao tree grows to 5-7 feet tall, it will have a thin trunk with a good canopy of leaves on top. It’s a good sign when new branches grow perpendicular to the trunk to increase the canopy.

Small white flowers eventually form up and down the trunk and at branch intersections. Cacao flowers are only pollinated in plantations by a specific tiny, hairy midge. So, you will most likely need to pollinate flowers by hand, which involves transferring pollen from the male flower part to the female part.

Once the flowers are pollinated, the tree is set to start growing fruit or, in this case, a cacao pod, thereby completing the tree’s life cycle.

Cacao Plant Diseases, Pests & Troubleshooting

Leaf DropThe growing environment is too hot.Monitor and adjust growing conditions or move plant pots elsewhere.
Dark Leaf SpotsThe growing environment is too cold.Monitor and adjust growing conditions or move plant pots elsewhere.
Yellowing LeavesIndicate overwatering or a lack of fertiliser.First, ease back on watering, and fertilise slightly more while looking for leaf improvement.
Mould or pestsVarious causes, from weak plants to environmental conditions. Mould is often caused by overly humid conditions.Treat with a natural fungicide or insecticide. Monitor environmental conditions such as excessive humidity, and adjust.

When to Harvest Ripe Cacao Pods

Ripe cacao pods come in many different colours, making it difficult to establish when they are ready for picking. You must identify your own species to establish the colours to look for when your pods are ready to pick. By shaking the pod carefully on the tree, you can listen for the rattle of the seeds moving around inside it. The pod isn’t ripe if there is no sound because the seeds are still held in place by the membrane inside it.


That wraps up our guide on how to grow cocoa plants at home or for your small chocolate business venture. While growing your own chocolate is an attractive idea, the reality is that cacao plants are finicky, and the conditions for how cocoa is grown are very restrictive. If you are lucky enough to have tropical conditions or greenhouse that can replicate a tropical environment, with plenty of water, then growing cocoa is certainly worth a try.

If you live in a cool and/or arid climate, then unfortunately cacao plants are not the best option for you. However, these conditions on the contrary are excellent for growing carob trees instead, which is a great alternative to cacao. For more information, check out our guide on how to grow carob trees.

Happy chocolatiering!

Article Author

  • Simon Knott

    Simon Knott studied a BSc Hons in Catering Management, Food Science, and Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University and started writing in 2006, specialising in food and drink. He worked as Food & Drink Editor for two county magazines, interviewing chefs and local food producers. In 2010 Simon started a company making traditional fudges and chocolate products. The company quickly grew, supplying local outlets and Simon was awarded five Gold Great Taste Awards for his products. Simon recently completed a Diploma in Copywriting, and continues to write about food and drink, business and skiing.

    View all posts