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An Introduction On How To Select Cacao Beans

Updated: Aug 27, 2020

When I began exploring the world of chocolate I was given some raw cacao beans to try and I really enjoyed them. Unfortunately, my focus at that time was on chocolate bars more than the cacao beans they came from. I wish I paid better attention to where the beans were from, as they had a distinct nutty flavor with a hint of banana. They were really delicious and would have likely made a good bar of chocolate.

Fast forward to today … While I am still a novice when it comes to chocolate, I really enjoy learning about every facet of the substance and the industry. One day I was thinking about buying some cacao beans but I had no idea how to go about selecting anything good. Up to this point I’ve been regelated to trusting a company’s marketing claims. You know how badly you can be steered in the wrong direction using that approach. So, how would a novice like me select good cacao beans from everything out there?

In my quest to learn more I found this episode of Craft Chocolate TV (CCTV) on YouTube that focused on analyzing cacao beans:

Here is a summary of what I learned.


Dylan Butterbaugh, the host of CCTV, said to stay away from beans that look dead and moldy and have a lot of surface mold, as that may be an indication of problems with drying and fermentation. You want beans that are “pretty clean.” From what was shown in the video the good beans have a nice rich color of varying shades of dark brown and burnt orange.


Butterbaugh, stated that beans that don’t smell “nice” may not taste good. I wasn’t sure what “nice” meant. Apparently it is “good” if it smells like vinegar. That is not my personal definition of “nice,” but then again, I’ve been taught that the pungent smell of acetic acid means something has gone bad, like if your bread or aspirin smells like vinegar. However, the fermentation process, indicative of the vinegar smell, is essential in the development of the bean’s flavor. What you don’t want is for them to smell like bad mushrooms.


You don’t want a batch of cacao beans that are of many different sizes. You want them to be fairly consistent in size.


The three things you are assessing regarding the taste of cacao beans taste are bitterness, astringency, and acidity. Butterbaugh says he stays away from beans that are astringent (e.g., excessive tannins in wine) because they are hard to work with when you’re roasting. You want a proper balance of bitterness and acidity.

Cracking the bean

You want beans that are easy to crack, which is an indication that it got hot enough in the fermentation process.

Got it? Now you are as equipped as I am to start selecting good cacao beans! It would be great to hear your thoughts! What other characteristics do you look for in cacao beans? Click here to share what beans you like and their characteristics.

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