Grading cocoa beans
Cocoa beans are one of the major global commodity crops of today. Increasing affluence amongst consumers in Asia, especially China, is driving the global demand for chocolate. Increased awareness over the health benefits of dark chocolate, and increased demand for high-end chocolates has also driven the rise in cocoa prices.

Asian beans have different bean characteristics (e.g. color, cocoa butter properties) and flavor profile compared to the African beans. These variances stem from the differences in climatic conditions, weather during harvest and farming practices, farming practices, fermentation and processing practices, and shipping / storage environment.

Each cocoa bean origin will command its own price, depending on the demand for its distinctive flavor, color and cocoa butter properties.

Nevertheless, international trade requires that shipments of cocoa beans meet specific quality criteria.

Standard criteria for cocoa bean shipments

Major criteria for the traded cocoa beans are listed as follow:
  • Must be adequately fermented
  • There should not be any foreign matter contained within the shipment
  • Defects should only affect < 2% of the total shipment
  • Moisture content of the cocoa beans should be < 7.5%
  • There should not be any smoky or foreign odors
  • Beans should be relatively uniform in size
  • Shipment must be free from insect and rodent infestation. Insect damaged beans should not exceed 3% of the total shipment
  • Shipment must meet the guidelines for residues content of the importing countries

Quality control

The assessment of these characteristics can be conducted through:
  • Direct observation and/or olfactory determination of pest infestation, degree of fermentation, odors and bean defect – moldy, slaty, violet or flat beans
  • The use of simple equipment to measure parameters such as number of beans per 100g and moisture content

Cut bean test

The cut bean test is a simple method to assess bean defects and degree of fermentation. The beans are to be cut lengthwise through the middle so that visual inspection of each half can be undertaken. Each type of defective beans is then counted and the results for each defect is expressed as a percentage of the beans examined.

The figure below shows the different types of defect:


deZaanTM Cocoa & Chocolate Manual (2009) - ADM
RSCE 2/3: Guidelines on Best Known Practices in the Cocoa Value Chain
Cocoa Processing Methods for the Production of High Quality Cocoa in Vietnam
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