Cacao trees need a unique environment to grow. They grow at latitudes between fifteen to twenty degrees above and below the equator, where the temperature ranges between eighteen and thirty two degrees Celsius. The annual rainfall ideally should range between one thousand five hundred to two thousand millimeters with high humidity. This climate is exclusively found in rainforests. The cacao trees, which grow under the canopy of larger trees, must mature to five years old to produce the cacao fruit. The Mayans and Aztecs mixed ground cacao seeds with herbs and seasonings to make a drink that was spicy, bitter and frothy. This concoction was called Xocolatl, pronounced Chicolatl. The word cacao is derived from the Aztec word xocolatl, from xococ,meaning bitter and atl meaning water. .
Cacao was a part of religious ceremonies and played an important role in social circles. It was used as a medication for various ailments in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures and is still believed to possess health benefits for humans. The beans were also used as currency among ancient civilizations. Cacao, also known as cocoa, was brought to Europe in the late 1500's, where sugars, cinnamon, vanilla, nuts and even chilies were added to the pulp and beans to create new flavors and food experiences. This was the beginning of chocolate as we know it. In the nineteenth century, a British doctor sold the idea of adding liquids to cocoa to John Cadbury. Cadbury then developed a process to make solid chocolate by emulsifying the cocoa with other ingredients, creating the modern chocolate bar. .
Microbial fermentation is the first process the cacao bean encounters in the chocolate making process. Within the first few days, yeasts are the main organisms jump starting the fermentation process. This is discussed further in the next paragraph. Fermentation is a metabolic process which takes place in the cotyledon, part of the bean's embryo, where naturally occurring microbes start converting sugar molecules into ethanol, or ethyl alcohol, and carbon dioxide.