Makers of raw (unroasted) or less processed cacao bean products often use the word cacao rather than cocoa, which may imply that they’re more natural products.
Some experts use “cacao” for the pods, beans and ground-up contents of the beans, reserving “cocoa” for the "cocoa powder" left after pressing the fat out of the ground beans.
Once cacao beans are harvested, they go through several processing steps. In brief, the basic process is:
- Fermentation: The beans (with some sticky pulp still clinging on) are put into bins and covered for a few days so microbes that feed on the pulp can ferment the beans. This starts to develop the distinctive chocolate flavor and aroma.
- Drying: The fermented beans are dried for several days. Once dry, they may be sorted and sold to chocolate makers.
- Roasting: The dried beans are roasted unless a raw product is desired. Roasting more fully develops the chocolate flavor and gives them some sweetness.
- Crushing: The beans are crushed and separated from their outer hulls, resulting in broken cacao pieces called nibs.
- Grinding: Nibs are ground, producing a non-alcoholic liquor. Now it’s ready to be made into chocolate products.
To make cocoa powder, the liquor — which is roughly half fat in the form of cocoa butter — is pressed to remove most of the fat, see above