What is Fine or Flavour Cocoa?

The world cocoa market distinguishes between two broad categories of cocoa beans: "fine or flavour" cocoa beans, and "bulk" or "ordinary" cocoa beans. As a generalization, fine or flavour cocoa beans are produced from Criollo or Trinitario cocoa tree varieties, while bulk (or ordinary) cocoa beans come from Forastero trees. There are, however, known exceptions to this generalization. Nacional trees in Ecuador, considered to be Forastero type trees, produce fine or flavour cocoa. On the other hand, cocoa beans from Cameroon, produced by Trinitario type trees and whose cocoa powder has a distinct and sought after red colour, have, so far, been classified as bulk cocoa beans. It should be noted that the difference between fine or flavour cocoa and bulk cocoa is in the flavour rather than in the other quality factors. Fine flavours include fruit (fresh and browned, mature fruits), floral, herbal, and wood notes, nut and caramelic notes as well as rich and balanced chocolate bases.    

Usually, a combination of criteria is used to assess the quality of fine or flavour cocoa. These include the genetic origin of planting material, morphological characteristics of the plant, flavour characteristics of the cocoa beans produced, chemical characteristics of the cocoa beans, colour of the cocoa beans and nibs, degree of fermentation, drying, acidity, off-flavours, percentage of internal mould, insect infestation and percentage of impurities. However, the measurement of some of these criteria is subjective and does not establish objectively that the cocoa in question has the characteristics of fine or flavour cocoa.

Criollo pods

Trinitario pods

Beans inside a fresh Criollo pod

Characteristics of the Fine or Flavour cocoa market

The share of fine or flavour cocoa in the total world production of cocoa beans is relatively small and has being falling over the years, from between 40% and 50% at the beginning of the 20th century, with Ecuador and Trinidad & Tobago being the major fine or flavour cocoa producers, to just over five per cent per annum currently.

The decline in consumption of fine or flavour cocoa over recent decades was brought about by a general shift in consumer demand away from solid products towards filled products, containing other ingredients endowed with stronger flavours (such as nuts, fruits, cream, etc), thus reducing the dependence on the aromatic and flavour characteristics of fine or flavour cocoa. Nowadays, chocolate manufacturers use fine or flavour cocoa beans in traditional recipes, mainly for a limited number of relatively expensive, up-market finished products. Only very recently has the demand for fine or flavour cocoa started to grow very rapidly.

Most major chocolate manufacturers have premium quality chocolate products in their range, which require fine or flavour cocoa from specific origins in their recipes for the distinct taste or colour of their chocolate. The traditional cocoa consuming countries of Western Europe (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom) as well as Japan are the main consumer markets for fine or flavour cocoa, while the United States of America uses this type of cocoa to a lesser extent. Some countries in Latin America also have a large domestic market for the use of fine or flavour cocoa.

How the Fine or Flavour market works

Compared to the international market for bulk cocoa, the market for fine or flavour cocoa is generally regarded as a relatively small, highly-specialized and separate market, with its own supply and demand characteristics. Specialist agents buy directly from fine or flavour origins for specific chocolate companies. The price received is determined by the supply-demand balance for that particular origin and type of cocoa, with the quality and flavour requirements of the consumer being the primary considerations. Short-term factors influence the offers and bids in this small market with few participants, and hence the price obtained is highly variable. Nevertheless, fine or flavour cocoa normally commands a premium over the price on the London and New York cocoa futures markets.

However, there are indications that in the nineties and in the major part of the past decade, the levels of premiums for fine or flavour cocoa had generally declined. This phenomenon resulted partly from the widespread concern among users of fine or flavour cocoa about the reliability of future supplies, both in terms of quantity and quality. Indeed, to enable a chocolate manufacturer to plan for the continued inclusion of a particular type of cocoa in his recipe, he must be assured of a regular supply of that particular cocoa, in the quantities and quality he requires. In addition, progress made in the manufacture of chocolate allowed companies to maintain or improve the taste of chocolate products despite lower quality and flavour of the cocoa beans. The resulting lower demand for fine or flavour cocoa beans as well as the mixing of fine and flavour cocoa beans with bulk cocoa beans led to declining price premiums for this type of cocoa.

The recent increasing demand for high quality chocolate gave the fine or flavour cocoa market a new lease of life. Indeed, most major chocolate manufacturers have included premium quality chocolate products in their range. These require fine or flavour cocoa from specific origins in their recipes, in order to achieve the required distinctive taste or colour of the chocolate. Many new chocolate artisans are emerging as well, bringing more demand for this cocoa type.

The ICCO Ad Hoc Panel on Fine or Flavour Cocoa

History of the Panel

The share of fine or flavour cocoa in the production of cocoa beans of individual countries has developed over time. Successive International Cocoa Agreements recognized producing countries exporting either exclusively or partially fine or flavour cocoa. The list of countries and their proportion of production of fine or flavour cocoa under the successive International Cocoa Agreements of 1972, 1975, 1980, 1986, 1993 and 2001 are reproduced in Annex C of each Agreement..

Article 39 of the International Cocoa Agreement (ICA), 2010 stipulates that “the Council shall, at its first session following the entry into force of this Agreement, review Annex C of this Agreement and, if necessary, revise it determining the proportion in which the countries listed therein produce and export exclusively of partially fine or flavour cocoa. Thereafter, the Council may at any time during the lifetime of this Agreement review annex C and, if necessary, revise it. The Council shall seek expert advice on this matter, as appropriate. In such cases, the composition of the Panel of Experts, should, as far as possible, ensure a balance between experts from importing countries and experts from exporting countries. The Council shall decide on the composition of and on the producers to be followed by the Panel of Experts.”

Objective of the Panel

The overall objective of the ICCO Ad hoc Panel on Fine or Flavour cocoa is to provide reference to key players in the cocoa economy of the percentage of Fine or Flavour cocoa exported by cocoa producing countries.

The deliberation to establish the percentage of exports is undertaken by a group of independent experts with ample experience in trade, processing, manufacturing and testing of Fine or Flavour cocoa. These independent experts are selected by the ICCO and provide their views and experiences based on each country case. Cocoa producing countries are invited to present their case to the Panel to justify the percentage of Fine or Flavour cocoa exported and its inclusion in the list of countries producing fully or partially Fine or Flavour cocoa.

Once deliberations have taken place, the Panel submits its recommendations to the International Cocoa Council (the supreme body of the ICCO) for its approval and adoption.

Who are the Fine and Flavour cocoa exporting countries?

At the last meeting of the panel in September 2015, the following recommendations were made, and subsequently approved by the International Cocoa Council at a meeting in May 2016:


Share of total exports of the country classified as fine and flavour cocoa

Belize 50%





Costa Rica




Dominican Republic






Guatemala 50%
Honduras 50%









Nicaragua 100%
Panama 50%

Papua New Guinea




Saint Lucia


São Tomé and Principé


Trinidad and Tobago


Venezuela, Bolivarian Rep. of


Vietnam 40%






ICCO Secretariat

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ICCO Agreements

The ICCO International Cocoa Agreement is available to download in Acrobat PDF format.

Go to the ICCO Agreements page

ICCO Membership Procedure

The procedures for becoming a member of the International Cocoa Organization are provided in Articles 52 to 57 of the International Cocoa Agreement, 2010.

How to Become an ICCO Member - International Cocoa Agreement 2010