How is the quality of cocoa checked - by hand, by machine?

The quality of cocoa is checked through sampling.

The sampler selects at random a significant percentage of the bags for inspection and a stabbing iron is used to draw a number of beans from the selected bags. Or, if the cocoa is in bulk, samples are taken at random from the beans as they enter a hopper or as they are spread on tarpaulins.

Different authorities may set a differing level of beans/samples for inspection. The International Standard recommends that the samples should amount to not less than 300 beans for every tonne of cocoa. For bagged cocoa, samples should be taken from not less than 30% of the bags, and for bulk cocoa there should be not less than 5 samplings per tonne.

The samples are analysed using the cut test. Most exporting countries' authorities specify standards dependent on the International Standards Organization cut test, as do normal physical cocoa contracts. The cut test provides an assessment of the beans from which analysts may infer certain characteristics of the cocoa, which gives an indication of quality.

The cut test involves counting off 300 beans. These 300 beans are then cut lengthwise through the middle and examined. Separate counts are made of the number of beans which are defective in that they are mouldy, slaty, insect damaged, germinated or flat. The results for each kind of defect are expressed as a percentage of the 300 beans examined. The amount of defective beans revealed in the cut test gives manufacturers an indication of the flavour characteristics of the beans.

Bean counts are another measure of quality that producing countries often use, though there is no internationally accepted bean size classification. The Federation of Cocoa Commerce defines the following method for bean counts: A sample of not less than 600 grammes of whole beans, irrespective of size but not including flat beans, will be counted to obtain the number of beans per 100 grammes.

Further tests are carried out by chocolate manufacturers and cocoa processors, particularly for beans from origins that are inconsistent in quality or prone to off flavours. The manufacturer cannot sift out all the defective beans and so must ensure good quality at the selection stage. Consistency in quality for the production of cocoa mass cannot be achieved when using one source of cocoa beans because of the large natural variability which exists in each lot. The differences can be reduced by having a number of different types and lots of cocoa beans of known quality in stock and making an appropriate blend. Strict control of the roasting and alkalising processes is also required to produce the best quality.

For the chocolate manufacturer the yield of nib is very important, as is the amount of cocoa butter in the nib. Higher levels of cocoa butter mean that lower levels will need to be added later on in the manufacturing process. Nib yields are determined in the laboratory.

Flavour is also important for chocolate manufacturers. Flavour assessment is normally carried out by panels of between five and ten experienced tasters. Off flavours can readily be detected by tasting roasted ground nib of cocoa liquor directly or they can be mixed with sugar and water to make a basic dark chocolate before tasting. Mouldy and smoky off flavours and excessive bitterness cannot be removed during processing. Acid tastes can be altered in processing through neutralisation.

Sub standard beans can be pressed whole to produce expelled cocoa butter which is then refined. Better quality beans are deshelled before pressing to produce pure pressed cocoa butter and cocoa press cake (which ultimately becomes cocoa powder). Chocolate manufacturers have a number of requirements with respect to the quality of cocoa butter: hardness, melting and solidification behaviour.

Cocoa trade associations and national authorities produce standards or gradings for cocoa beans covering the bean count per 100g and the percentage of permitted faults, moisture and foreign matter, and the International Standards Organization provides a specification for cocoa beans.

Trade associations

The Federation of Cocoa Commerce Ltd
Cannon Bridge House
1 Cousin Lane
Tel: (020) 7379 2884
Fax: (020) 7379 2389
Website: www.cocoafederation.com

Cocoa Merchants Association of America
26 Broadway - Suite 707
New York
NY 10004-1703
Tel: (212) 3637334
Fax: (212) 3637678
Website: www.cocoamerchants.com

International organisations

Food and Agriculture Organization - Model Ordinance
International Standards Organization - ISO 2451

National authorities

Brazil - National Foreign Trade Council
Cameroon - ONCC
Congo - ONCC
Côte d'Ivoire - Ministry of Agriculture
Dominican Republic - Cocoa Department, Ministry of Agriculture
Ecuador - Ministry of Industry, Commerce
Ghana - Ministry of Agriculture
Indonesia - Indonesian Cocoa Association
Malaysia - Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority/Malaysian Cocoa Board
Nigeria - Federal Produce Inspection Service
Papua New Guinea - Papua New Guinea Cocoa Board
Sierra Leone - SLPMB
Solomon Islands - Commodities Export Marketing Authority
Vanuatu - Dept of Agriculture
USA - 21 Code of Federal Regulations, Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Western Samoa - 1989 Cocoa Act

Dand, R. The International Cocoa Trade. Woodhead Publishing Ltd, 1993
Cocoa beans. Chocolate manufacturers' quality requirements. The Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Alliance, 4th edition, October 1996
Beckett, S.T., Industrial chocolate manufacture and use. Blackie Academic & Professional, 2nd edition , 1994
Cocoa. A shippers manual. International Trade Centre, 1990
Dand, R., The international cocoa trade. Woodhead Publishing, 1993
Cocoa: A guide to trade practices. International Trade Centre, 2001

September 2003






ICCO Secretariat

Postal Address:
International Cocoa Organization
06 BP 1166 Abidjan 06
Côte d'Ivoire

Tel:  +225 22 51 49 50/51
Fax: +225 22 51 49 79
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

General Information

Further information on the ICCO, the cocoa market, statistics, meetings, or any other subject related to the world cocoa economy can be obtained by contacting the Information and Media Officer at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.