Do you know where chocolate comes from? Do you really?
You might have heard that chocolate comes from cacao beans, and that these grow on cacao trees, but did you know that:
* The scientific name for cacao trees is Theobroma cacao? That’s where Thea gets her name.
* There are four varieties of cacao tree: forestero, criollo, trinitario, and nacional. The nacional variety was found in Peru just nine years ago!
* The genus Theobroma is probably millions of years old, but modern cacao trees first appeared around 10,000 years ago in the Amazon basin, and they’ve been cultivated for 3,000 to 5,000 years.
* Cacao trees only grow in tropical climates very close to the Equator. Most cacao trees grow in West Africa today, but they are also grown in Central and South America, Indonesia, the Caribbean, and Hawaii. So unless you live in one of those places, you can’t have a cacao tree in your backyard.
* Cacao trees can grow to be 30 feet tall, even if they grow in the shade of much larger trees.* Cacao trees can bloom and bear fruit all year around, but they are usually harvested twice per year.
* A single cacao tree can have as many as 6,000 blossoms, but not all of them turn into fruit.
* Cacao fruit, called pods, can be many different colors, from bright yellow to green, brown, red, or even purple!
* Cacao pods grow on the trunks of cacao trees.
* Cacao trees are very vulnerable to fungal infection, and cacao habitats are slowly shrinking due to deforestation and climate change.
* Chocolate was first brought to Europe in 1502, but it wasn’t made into solid bars until 1848.
* The first chocolate house in the United States in 1765, owned by John Hannon and Dr. James Baker, after whom Baker’s Chocolate is named.
* When I was a student at MIT in Cambridge, MA, I used to walk past a chocolate factory every day on my way to class.
If you’re interested, you can read more about cacao trees here:
- Cocoa Fun Facts
- Varieties of Cocoa Beans
- Cacao Tree Facts
- A Brief History of Chocolate in the United States
I’m fascinated by cacao and chocolate, which is why one of my characters is Thea, a baby magical intelligent cacao tree.
Thea was no ordinary tree. The Enchanted Forest School that Petunia and Millie attended took place in the branches of an enormous, intelligent, and magical oak tree, a dodonos named Quercius. Dodonoi were extremely rare — there were only four in the whole Enchanted Forest Realm before Thea came along. …At school, Millie had accidentally transformed a green bean into a cacao bean, and because it had sprouted so close to Quercius, it became a dodonas, an intelligent, magical tree: Thea. One day, Thea would walk and talk and even attend school, learning to use her magic. But for now, she was still a baby and needed care and protection. — A Pixie’s Promise, p. 17.
Now you can create your very own Thea to care for and protect! You will need:
- Paper and/or cardstock
- Cardboard from a cereal box or shipping box
- Tape and/or glue
- Markers, crayons, colored pencils, and/or paint
- Optional: pipe cleaners, popsicle sticks, stickers, glitter, googly eyes – whatever is fun for you!
- Download MakeYourOwnThea-template and print it out. You might want to print extra copies of page 3. If you can print it on cardstock, you can skip steps 3 and 4 below.
- Cut out the two tree shapes. Be sure to cut the slot in each trunk. You might want to ask an adult for help with this.
- Use the tree shapes as stencils and draw their outlines onto some cardboard.
- Cut out the cardboard tree shapes. You might want to ask an adult for help with this. Adults, for heavy cardboard, you might want to use a box cutter or other sharp implement.
- Slide the two tree shapes to form an X. The tree should be able to stand on its own.
- Color the leaves, cacao pods, and flowers on page 3.
- Cut them out and decorate the tree’s branches and trunk with them. While Thea is actually too young to have flowers or fruit (she’s less than a year old, and cacao trees usually don’t bloom until they’re 3-5 years old), you can use them if you want.
- Add other decorations, such as eyes, pipe cleaners, and stickers. Make your tree magical!
- Take a photo and post it in the comments on the Dianna Sanchez Facebook page.
Tomorrow, I’ll be posting a secret message! Have your copy of An Elf’s Equations handy to decode it.
Also, on Friday, I’ll be doing a live Question and Answer session. If you post questions in the comments on my Facebook page, I’ll gather them up and answer them.