Excited about the idea of harvesting your own cocao beans from your own tree? Or are you just passionate about cultivating exotic plants? Growing a cacao tree (botanical name: Theobroma Cacao) can be a unique and rewarding experience, offering the satisfaction of nurturing a tropical plant and witnessing its growth and development firsthand. And just try to imagine the smiles of your friends and family when you show them for the very first time your very own chocolate tree!

The journey to becoming a cacao tree cultivator in Europe begins with finding the perfect cacao plant. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a chocolate connoisseur, here are some important tips to guide you through the process of acquiring a cacao tree in Europe.

What you need to know before you buy a cacao tree

Cacao tree-pods-Spain

Cacao trees are tropical trees and can only grow within about 20° north and south of the equator. Not even the warmest part of southern Europe is warm enough to grow cacao trees outdoor in the ground. There is an ongoing project in La Mayora research center in Andalusia in Spain where they are experimenting with growing cacao in unheated greenhouses. We have visited this project in 2023 and made this photo in the greenhouse of a cacao tree bearing fruit.

Cacao trees only prosper under specific conditions, including fairly uniform temperatures, high humidity, abundant rain, nitrogen-rich soil, and protection from wind.

Can you grow a cacao tree at home?

The good news is that cacao trees grow very well in pots and can be kept as a houseplant. In summer, the tree can be moved outside, but keep the following things in mind:

  • Don’t keep it outside when temperatures drop below 12°C at night
  • In summer when the intensity of sunlight is at it’s peak, keep it in partial shade

A cacao tree, like every other tree or plant, needs time to adapt to new circumstances. Make sure that the plant can gradually get used to new conditions. For example when you start moving it outdoors, for the first few days only keep it outdoors at night before you move it outdoor night and day.

Since the sun has low intensity in winter, you can keep the cacao plant in full sunlight in your house.

One thing to keep in mind is that cacao trees thrive on high humidity levels. On the contrary, when humidity is low, the leaves might turn brown. This can happen especially during the winter when indoor heating can dry out the air. Increase humidity by misting the plant regularly, using a room humidifier, or placing it in a mini greenhouse. A mini greenhouse will increase both humidity and temperature around the cacao tree.

Fertilize the cacao tree with a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants. Apply fertilizer during the growing season (spring and summer) according to the manufacturer’s instructions, typically every 4-6 weeks.

Can I grow a cacao tree from cacao seeds?

Cacao tree fruit beans seeds

It seems to make sense to just source some cacao beans, sow them and wait for the cacao seedlings to emerge. The challenge here is that cacao seeds are only viable for a very short period of time. Unlike many vegetable and fruit seeds that can be stored in a dry and dark place for a long time and will still germinate after years. Unfortunately, that is not the case with cacao seeds, they can not really be stored. Like many other tropical species, the viability of the seeds is only a couple of days after they are harvested. The seeds should never be kept dry. If they dry out, they die and will not germinate.

Cacao seeds will remain viable a little longer when they are kept inside the cacao pod. But still, if you are lucky enough to find a fresh cacao pod, then it’s no guarantee that the seeds will still be viable.

We have tried and failed many times to grow cacao seeds from a fresh cacao pod. What happened time and time again after sowing the seeds: at first the taproot emerged from the cacao seed and started to grow, but after a few days growth would stagnate and eventually the root turned brown and both the root en seed would rot away.

It turned out that the problem with the cacao seeds was that they were stored at a too low temperature. These pods were imported by a specialty fruit importer here in the Netherlands. Right after their produce is offloaded from the plane, it’s loaded into a cooled trailer, and then brought to huge refrigerated distribution facilities.

One time we went to pick up the cacao pods at such a facility in the middle of summer, and the guys working there were dressed like ski instructors. Temperature was just a few degrees above the freezing point. And while the cacao pod and the seeds were obviously super fresh, this is simply too cold for tropical seeds to handle, thus losing their viability.

Where to buy cacao seeds in Europe?

If you are looking to buy cacao seeds, beware of the fact that there are many “fake” sellers of seeds on online platforms like Amazon and eBay. There’s a high chance that you will receive dried and dead cacao seeds, or seeds from completely different species. Sellers can get away with this scam, because before people realize the seed will never sprout, or what sprouted is not a cacao seed, the reclamation term is already over.

If you want to buy cacao seeds online, look for a product with multiple genuine positive reviews. And preferable buy seeds from a EU based seller, because there are no limitations in sending seeds or plants only within the EU territory.

When ordering cacao seeds from outside the EU, they need to be accompanied by a phytosanitary certificate. There’s always a chance of inspection when importing products from outside EU. When there’s no phytosanitary certificate included, the cacao seeds will be confiscated or returned to sender.

In conclusion, growing a cacao tree from seed might sound easy, but there are many complicating factors to get good cacao seeds in Europe. While it might seem like a cheap and attractive option to grow a cacao tree, many people have wasted their money and time on ordering cacao seeds. Let alone finding cacao seeds from specific cacao varieties that some collectors are looking for.

Where to find a good cacao tree in Europe


Since a cacao tree is a rare specialty product, there’s virtually no chance you will find a cacao tree in a physical store. As with most uncommon products: Your best chance to find a cacao tree will be from an online seller, or on specific fairs. Look for reputable nurseries or specialty suppliers with a track record of providing healthy, happy plants. You might find that . Ideally, choose a cacao tree that is at least two to three years old, as younger plants may take longer to mature and bear fruit.

When to order a cacao tree in Europe?

Our experience is that plants can be shipped pretty well, when properly packed they can be tossed around by mail delivery employees, and they will also survive in a pitch black dark box for prolonged period of times. But there’s one thing that cacao trees will not survive, and that’s severe cold. Because cacao is “super tropical” it will most likely die when it’s exposed to freezing temperatures in winter.

While packages in transit will be protected from the cold in distribution centers, they are not when they are transported in trucks between distribution centers. This is not a real risk with a “subtropical” species like our popular curry leaf tree which we ship the whole year round. But we do not take the risk with cacao plants from November until April and they will not be available for order. During winter, our customers can subcribe with their e-mail address and receive a notification once shipping resumes.

Pollination of cacao tree flowers

This information is relevant if you not only want to be the owner of a cacao tree, but eventually want to grow one or more actual cacao fruits on the tree.

In their original native tropical habitat, cacao trees are pollinated by certain insects that do not exist in Europe. This means that pollination will have to be done manually.

Hand pollination is a precise method that involves manually transferring pollen from the male to the female part of the flower. This meticulous process is necessary due to the small size of cacao flowers and the concealed nature of the female part within the flower. Pollination can be done by using tweezers. Watch this video to learn more about cacao tree pollination and see the process.

It works best to take the pollen from a different cacao tree. So if you want to grow cacao fruit, we recommend that you have at least 2 cacao trees.

A cacao tree grows relatively fast. Under the right cicumstances, the tree could be producing flowers after 2 years, and succesfully hold and grow one or more cacao after 4 or 5 years.

In conclusion

Embarking on the journey of buying a cacao tree in Europe is an exciting step towards becoming a part of the rich tradition of chocolate cultivation.

Of course we would like to mention that we also grow and sell cacao trees. We have been able to successfully source several cacao varieties. We grow these from seed in our own indoor greenhouse, where we have created a warm and humid environment and where we grow the majority of our plants under LED lights. At the time of writing we are growing 3 different varieties, Forastero, Trinitario and Nacional.

To see the growing process from seed, check our Instagram stories on growing cacao.

We aim to offer in the future different sizes of cacao trees. From young seedlings to more established young trees.

With patience, care, and a little bit of luck, you’ll soon be indulging in the sweet rewards of your cacao-growing endeavors. If you liked this article, or if you have any more questions, just leave a comment below!

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