Cacao grow on trees, the cacao tree. The cacao itself is found in the trees' fruits, or cacao pods. There are three main types of cacao, and they are in there turn divided in subtypes. The main cacao we use is criollo, seen in the picture below, harvested in the vicinity of El Castillo. As Russel Cook puts it: ... "the uniqueness of its [Nicaragua's] wonderful native Criollo ... even today one can find in some Nicaraguan stores a few pounds of the extraordinarily large, light colored beans that folks buy to eat as nuts. They are delicious, either raw* or lightly roasted, and would be appreciated by epicures anywhere" **.
From the fertilized flower, it takes four to six months a ripe pod to be ready to harvest. The pod is about 25-30 centimetres long and oval shaped. When split opened the 20-40 seeds, covered with a quite nice tasting sweet-sour tasting pulp. To open the pod is a delicate operation. A few beans damaged in each pod means a few percent less harvested and that's money. As you understand, harvesting and pod-opening is a job for the skilled (even if the purple bean colour is beautiful in the white pulp).
* Raw should be understood as fermented, see the next section
** L Russel Cook 1972, Chocolate Production and Use, Books for Industry, NY.
When in the pods, the 50-70 grains