Philipp Kauffmann, co-founder of Original Beans isn’t just making chocolate that tastes better – it also makes the planet better. Made from rare cacao beans (the brand produced the world’s first single-source chocolate from the Congo), the pleasures on the tongue extend to the conscience as Original Beans plants a tree in the chocolate’s place of origin for every bar sold. I asked Philipp to explain some more about his sweet delicacies, as well as the brand’s conservation efforts.
So why are people so obsessed with chocolate?
Chocolate – good chocolate – is simply delicious; another delightful gift of mother Earth to make us smile. And there’s more reason to be obsessed with chocolate: it grows on trees. I believe that it’s time to start giving back to the Earth and do everything we can to protect and restore her. Chocolate is both delicious and restorative, and it conveys our deep relation with tropical rainforests. Did you know that the cacao tree reserves its fruits for our kind i.e. primates? So chocolate in the truest sense is a tree-treat and that’s why Original Beans replants trees and conserves rainforests.
Where does your passion for the forests come from?
True passion always has very personal roots. I grew up with a deep sense of nature spending my childhood years in the forests, lakes and mountains of Southern Germany where I also learnt about the old, sustainable farming traditions, but my love for conservation also runs in the family. Over generations, my ancestors have been earth scientists, agriculturalists and foresters. One of them, Georg Ludwig Hartig, is remembered for his late 18th century thesis about modern forest management, where he speaks of sustainability as the prerequisite of managing forests in a way to leave future generations as much as the current generation has. I’ve always felt intuitively that this is one of the most important ideas of my lifetime, challenging as it may be.
What for you characterizes ‘good’ chocolate?
When you put a piece of Original Beans in your mouth, you immediately notice that it melts on the tongue quicker and finer than any other chocolate. That melt produces a wonderful mouth feel, and also helps the tongue taste in better detail and extend the finish. Most importantly, good chocolate – much like excellent wine – expresses the flavors of the “original beans”… the cacao fruits and their terroir. For example, the tasting note from an independent panel of our Cru Virunga, the first direct-source chocolate from Eastern Congo says: “Zingy with ripe morello cherries steeped in cassis, smoky tobacco and forest floor notes.”
We say that out of 100% quality in the final product, 50% is made by nature and the other 50% is equally added by the farmer and in the factory. More than half of what our taste buds get excited about when tasting Original Beans chocolate has to do with the variety of cacao fruit, the minerals of the soil, the shade of the grove, the humidity and the temperatures. In a very true sense, good chocolate is deeper green…
So how did you come to create Original Beans?
As a conservationist, I’m witnessing how our/my consumption depletes and destroys nature as we know it: rainforests, coral reefs, wetlands, rich soils. The only solution I see is to develop ways and products that replenish the planet as we consume them. If you eat one bar of Original Beans chocolate, you plant one tree, which – depending on the life cycle data – may leave an ecological net plus.
In 2006, when I worked on financing nature conservation companies in New York, I met an American organic food marketer, and independently, a Dutch fair trade pioneer. Our vision was the same, our backgrounds perfectly complementary so we thought up Original Beans and gave it a simple mission statement: The Planet : Replant It.
Your focus is equally on conservation as chocolate. Can you tell us more specific details about the brand’s conservation efforts?
Our replenishment work (as we sometimes call it), currently happens in four origins: around Virunga National Park in Eastern DR Congo, in the Piura valley in Northern Peru, around Mache Chindul biosphere reserve in Esmeraldas province of Ecuador, and in the Itenez river valley in the Northeastern Bolivian Amazon. What all of these places have in common is that they are biodiversity hotspots, places with high ecological value that’s under a lot of encroachment pressure. We play an active role in the conservation of these origins by supporting local, small farmers to preserve the amazing natural wealth they have, to produce better cacao quality and sell it at a much better price to us.
Our most remote origin is in Bolivia, where native Indian cacao experts go out in boats for weeks to collect the wild cacao. In addition to man-made fires, one of the threats to this unique cacao is the extinction of the blue-crested macaws in the wild, which used to eat the fruit and spread the cacao seeds. This is why we now need to replant.
The densest origin is in Eastern Congo, where the civil war has calmed down a bit and the people are moving back onto the land, but need help and a worthwhile crop to start anew; but without destroying the rainforests which inhabit the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world and other rare creatures, like the elegant Okapi.
What’s your favorite chocolate in the Original Beans range?
I’m perhaps most proud of the Cru Virunga because there’s so much hope in this chocolate, which is sourced only 300 kilometers North of Goma in Eastern Congo, in a region that’s seen the bloodiest war after the Second World War with millions of victims. The farmers here are among the poorest people in the world. They live in a spectacular landscape at the fringes of Virunga National Park, which is a famous World Heritage Site and home to the last mountain gorillas on Earth. We’ve started to introduce cacao and make this chocolate to restore livelihoods and village communities and to protect the park. Farmers learn the practices of organic farming and the concept of replanting and forest conservation. The field agronomists make tens of kilometers on their bikes every day (sponsored by the Wheels for Life Foundation) on muddy, hilly paths to reach farm houses built from straw and mud to discuss better shade management or improved fermentation of the cacao beans.
Your favorite chocolate dessert?
Phil Usher, head pastry chef at London’s Caprice Group of restaurants (the Scott’s, the Ivy etc.) has created a superb chocolate fondant with the Cru. That’s definitely one of my favorite desserts! And of course, my mother’s Sachertorte with our 75% Piura Criollo couverture: pure bliss…
What inspired the packaging design?
Our considerations all develop from the core of our ecological mission. We wanted to create a graphic language and experience that’s both as intimate and sensual as chocolate should be, and explicit as the call to eco-action needs to be. We’ve given our packaging a tactile feel and there are many details to discover. It should feel as much like a gift to oneself as to others. At the same time, we’re using strong colors and the old symbol of the tree to stand out distinctively. We make it from FSC certified cardboard and vegetable-based inks packaged in a factory that’s 20% more energy-efficient than industry standards.
Any food trends that pique your interest?
The chocolate mousse with passion fruit that Peter Gordon recently served us in his new restaurant Kopapa in London – I’ve never tasted such a texture and pyramid of fruit flavors! Having said that, one of my greatest pleasures is to buy from producers directly on markets wherever I travel. I’m glad that more and more of us consumers are remembering the same wonderful pleasure of buying food that comes with passion, expert know-how and traceability. It’s a trend – and yet – sound food choices are more complex than that. We’ll have to learn a lot and adapt in the next years to rebuild sustainable food chains for the eight billion humans in our world, and all the other species.
And what can we expect from the brand in the coming year?
We plan to plant tens of thousands of trees this year supported by a growing community of consumers and a committed community of farmers. We’ve just launched a new original bean – one of the rarest cacaos yet – a white bean from a small area in Northern Peru. We’re constantly looking for other original beans… so stay tuned.
This is a new post by David Report contributor Kristina Dryza.