Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Original Beans

Original Beans has been in the news lately because of what many consider its exorbitant price - $14.95 for a standard 3 oz bar. True, it's more than double the cost of fine chocolate bars like Scharffen Berger and Michel Cluizel. But after sampling their delectable "Beni Wild Harvest" and "Cru Virunga" bars, I've decided that $13.95 is not such a bad price for an occasional indulgence. And if you think it's the most expensive chocolate out there, it's not even close. The Bonnat Porcelana bar, available on Chocosphere for $21.95, is still 57% more expensive, and you can't even boast that your purchase is good for the planet.

"The planet: replant it" is Original Beans' slogan - and a fun tongue twister. For each bar you buy, Original Beans plants a tree in the region of the bean's origin. If you take the extra step of visiting their web site and typing in your bar's lot number, you'll learn more about the plantations Original Beans is working with, with pictures of nurseries, plantation farmers and conservation programs. Recyclable packaging? check. Renewable energy in chocolate production? check. Offsetting of fossil fuel use? check. It should be no surprise, then, that the headquarters of this unique chocolate company is San Francisco.

Another bean-to-bar chocolate company in San Francisco? Not exactly. Original Beans co-founder Lesal Rusky has two partners in Amsterdam and produces the chocolate in Switzerland. So it's a good thing carbon offsetting is taken care of, because these beans have been around before they make it to San Francisco retailers. The Swiss influence is also evident in the taste and texture of these bars. The "Beni Wild Harvest," made from Bolivian beans, boasts a 60 hour conch. It's incredibly rich and voluptuous. If you prefer the taste of rough and unprocessed bars (like Taza), then Original Beans is not for you. But lovers of brands like Valrhona and Swiss or Belgian chocolate are bound to enjoy Original Beans bars.

Both Fog City News and Chocolate Covered carry the two Original Beans bars I sampled, as well as their Esmeraldas bar, a 42% cacao milk chocolate bar with fleur de sel. Look for the distinctive slate packaging with delicate silver vines. And know that, even if you're spending more than you would on a bottle of wine, you're helping some real vines blossom in cacao country.