Based in Amsterdam, Original Beans is one of the most acclaimed chocolate companies in the world, and not just because of their chocolate. Founder Philipp Kauffmann is both an entrepreneur and conservationist who comes from a long line of forest explorers and environmentalists.
After leaving his job at the United Nations, Philipp drew on that experience to create an elite chocolate company that positively impacts the fragile regions where cacao is grown. “Since 2008, Original Beans has helped to plant one-million trees in regions as remote as the Amazon and challenging as Eastern Congo. Original Beans has changed the lives of 20,000 cacao-growing families, preserved some of the rarest cacaos in the world, and helped to buffer forests that harbor the last mountain gorillas and the breathtaking birds of paradise.”
It’s no surprise that Kauffmann would wrap his commercial enterprise around the concept of social impact. His ancestors include a great grandfather who founded one of the largest nature conservation organizations in Germany and G.L. Hartig, who helped coin the phrase “sustainability” more than 220 years ago.
For Cocoa + Co., part of “Living the Chocolate Life” is taking the time to understand where our chocolates come from and how cacao’s growth impacts the environment, and a conscious choice to support producers who work to ensure fair treatment of those who grow it. Original Beans embodies the same ethos and we were thrilled to learn more about what they’re doing. Check out our Q&A with Philipp:
Q: Original Beans has made planting cacao trees and affecting the lives of farmers a top priority since day one: why do you make this a priority?
A: “To answer this question, I would like to briefly tell you how the idea started growing in me. During my first job as one of the early Internet entrepreneurs in the 90’s, I suddenly realized that something in me was changing. I took some time off and started interviewing interesting people, my heroes: Jane Goodall, Paul Hawken, and Hazel Anderson. The conversations gave me clarity as to what I wanted to do: contribute to the bigger issue of how to get our economy in balance with ecology. And I wanted to do this at the frontier, where we don’t just talk about making our industrial system more eco efficient, but really protect primary nature, the wilderness, the beauty of it all. I first got a job at WWF and I worked there for four years, traveling around the world from place to place, learning every step of the way. Next, I moved on to a job at the UN as an expert for business and biodiversity. I recognized that there was no company that was designed for being in balance with nature. Living nature has no market. It only becomes a business once it’s dead: a tree becomes a timber, a fish a filet. What I asked myself was, ‘How do we get the value of living nature at least partially incorporated into our economic system, make it into a business?’ Original Beans is my answer to that question.
Q: How does the conservation side of Original Beans influence the chocolates you make?
A: Actually, it determines everything from the very start. In the first place, we commit ourselves to actually make a chocolate from a specific origin, usually a biodiversity hotspot in the world. When we find a bean and terroir that fulfills our high standards, we set up a project there (together with a local farmer group) to improve the quality and quantity of the cacao and start developing a fine flavor chocolate out of it based on a recipe that guarantees that the pure taste of the original cacao bean is reflected in it. Therefore, we just use the best natural ingredients and no additives like vanillin or lecithin. At the same time, we make agreements with the local farmers to replant and protect the forest and its wildlife. Thus, the capacity and willingness within the community of indigenous people or subsistence farmers is a very crucial factor for our journey towards great cacao and responsible conservation of its forest origin.
Q: Do you see more chocolate producers following suit and incorporating care for the environment and cacao farmers into their mission? How can those who purchase high-end chocolates help make a difference in their own small way?
A: Among the new generation of chocolate makers are many who understand the relationship between the quality of their final product and the commitment to quality of life and nature in the cacao origins. I would measure all of them in their commitment to organic agriculture, which to me is the entry point. If you don't enter through that door, I don't think you can climb very high on the sustainability ladder. The consumer can make a difference as well by making more conscious purchasing choices. It is important to question what really matters to you. Every purchase is a contribution. Do you want to contribute to exploitation or conservation?
Q: How important is it for representatives of Original Beans to travel to cacao growing regions? Any recent and/or upcoming trips underway?
A: We have a team of three conservation cacao experts working in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. They are living on the continent or spend a lot of time there—in the villages, in the forests. One is now in the Amazon, one in Uganda, and another just returned from Papua.
Q: What is your signature product? Any new products announced recently or in the near future?
A: Our signature is chocolate from and for the most pristine rainforests in the world. It takes at least two years of work to develop a new bean into a chocolate. So we always have new beans under development. For autumn 2015, we aim to present a new African bean. And we have thought about how to introduce children to chocolate, and away from candy, by offering Original Beans in a child-orientated design. Kids are little gourmets and they can already learn that good chocolate tastes more than just sweet.
Q: Any other interesting developments on the way for Original Beans?
A: One of our goals is to express our ideals on the web and get others involved. We already engage our customers through the tree-tracker to discover the conservation aspects behind our product. But we continuously work to allow them to participate more actively and personally - and we think we have found an innovative way now. Stay tuned and watch out for changes on our website, originalbeans.com, and social media channels.