By encouraging cocoa bean production in several global biodiversity hotspots, Philipp Kauffman has stimulated local micro-industries, and the chocolate produced there commands a premium
I have met a number of socially responsible artisan food craftspeople — you know, sourcing their truffles from a commune of impoverished Italian grannies or their chickens from an ancient tribe which only communicates in clucks. Often with them, the product comes first and the social impact second. That’s why it’s refreshing to meet a maverick — yes, a maverick — who put the impact first and then developed a grade-A product.
Philipp Kauffmann founded Original Beans after working, inter alia, at the United Nations Development Programme on biodiversity issues. His passion was conserving the rainforest, but instead of relying on government or supranational bodies, he decided to take the favoured route of the 21st century for social impact: the market. By encouraging cocoa bean production in several global ‘biodiversity hotspots’ — the Itenez river basin in the Bolivian Amazon, the Virunga National Park in the DRC — Kauffman has stimulated local micro-industries, and the chocolate produced there commands a premium.
Pictured above: The Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one source of Original Beans’ cacao
Delicious it is, too — Philipp and I are talking while eating a peanut butter parfait with Original Beans 75 per cent Piura Criollo chocolate delice, sea salt caramel and chocolate crumble (quite a mouthful, in both senses) at Kopapa Cafe in Covent Garden.
Kauffman’s analysis of the chocolate business is clear-eyed and makes his own business case that much stronger: ‘The chocolate industry is one of the few industries in the next few years which will be changing from a vicious to a virtuous industry. Historically cocoa was grown on a very low product expectation: unripe beans, not fermented beans, mouldy beans, lots of defects.’ The terroir of the beans was lost, and where it comes from are not the wealthy fields of France but the most underdeveloped nations, often former colonies, which will distinctly benefit from a fairer deal.
Philipp has no illusions about the market he’s entering — ‘I don’t think another chocolate company is needed’ — but he doesn’t want Original Beans to be like his competitors, ‘to take the same product, add a few social characteristics and a social premium’.
‘What we’re trying to figure out is how we can grow a conservation business and the cocoa supply chain to do that.’ If that sounds rather businesslike, well, it is, and that makes a refreshing change from most of the airy nonsense of the artisanal world. But that doesn’t mean the chocolate is any less good. Far from it.
Available at Whole Foods, Fortnum & Mason and La Fromagerie