Friday, May 23, 2008

Along The Java Trail: The Healthy Bean

"HEALTHY" COFFEE? Follow Bill Friday along the Java Trail. Next stop: THE HEALTHY BEAN.

Mmmm, coffee. It's good and good for you.

Right. And people believe everything politicians, televangelists and Art Bell tell them. But there are some things you'd like to believe. Ice flows aren't melting, smog in Beijing will be gone by August, and coffee is actually good for you.

I want to believe.

The Healthy Bean, The World's First Healthy Coffee , is a thoroughly new concept in the world of high-end, gourmet coffee. So new that the first HB location opened less than a year ago on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. Today, I dropped in on the second HB in Torrance on Hawthorne Blvd. just south of the Del Amo Mall. And since I've driven past the Torrance location maybe 300 times since it opened, I figured it was time to find out just what "healthy coffee" is all about.

Walking through the doors, the first thing I noticed was how the Feng Shui was flying: High walls painted bright red; other walls of green bamboo and black lacquer shelves filled with mugs and things for sale; a warm yellow ceiling above and big, comfy brown leather chairs throughout make the place look inviting without making you fell like you just stumbled into three rooms of moth-chewed furniture crammed into a Public Storage vault in Height-Ashbury. Not that I'm hatin' the Height, I just like a coffee house where there's a better chance of finding liquid soap in the restroom dispenser than there is finding one filled with patchouli oil.

But I wasn't there to review restrooms. I've learned that lesson.

The second thing I noticed was the incredibly friendly staff behind the counter at The Healthy Bean. Maybe they'd been drinking some "healthy coffee" in between customers before I got there.

And finally, what I noticed were the prices. A small cup of black coffee goes for a stiff $2.25! That's over 40% higher than the equivalent drink at Starbucks. Other items on the beverage menu are also kind of pricey. For example, all of The Healthy Bean's large (20 ounce), flavored hot beverages will run you $5.80. A similar drink at Starbucks still comes in at less than $5.00.

So if "healthy coffee" is worth the weight-in-gold price tag, I decided to find out why.

According to the literature, the idea behind The Healthy Bean came from co-founders Ray Basa and Violeta Cristobal in 2003. Basa spent 17 years in the nutritional supplements industry with companies such as GNC, Weider, Atkins and Bally's Total Fitness. Cristobal is a CPA and a long-time marathon runner. The two, both originally from the Philippines, took the idea of dietary supplementation plus the idea of the retail business model, and after several years of test marketing, opened The Healthy Bean.

So what makes 'healthy coffee" healthy?

According to The Healthy Bean, their coffee is "...infused with high levels of antioxidants and whey protein...".


As the story goes, "One 12-ounce serving of Healthy Bean coffee contains the combined antioxidant power of one cup of green tea, one cup of grape juice, one cup of pomegranate juice and 1/8 cup of wild blueberries, and as much protein as a [half] glass of milk."

Sounds like someone watched a lot of I Love Lucy re-runs in their formative years. Or like The Healthy Bean should be selling bottles of VitaMeataVegiMin on the shelves next to the French presses and coffee mugs.

So like any good secret shopper, I ordered "one 12-ounce cup" (Italian roast), sat down in a comfy, brown leather chair, and with no idea what to expect, I drank.

It was... good. I mean, really good.

Served to me in a to go cup with a chocolate covered coffee bean placed on the lid like a mint on a hotel pillow, I actually liked this "healthy coffee". Enough that after finishing the first cup, I ordered a refill, this time decaf French roast - just for research. Also good. Better than expected good.

And strong. Not strong as in harsh-bitter, party-of-two strong. I mean powerful strong.

I've been drinking coffee since I was 17-years-old. Lots of coffee. I'm nobody's coffee lightweight. Yet, after one cup of caffeinated and a half-cup of decaf from The Healthy Bean, I was buzzed. The kind of buzzed where your face tingles and you swear you've been playing drinking games with the staff of BrooWaha San Francisco. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I just didn't think a few antioxidants would give me the same feeling as a couple of cans of Red Bull.

But will anybody else join me in a "healthy", $2.25 cup of regular coffee when a gallon of regular gasoline now tops $4.00?

Well, I'm over the buzz now. It's been a few hours and I haven't felt the need for another cup of coffee since. Usually by now, I'll need to make myself at least one more cup just to make it to the end of the day. Today, not so much. Of course, at $18.00 a pound for a take home bag of beans, maybe I don't want to need another cup before the end of the day.

So should you try The Healthy Bean? I would recommend it. At least until the FDA finishes their report on the effects the antioxidant/caffeine speedball*.

The Healthy Bean is located at 23211 Hawthorne Blvd. in Torrance. Hours vary by day. For info call 310-373-5696. Visa /MC accepted.

*Bill Friday is not aware of any such FDA study. If you are, or would like to participate in one, please follow the link at the end of this article, where you can be helped by a cell/molecular biologist in your area.

Copyright © 2008 Bill Friday

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