I have recently purchased a large quantity of vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA. They have insanely low prices for bulk vanilla beans, and I knew the time was coming when I would need to do crazy things with lots of vanilla, so I took the plunge and ordered.
Of course, when you can buy two vanilla beans in a test tube for $10 at the local grocery store, when you announce that you're buying 1 lb. of grade b vanilla beans for $25 and you're getting 1/4 lb. of grade A Tahitian beans for free because that's what kind of a site you're ordering from, suddenly everyone is interested in what you're buying. So I promised I'd report on my findings.
First findings are that shipping and order processing are lightning fast. I ordered over the weekend, and the product was out the door first thing on Monday to arrive on Wednesday with 2-day shipping. And then I got sick for a few weeks, so everyone had to wait on my findings. To top it off, there are two major limitations to my current findings: 1) I've only used the B grade stuff so far for the preliminary part of infusion recipes; 2) It's been so long since I've used a whole vanilla bean, I can't entirely remember the experience for comparison.
The beans come vacupacked, and the seller recommends triple-bagging in plastic when it arrives. I did that. When the time came and I opened the sealed beans, I did not get a big vanilla smell out of the beans. It was definitely more subtle. It honestly smelled a lot like tobacco. Not nasty cigarette tobacco, but lovely fresh pipe tobacco. Ironically, it didn't smell very much like vanilla-scented pipe tobacco, just a good, fresh Virginia variety.
Aroma aside, the beans I split open, and I split open about 35 of the Grade B Bourbon beans, had plenty of beany goodness inside. They seemed juicy enough, and they started infusing very quickly. I feel confident that I am going to get my $30 worth (including priority shipping), and unless I'm terribly disappointed with the flavor when I start making custards and other baked goods, I expect to buy many more beans from this seller.
If you try them out and have better comparisons with other sellers, please let me know in the comments. It would be great to have a big discussion on the best place to get vanilla beans here.