Sort dry beans and remove any pebbles or overly dried beans.
Cover black beans with water and soak for 8 hours or overnight. Alternatively, to quick soak the beans, cover them with water and bring to a boil and then turn off the heat and cover beans for an hour to soften
Drain soaking water and rinse beans.
In a large pot, cover the soaked beans with fresh water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add in a bay leaf, whole garlic cloves, and ½ an onion (not chopped) to flavor the beans. If desired, add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for some heat.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer the beans, partially covered, for 30-45 minutes, skimming off any foam that rises as they cook. The time will be longer if you're using older dried beans or live at higher altitude. Sample a few beans to check doneness before turning off the heat - they should be tender to the bite but not soft.
Remove the bay leaf, garlic cloves and the half onion. Season the beans generously with salt to your liking.