Witnessing great success over the past few years since being founded in 2007, Mast Brothers has established itself as a sustainable chocolate brand. Mixing aesthetic with quality, their production is now in three locations, taking localisation to a whole new level. Whether it be in New York, London or most recently LA, they produce their chocolate in-house in modern processing facilities, truly embodying their ethos of bean to bar. Wanting to find out how the bars are produced and conceptualised to their end shelf product, we visited their London factory and shop on Redchurch street.
I scheduled a visit on a rare sunny summer's day. Right in the centre of Redchurch street, the area is buzzing with creative businesses. It's no surprise Mast chose to set up shop here.
Inside, the showroom houses all of Mast's current 2017 collection, their truffles and their special editions made in collaboration with Calico Wallpaper. With so many designs, it's hard to choose which chocolate to pick up first. But David, my tour guide, quickly greeted me to give me the tour before choosing which bars to take home with me.
What's so great about their factory and production process is that you can see everything behind screens from the store. Thoughts of Willy Wonka's factory came to mind once we entered, though I had feeling I likely wouldn't fall into a big vat of melted chocolate.
David took me through the process right from the sourcing of the cacao beans. Brothers Rick and Michael, founders of Mast, personally visit the communities they source from. This ensures real traceability of the end product and trust between the farmers and suppliers. Once they bring in the cacao beans, they are husked through a cracker: Separating the shell from the nibs, the shells are sent back to farming communities as fertiliser and the nibs are then sent to the winower.
Following this, the nibs are sent to the grinder which breaks down the nibs into a paste over three to four days. At this point, though edible, the past is purely made from cacao, and so the taste is slightly acidic and fruity. It's here that some of the flavouring process can begin.
Unlike other chocolate makers, Mast infuse fresh ingredients into the grinding process to as to obtain a distinctively subtle taste in a lot of their bars. Their 2017 mint bar, for example, is made by adding dried mint leaves to the grinder. The result is a slightly minted chocolate bar as opposed to After Eight's stronger taste. I imagined this as what Moroccan mint tea would tastes like should it be in a solid chocolate form. Other bars Mast produce are more straightforward, where milk and sugar are added to the grinder make their milk chocolate bar, for example.
Once the nibs and other ingredients are completely grinded, the paste is aged over 2-3 months on the shelves facing the grinders. This gives the bars a richer and more distinct taste.
Following that, they are introduced into the temperer, which melts the chocolate to then pour it into the bar forms. At this stage, more flavours can be created, such as the sea salt bar, where sea salt is simply sprinkled on top of a freshly poured chocolate bar. They are then left to harden on the shelf. Finally, the flavours are each wrapped in their individually designed wrappers.
The 2016 collection has twelve bars. I was able to taste quite a few and my standout ones were:
- Smoked chocolate: funnily enough this bar is not intentionally smoked. Cacao beans need to be dried to 1% humidity to preserve their quality. Whereas this is easy to do in origins such as Peru and Ecuador, beans coming from Papua New Guinea need to be smoked so as to be properly dried because of the high levels of humidity in the country. While some chocolate makers consider this a defect, Mast have embraced it and turned the process to their advantage. The result is a smoky and fruity bar that it neither too powerful nor too delicate.
- Olive oil: I was expecting the bar to have a strong olive oil taste, but the difference was rather in the texture, slightly oiler and more slippery to the other bars.
- Almond butter: though not made from almond butter, the process of adding whole almonds to the grinder means the taste is permeated throughout the bar while keeping a soft texture.
- Coffee: stronger flavoured than the other bars, the coffee chocolate was a standout for its fullness and intensity. Like the almond bar, the coffee beans are added to the grinding process to mix fully with the chocolate.
With so much room for experimentation, it's great to see Mast have not only raised the standard of flavouring but also abided to an ethical and sustainable business model. David let me in on a few secrets of their 2017 collection, and I'll be sure to return to Redchurch street to find out more in due time.