New chocs on the block: Celebrating Chocolate Week with the Mast Brothers

mast brothers featured

Rick and Michael Mast are proof that practice makes perfect. The brotherly duo, now the brains behind the Brooklyn-born Mast Brothers chocolate brand, have a “healthy curiosity” for how food is made to thank for their rise to cocoa-led fame, part of their mission to change how people think about the chocolate we all know and love.

In honour of the start of Chocolate Week, we sat down with Rick and art director Nate Warkentin at the brand's newly-opened London factory to hear about melting, roasting, grinding, brewing and designing some of the tastiest beans in the world.

Mast Brothers has only been in London since February, but you’ve been in Brooklyn for over eight years now. How did it all begin?

RM: I was working as a cook in a lot of nice, fancy restaurants at the time. It started almost as an experiment - can you make chocolate from scratch in your own kitchen? And it wasn’t even just about chocolate, it was about food in general. I had a healthy curiosity for how different things were made - cured meats, home-brewed beer. 

There’s such a huge gap between people’s love of chocolate and their understanding of how it's made. We started making chocolate from scratch and after a couple of years learning I quit the day job and decided I wanted to commit my life to it. My brother and I were roommates when we were going through all of this together, so we thought it would be great to start a family business. 

We started in 2007 in Brooklyn and 2009 was when we built our first public factory where people could come in and see the chocolate making. We didn’t realise that would become such a huge part of the business. We eventually opened our doors seven days a week and it became such a huge success that we started to ask where else we might want to introduce people to this experience.

Why London? 

RM: We love the city. There’s a great energy and openness to reinvention, new ideas and new ways of thinking, particularly in East London, so we were drawn to that. We also had a huge fan base out here already.

What do you do differently with chocolate than other companies? 

RM: Pretty much everything. For starters, making chocolate from scratch on site is still to this day basically unheard of. When we started we were among a handful of people in the whole world that did it. And I don’t mean melting down chocolate - I mean bringing the beans from the farms and roasting them and stone grinding them on site. How we do it is unique too and the way we roast is very delicate. All of our chocolate is stone ground for two to three days, then we age our chocolate.

What’s the key to good quality chocolate?

RM: It’s considering every detail - that, in some way, explains all of Mast Brothers. It’s a universal approach that can apply to the actual chocolate making but also to the aesthetic of the design and the spaces. That’s one of the great beauties of what Mast Brothers is - it’s all done in house.

What’s the idea behind the packaging and spaces?

NW: We’re trying to decontextualise what chocolate is and what the experience of going to a chocolate shop is. The first thing that happens when people come in is they smell it - normally you don’t smell that type of smell in a chocolate shop because nobody’s making it on site. Also, the space looks like a minimal, high-end clothing boutique or art gallery. It’s a different context and throws people off a bit but there’s a very distinct identity. The main thing is the chocolate making and being able to see it - it’s literally transparent. We want to have a space that’s a perfect frame and setting where the focus is the chocolate. The minimal, neutral spaces are to hold the chocolate bars which are all fun, funky and vibrant designs. 

mast brothers landscape

What are your best-selling flavours?

RM: People love dark chocolate, and adding sea salt is always an amazing thing. We’ve tried many different salts from around the world and Maldon sea salt is the best - it’s an English classic and definitely a customer favourite.

And what’s this about chocolate beer?

RM: It came from a desire to reinvent what chocolate as a beverage is - we thought that surely there was a way we could modernise that creamy old hot chocolate, so we thought instead of hot, let’s make it cold. Instead of creamy, let’s make it refreshing. Instead of mixing it, let’s brew it directly from the beans. That’s why we call it chocolate beer - not because it’s alcoholic but because it’s brewed, like ginger beer or root beer. It's brewed cocoa beans that we then introduce nitrogen to and put it on draft. It’s available sweet or dry and we brew it all on site. 

What are your thoughts on the fad of using chocolate in cooking, such as adding it to a chilli? 

I think that’s great! One great part of our company that’s behind the scenes is we make chocolate from scratch for great chefs to use. You’ll catch our chocolate brand on the menu at many of the great restaurants around the world.

What can we expect for Mast Brothers in 2016?

We redesign the packaging every year and come up with new varieties and recipes in conjunction with that. In 2015 we had a big focus on single origin and single estate chocolates, such as just using beans from Peru, but over the years we’ve mastered all of these different beans. We decided that 2016 should be about blending them together and thinking about them as ingredients of a greater whole. The blends not only use different chocolates but we’ve also added olive oil and all sorts of different things - we’re also experimenting with milk chocolates and using the likes of sheep's milk, goat's milk and butter milk. We’re also starting to spend a lot of time in downtown Los Angeles. I can tell you that.

Mast Brothers is available at Fenwick Bond Street

By Alison Millington