Mast Brothers, originally established in Brooklyn, need to brace the brand’s reputation after the PR-faulted scandal of their misinformed bean-to-bar “craftsmanship” broke recently in the US. Rick and Michael Mast might be bolsterous bearded Brooklyn hipsters, but their tainted public image was more the fault of marketing than not selling tasty Mast chocolate, which the thousands of their regular customers seal with their weekly purchase.
Smart collaborations were their holy grail in the US, and when expansion beyond the American borders got on their to-do list, London clicked. The Mast chocolate (as it is now called not just in the UK) manufactory in Shoreditch that opened last year is phenomenal. Like in Brooklyn, and now in LA and London, you can see the chocolate making process, jusk blink at the see-through glass window, then taste rotating different chocolates or sip on creative brews at their cocoa bar.
MAST chocolate: Creative flavours and local inspiration
In London, you will savour some different collections from the US house brand. Get your taste buds ready for gin, rhubarb & custard, tea & milk, vanilla & smoke, black treacle, each incorporated into a unique chocolate bar. The signature London herb collection has an adventure pulling story behind. The place where the herbs are grown is quite unique, at least in the UK. I have heart of an underground garden in Manhattan, but now the former WWII Air Raid bunkers of London were converted into a verdant labyrinth of aromas. The herbs thrive in the moist and stable temperatures offering environment and the chocolate makers have consistent supply of fresh herbs in all seasons. My favourites were the Marjoram, I quite liked the Fennel reminding me of Indian cookies, Lovage as well as the rich pudding evoking Oregano, while I found the Celery and Sorrel just weird. In each the 60% cocoa is being blended with cane sugar and chosen dairy powder – buttermilk for celery, marjoram, lovage and sorrel; while dried sheep milk was blended into the fennel bar, and goat milk proved to pair well with the oregano bar – allergic dark chocolate lovers beware!
Some of the former employees gained plenty of experience with Mast chocolate to veer into their own business. Recently launched LAND that I discovered at the London Chocolate Show is on the other extreme pole of the chocolate making planet. True to its name, LAND’s founder Phil Landers goes as far as specifying the exact plantation and a location map printed on his truly bean-to-bar packaging. His fascination with the cocoa bean and a trip to Nicaragua taught him about the diverse varietals and he is not afraid to introduce them to your palate. It seems that the experience with Mast chocolate opened his mind and shrug off any fear from incorporating new flavours into his chocolate making process.
American marketing charm again strikes Europe
All the lines of Mast chocolate bars can be distinguished by their design wrapping paper. The London collection is printed with artwork by David Post, Brooklyn showcases the work by Andrew Tarlow, and in LA sisters Hopie and Lily Stockman of Block Shop Textiles stamped their California style on the distinctive Los Angeles collection. Mast Brothers are not alone in doing this, as Dandelion chocolate in San Francisco is using a similar idea of handprinted original designs and markets its products woefully. I must praise the marriage of art on the impeccably designed paper wraps with its chocolate indulgence inside.
The sea salt collection is enveloped in “paper artwork created by Calico Wallpaper using a unique modified salt resist technique combined with watercolor painting”. Maldon salt, Sel Gris from Slovenia, Welsh salt, organic Mineola Tangelo, Nordic Birch Smoked sea salt from Iceland or solar evaporated Bali reef salt, all sound utterly exotic. Ready yourself for more like the Blended Cyprus sea salt with activated charcoal in the Black Diamond, Trapani Coast salt mixed with Olive Oil – also from Sicily or the Italian Sabatino Tartufi luxuriating black truffles chocolate.
Boundless flavours transformed into chocolate indulgence
You pay for the looks, for the starring added ingredients and the blending skills of the hipster chocolatiers. This is not about looking for bean-to-bar single origin chocolates (Although the brand now broadly uses purchased beans instead of pre-made commercial chocolate remelted into bars. Independent investigation proved, that originally, they were using Valrhona bars, so popular with top pastry chefs worldwide, but unacceptable in their “artisan” chocolates), but adventurously blended original flavours. Sweetened with cane sugar, no fuss with organic, lower glycemic coconut or other more healthy and trendy sweeteners. Most bars contain powdered buttermilk so if you are lactose intolerant check the labels! In the US already developed flavours with sheep’s milk, maple, mint, or olive oil (not keen on this one as I tasted more fruity, citrusy flavours rather than the olive oil). Transparent listing of the origin of the cocoa is the brand’s biggest failure, although now some single origin bars were also released and the Papua New Guinea persuaded my spoiled palate. Still, surprisingly the Wholefoods in London sells Mast Brothers chocolates. If you are concerned about fair trade, only buy what has been either certified or can be legally responsible through its detailed label information.
Unfortunately, like at most chocolate boutiques, you cannot taste the truffles aka “cubes”, but you can buy by piece. Tempting and unusual flavours were churned out at the chocolate manufactory just behind the see-through window inside their Shoreditch location, so better select six morsels fitted into the gift perfect, charcoal tinted box.
Brazilian Mate, Damson and Marjoram, IPA Hops, Salt and Balsamic Vinegar, Sea Buckthorn, Vanilla and Smoke, these were my eyes rolling and tongue enveloping cubes. Playing with herbs, brewers ingredients (to honour the English beer tradition) and exotic tonics such as the South American mate (an uplifting beverage that is most popular in Argentina), but also with molecular gastronomy techniques like smoking, sets MAST in London apart from any British chocolatier. They are not cheap, but make for a special gift to any curious gourmand.
Inside the bright and so East London styled manufactory cum cafe, on tap, you can warm up with a wholesome cup of dense, perhaps the thickest hot chocolate in London, with chocolate blended coffee or with such anomalies as chocolate beer. The last just tasted too strange for me, but thanks for the sample!
You can book a chocolate tour with one of the expert guides. Watch, eyes glued on the succulent melting chocolate, how it is all being made into the solid sweet treats. No secrets appear to be hinding here. Although, according to the expert critics Mast Brothers are far from the best chocolatiers anywhere, still their flavours may appeal to your palate, so venture in while browsing the edgy shopping streets in Shoreditch. If you look for best artisanal, high quality chocolates, or chocolate shops in London and the UK check my recent report on the annual Chocolate Show, where the best presented chocolatiers were awarded medals.
19-29 Redchurch St, London E2 7DJ
+44 20 7739 1236
Mon-Fri: 11am-7pm; Sat & Sun: 10am -7pm
Public tours available daily; book at firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekdays: 3pm & 5pm
Weekends: 11:30am; 1:30pm; 3pm & 5pm