There is something magical about a candy factory. Whether it’s the tour you took of the Hershey’s plant during a family trip to Amish country or that formative teenage acid trip in your best friend’s basement watching Willy Wonka—staring into a massive, spinning sugary vortex of creamy dark chocolate is one of the few glimpses behind the curtain of industrial production that is amazing, not disgusting. But there’s something even better: watching small batches of supremely luscious cocoa batter churn in simple, carefully watched gallon drums inside the Brooklyn factory of the Mast Brothers.
The image of chocolate makers Rick and Michael Mast toiling at their craft is a whimsical one, like elves in their workshop. They lug big burlap bags of unprocessed beans. They stand over unfinished bars sprinkling them with gold leaf. They tend to their pots in pressed white linens and their extruding red beards covered with hairnets. And they gingerly stack their store shelves with the finished product, dark rectangular bars wrapped in handsome, hand-printed paper labels that feel like the hefty paper stock butchers use to wrap pork chops. The operation is clearly a labor of love; a hobby that’s become something more, propelled by a fierce commitment to cocoa craftsmanship and a Wonka-like obsession.
“A lot of creative people are always trying to reconnect with their curiosity—childlike curiosity,” Rick Mast says in a video documentary posted to Vimeo by The Scout magazine. “I think that maybe [we] as chocolate makers are constantly trying to reconnect with that more than your average person.” out to elevate the candy bar to a graceful, storied object decked out in plaid, gingham and pastoral prints. Mast Brothers deals mostly in single-origin chocolate, which is to say they know where their beans come from because they’re grown on a single estate. It’s an attention to detail now familiar to most coffee drinkers, a way of coaxing complexities out of what’s otherwise become a commodity product. But it’s a relatively new approach to snacking for most eaters whose relationship to chocolate is keeping a sweet treat in the freezer door for after dinner. Theirs are bars of handcrafted riches. There’s the Dominican Republic, a dense chocolate that’s uber-rich and earthy tasting, and there’s the sweeter Brooklyn Blend, a tangy and balanced bar that one could mistake for an agave coco latte. Even the more gimmicky flavors work well, including their “Dark Chocolate with Chili Peppers,” which starts off sweet and almost creamy but ends in a building, low-grade burn from serrano chilies and ended up being the most addictive of the bunch.
The company has grown quickly, opening a second retail location in New York and now boasting a backlog of online orders from all over. (Allow a week for delivery.) But like the food artisans we’ve become familiar with—those behind smallbatch coffee, liquor or handmade pickles—the Mast Brothers are peddling a luxury commodity that aspires to become a medium for something greater than just salty, savory or sweet. “The chocolate itself represents more than just a candy bar,” Rick tells the camera. “It represents a new way of handcrafting food—an old way that’s now new again.”