It’s bizarre how much chocolate and coffee have in common. Both are a guilty pleasure. Both contain caffeine (though obviously coffee has more). And when it comes to the sustainable, artisanal varieties, the vocabulary is the same: single origin, roasted, fair trade, organic, family farms, house blend, rainforest conservation, flavor profile, Brooklyn.
This is what I’ve noticed as I’ve learned more about the well-established chocolate brand Mast Brothers. Having just taken a tour of Toby’s Estate nearby (article on that coming soon) I was struck by the similarities between the two.
Mast Brothers has a good relationship with family-owned, organic coop farms around the world to create their intensely flavorful chocolates, which are brought to you packaged in what looks like high-end, patterned wrapping paper. After a brunch on Saturday morning at the farm-to-table restaurant Egg’s new location, I was drawn into the Mast Brothers’ factory and storefront by the thick smell of chocolate saturating the sidewalk in front.
Inside it’s simple: just a long wooden table with stacks of chocolate bars and chopped chocolate to sample, a small case of chocolate pastries, stacks of burlap bags with beans, then stretching way back, the factory where they roast the beans in small batches before adding organic cane sugar and maybe a third ingredient from other food artisans, like Stumptown Coffee, sea salt from the solar houses of Maine, Anderson Almonds, or Crown Maple Syrup. Like wine or coffee, each bar brings different flavors, even if the ingredients really are just chocolate and salt. In 2011, their beans arrived by way of a sailing schooner from Dominican Republic.
The Mast Brothers are Rick and Michael from Iowa, who came to NYC for the arts and stayed to become the poster boys for successful artisan food, even turning out a pretty cookbook of sweet and savory chocolate dishes.
If just the flavor and experience isn’t enough to convince you, consider your health. Dark chocolate is a potent antioxidant. As with any food, if you keep the ingredient list simple–with just sugar and maybe some almonds–you’ll be reaping many more health benefits than from eating a bland Hershey Bar. And on the ethical side, right now there is a court case alleging that Hershey has refused to ensure that there is no child labor on the cocoa farms that supply the corporate behemoth’s chocolate. Also, conventional chocolate farming can lead to clear-cutting of rain forest, and the liberal use of pesticides. All these factors make dark, organic chocolate made in Brooklyn from organic farms all the more compelling.
Mast Brothers chocolate is sold in stores like Dean & Deluca, Whole Foods, and other fine retailers around Brooklyn, the U.S. and the world. The factory is located at 111 North 3rd at Berry Street, about five blocks away from the Bedford L stop in Williamsburg.