Bean to Bar in Brooklyn: Mast Brothers Chocolate

Mast Brothers SignSince opening in Brooklyn a few years ago, Mast Brothers Chocolate has been making a big name for itself. Founding brothers, Rick and Michael Mast, create flavorful bean-to-bar chocolate with imagination and enthusiasm at every step. They import some of the finest single origin cacao from around the world. Recently, they realized a long-held dream of importing some of their beans by sailboat, direct from the Dominican Republic to New York.

Mast Brothers - Cacao BeansEach step of their process is an exercise in meticulous care. This care is possible because they do everything by hand and in small batches. Once finished, each bar is hand-wrapped in thick paper with striking prints, each designed by a family member or friend. However, the resulting chocolate bars are more than just a tasty treat in snappy packaging; they’re steeped in both the craft and art of chocolate making.

Mast Brothers - Sacks of Cacao BeansWhen I had an excuse to take a trip to NYC, I made sure to visit the Brooklyn chocolatiers to take a tour of their “factory”. To accommodate the growth of their business, they recently moved into a larger space, which still keeps them comfortably in the scale of craft chocolatiers. On a sunny Friday afternoon, when production had mostly slowed down for the day, the office manager, Stephanie, took me on a tour of the space and talked me through each step of the chocolate making process.

Mast Brothers - Cacao Beans Spilling Out of BagThe process starts thousands of miles away in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Madagascar where cacao beans are carefully grown, harvested and fermented. Upon reaching Mast Brothers, the large sacks of cacao beans go through a rigorous process of tasting and experimenting to figure out a recipe to best showcase the flavor profiles of each region’s cacao. Then, the production process begins: careful sorting, gentle roasting, winnowing, stone grinding, aging and tempering:

First, the cacao beans are sifted to remove any pebbles or debris.

Mast Brothers - Cacao Beans Being Sifted

Sifting the Cacao Beans

Next, they are moved to roasting pans where they are hand sorted to remove shells or damaged beans.

Mast Brothers - Removing Damaged Cacao Beans

Removing Damaged Cocoa Beans – Bottom Row (L-R): Healthy Bean, Damaged Bean and a Shell

The beans are then oven roasted, an attention to detail which is rare for chocolatiers. Most commercial roasting is done in large, mechanized roasters.

Mast Brothers - Roasting Cacao Beans

L-R: The Roasting Ovens, Continuous Roasting and Automatic Batch Roasting

Then, the roasted cacao beans are winnowed in a machine that was custom-made for the Mast Brothers. The machine carefully grinds the beans and separates the cocoa nibs from the shell. Using an innovative design, a vacuum sucks up the shells while the heavier nibs fall to the bottom.

Mast Brothers - Cacao Beans Winnowed

Winnowing the Cacao Beans

After winnowing, the nibs are stone ground to create thick paste. During this process cane sugar is added. The amount of sugar added determines the chocolate bar’s percentage – for example, if you see a bar with 70% cacao, it will have approximately 30% sugar.

Mast Brothers - Grinding Cacao Nibs

Clockwise from left: Grinding the Cocoa Nibs, Sugar and Nibs, the Grinding Room.

The ground chocolate is then aged for a minimum of 30 days, a step that not all chocolate makers take. This is done to allow the chocolate to rest, which develops the flavors, and helps the chocolatiers to manage their inventory so they can make chocolate to order. After aging, the chocolate is tempered to stabilize the final product.

Aging (L) and Tempering (R) Chocolate

The chocolate is then poured into molds to cool. Once set, the chocolates are hand wrapped, and delivered to us. Mast Brothers - Molding and Packaging ChocolateThe next and final step in the process is the best – eating it!

Gini Bell is a cheesemonger and the chocolate buyer at Formaggio Kitchen South End.

  • aktopakto

    What does it say on the bottom of the bar mould form? the clear one on the last pic?

    • formaggiokitchen

      Tomric Plastics (a chocolate mould producer)

  • sean

    what type of tempering machine are you using?…….SG

    • formaggiokitchen

      Hi Sean – Thank you for checking out the post! Unfortunately, we don’t have exact deets on the machines that the Mast Brothers use but recommend getting in touch with them directly with any questions – the phone number for their Brooklyn location is: (718) 388-2625. Thanks again for reading and best of luck!