The first stop of the Mast Chocolate Factory tour is an introduction to chocolate in its original form. About the size of a football, with a leathery rind and a slippery, citrusy flesh. When cracked open, it reveals a chamber of cocoa beans, suspended in the fruit like giant caviar.
“Wow, chocolate is kind of crazy, huh?” says Rick Mast, who co-founded Mast Chocolate with his brother in 2007. “Chocolate is one of those things that we all really love but don’t really understand, and it’s that gap between love and understanding that was really interesting us.”
When the Mast brothers first began making chocolate, they worked within the confines of their Brooklyn apartment. Now, they have factories in New York, London, and most recently in the Arts District, where patrons can watch the entire chocolate-making process, from bean to bar.
The 6,000 square foot space feels more like a sort of chocolate gallery than a factory. Each step of the chocolate making process takes place in one of five large separate cubes that line one wall of the space. Each cube is individually climate-controlled to suit its particular step of the method. The layout is intended to create a sense of inclusion and transparency, as though strolling through a museum, so the whole space becomes a place of interaction for the customer.
First, patrons are shown the cocoa fruit, and the beans, which come in 150-pound sacks from the countries in which they’re sourced. In the first cube, these beans are hand-sorted and the ones that make the cut are roasted. In the second, the husks of the beans are cracked and separated from the nibs, and then the nibs are taken to the third cube, where stone grinders work them into a smooth paste over the course of two days. The fourth cube is where the chocolate is tempered. Some of it is left to age, like wine or cheese, and some of it is poured directly into bars. It’s here that the Mast brothers experiment with different flavors, their trademark being on the unexpected.
“At the end of the day, we’re always chocolate makers,” Mast says of the flavor combinations they ultimately choose. “We’re looking for culinary pairings that enhance the flavor of the chocolate, or that shine a unique perspective on the flavor of the chocolate we’re using.” The result is a subtle, nuanced take on flavors that range from classic pairings, like mint, vanilla, and coffee, to very unexpected, like bay laurel, peppercorn, or goat’s milk and thyme.
The final cube is their brewery, where they make a cold-brewed (nonalcoholic) cocoa beer. It’s similar to nitro coffee in texture, slightly carbonated with a creamy head, but the flavor is clean and light, almost like a chocolate kombucha.
“We’re constantly reinventing not just the way we approach chocolate but also the context that surrounds it,” Mast says. As a business, Mast is committed to the idea of localized production: the chocolate that is sold at one of their locations is not only made there but reflects a little but of the heart and soul of the surrounding city. Their latest project in this new location is creating what they’re calling The Los Angeles Collection: six unique bars that are only going to be available in Los Angeles, and true to the spirit of the city. There are some murmurings around the shop about what they flavors will be, but until they launch at the end of this month, Mast is keeping it secret.
“I’ll tell you this,” Mast says, “They’ll definitely be unexpected.”
Written by Rayna Jensen
Photographed by Logan Havens