Hipster Willy Wonkas - The Mast Bros., Shoreditch Review
I was happily ambling down Redchurch St. in London's Shoreditch last Saturday, when I chanced upon the new UK store/factory from controversial* craft chocolatiers, Brooklyn's Mast Brothers. Apparently it's London’s first commercial bean-to-bar chocolate factory... who knew!?
Intrigued by the gallery style window display - bearing the neon legend 'Mast Brothers Is Making Chocolate Here' - I ventured inside. True enough, behind a floor to ceiling window in the post-industrial chic shop interior, there was indeed a coterie of white aproned hipster oompa loompas, busily attending to a number of mechanised stainless steel vats that were churning the silky chestnut brown liquid chocolate. And yes, the smell was intoxicating.
In the seductively designed minimalist shop come cafe itself - where you can also try their hot chocolate or non-alcoholic chocolate beer - were a number of large wooden plinths, neatly stacked with 21 small (fetishised) piles of beautifully packaged single origin and blended bars. Each had a description of the chocolate, including tasting notes but no price. If you have to ask, you can't afford it right?
One of the cocoa courtesans ventured over with a tray sprinkled with samples and sans hesitation I tried some. The illusion was instantly shattered; it was distinctly... average. Hand on heart, I'm no chocolate connoisseur - I don't claim to have a particularly sophisticated palate, although in wine terms, I can tell a shiraz from a zinfandel - but there was something just 'meh!' about the slightly chalky and single note nugget I'd just popped in my mouth.
Undeterred I bought 4 bars: Sea Salt, Vanilla & Smoke, Brooklyn Blend and Maple. Total cost? An eye-watering £32. A salutary lesson - lay off the beer and grilled cheese sandwiches before entering a gourmet chocolate shop.
I've now tried a couple; Sea Salt reminded me of Cadbury's Bournville with a sprinkling of very fine grain NaCl. Vanilla & Smoke was better... a bit powdery, slightly sweeter with very faint smoky flavour. Can't say I could detect much/any vanilla though. I'll get to the others this weekend - such a shame to tear that lovely paper...
In summary: undoubtedly hip, undoubtedly beautiful and well-marketed, just unfortunately not that delectable. I mentioned earlier that Mast Bros. are *controversial. In the US (where they've been making chocolate at their Williamsburg facility since 2006), opinion is polarised. A lot of independent and big name grocery stores tock it and some NY restaurants use it but crucially, speciality chocolate shops refuse to engage. There's an interesting article about it here.
So, a case of the Emperor's New Clothes? Make up your own mind... http://mastbrothers.com/ If you're in the UK, you can order from Cocoa Runners site or visit the shop at Unit 2 19-29 Redchurch St, London E2 7DJ.