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For the Brooklyn-based Mast Brothers, the meticulous bean-to-bar execution of their artisanal chocolates is an adventurous ritual. Last summer they became the first company since 1939 to sail cargo into New York City, by bringing 20 metric tons of cocoa beans up from the Dominican Republic after a 14-day trip with a schooner.
Many of their methods could be easily attributed to a 19th century manufacturer: everything is produced by order in a small factory of Williamsburg, a bursting craft scene itself. They know all of their suppliers in person, use sustainable sources and hand-wrap their chocolate, with friends giving a hand during the busiest periods.
Still their smooth and slow approach has its roots elsewhere: Mast Brothers' master plan is to make quality chocolate famous, without forgetting to have some fun in the meantime. Crafty dark bars apart, the two brothers have a secret talent for transversal creativity; before the chocolate factory, Rick, a classically trained pianist, was working as a chef while Michael was a filmmaker.
That’s probably why the videos on their website (you can enjoy at the end of the interview) immerse curious visitors into the wildest shores of chocolate manufacturing in such an interesting way. And even if not everyone likes dark bars, the Mast fans are reminded that good chocolate, like fine wine, is an acquired taste.
FDL got up close and personal with one of the Mast Brothers. Here's what Mike had to say:
How did you come up with the idea of setting up a chocolate business?
We began just doing a "homebrew" style of chocolate making as a hobby and just a general interest in how stuff is made, and it’s been a slow growth since. Now we have our own beautiful factory and a crew of 20.
Do you remember your first batch?
There where so many! We were experimenting with many origins and roasting profiles trying to find the perfect matching, it’s hard to say a "first".
How did your friends and family react to your career shift?
Our mom has been our number 1 supporter from day 1!
How do you divide the tasks in the factory?
We are a company of chocolate makers. So everyone has to learn the craft of chocolate making. As far as how to divide the tasks up, everyone does it all. This way its always fresh and you are constantly learning.
How do you source your suppliers?
We do everything as direct as possible, in every element of Mast Brothers. Local deliveries. We don't use any type of distribution service or anything like that.
Does an all-artisanal process make it hard for small producers to break through the market?
We have seen that when you have a well-executed product, all those things will work themselves out.
Judging from your choices, is seems that you are fascinated by old-style adventures. Sailing beans from the Dominican Republic for example…
We are more so into the idea of being the world's best chocolate company and sailing our beans was a great start in that business. Wind is free, so we took advantage of that, and used it to bring back our cacao on a boat. More to come in the sail world this year…
Which was your biggest challenge until now?
Getting the chance to educate everyone in the world on how to great chocolate is made, but we hope that will always be the biggest challenge.