(East) London: Visiting The Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory
For my mother's birthday, we paid a visit to Mast London for a factory tour. My mother is a self-confessed chocolate lover and as I much prefer to give experiences rather than "things" this was the perfect present. I don't mind chocolate either.
The Mast Brothers hail from the Hipster Capital of Brooklyn, NY and started off on a very small scale making high quality chocolate in their apartment. Locating their London HQ in Shoreditch makes complete sense, the minimalist store putting the focus on the bright packaging and an open factory showing the chocolate being made.
Mast make all their chocolate from scratch in their Redchurch Street factory. The chocolate arrives as cocoa beans in huge sacks and leaves in beautifully hand-wrapped bars. I've never thought much about how chocolate is made beyond "cocoa beans in, delicious chocolate out" but the tour enlightened us to all aspects of the chocolate-making process and, most importantly, gave us a chance to taste the chocolate.
Our tour was a small group and our guide was great - the tour felt very personalised as we all got a chance to ask questions about the process and see what the factory was producing on the day of our visit. In true chocolate factory style there was a huge barrel of slowly tempering chocolate to admire (and a plastic spoonful of the warm chocolate to taste). The differences between making a high quality chocolate and a "vending machine" type bar are huge - the taste of the end product is totally different, very intense and a few squares really are enough.
Mast uses cocoa beans from Peru, Tanzania, Brazil and Madagascar as each bean brings a slightly different falvour. A local East London twist comes from using teas from Good and Proper and juniper from The Spice Shop to flavour the bars, as well as coffee from an East London roastery making the flavourings unique to each location. Memorable tastes were the sweet but delicate black treacle, a sea salt dark chocolate and a rather strange, almost savoury goat's milk chocolate.
Not wanting to divulge all of the secrets we learnt (although the brothers need not fear, I will not be making chocolate in my apartment with a hairdryer anytime soon) but the most interesting take-away fact for me was that no liquid can be added during the chocolate making process or the mixture spoils. The advert for a well known chocolate producer pouring in a "glass of milk"? It's actually the far less visually pleasing powdered milk...