Using stylish packaging, attractive ingredient descriptions such as “cold-pressed olive oil” and “Bourbon vanilla bean,” and an alluring founding story about two well-bearded, chocolate-loving siblings, the Mast Brothers were able to bring themselves to the top of the chocolate industry since their launch in 2007. Now, a blogger named Scott at DallasFood.org has published a four-part exposé about the company, in which he describes Rick and Michael Mast as the “Milli Vanilli of chocolate.”
Scott alleges the artisanal chocolate company did not originally make their products from scratch, despite the company’s claims they always have. The Mast Brothers have stated they were “bean to bar” since the beginning. In email correspondences between the Mast Brothers and various chefs and chocolate experts, obtained by Scott and provided to Quartz, the company admitted to using remelted chocolate purchased from Valrhona, a commercial French chocolate manufacturer.
That June, though, Art Pollard, co-founder of the bean-to-bar chocolate company, Amano Artisan Chocolate, was introduced to the brothers as they were selling their bars at the Brooklyn Flea, a weekend flea market in New York, including a dark milk, Trinidad single-origin bar. He had already heard about the brothers, and was curious to meet them. He saw they were selling six varieties of bars. “I wasn’t accusing,” he tells Quartz. “I was just amazed they were able to pull that off right from the beginning.” Coming up with just a single new bar is “a royal pain in the butt,” he says. He asked the then-beardless brothers about their sourcing since he had had trouble getting cocoa beans from Trinidad himself. “These three bars are ones that we made,” the Masts told him. “And these other three,” pointing to the single-origin and dark milk chocolate varieties, “are Valrhona.”
This isn’t the first time the Mast Brothers have received backlash. In March, Slate published a story about the craft chocolate community’s disdain for Mast Brothers products. “If you were to ask the world’s top chocolate reviewers to rate bars, Mast Brothers would hit in the bottom 5 percentile,” Clay Gordon, an author and Good Food Awards judge told Slate at the time. “There are defects in every bar, and the chocolate is bad.” Other chocolate experts described the $10 bars as tasting “stale or moldy” and having an “unpleasant chalky texture.”
In Scott’s first post of his series, he described how his first tasting of a Mast Brothers bar did not include the common characteristics of “bean to bar” chocolate. “Each Mast Brothers bar had a flat, roasty, anodyne flavor typical of industrial manufacturers using bulk cacao from western Africa,” he wrote. “More suspiciously, the texture was as smooth and slick as store-bought couverture from a multinational behemoth, which is unimaginable from a small maker using tabletop stone grinders.”
The company responded to Scott’s claims in a letter to Grubstreet. “Sorry that you liked our chocolate more in 2007 than in later years,” it read. “Those were fun times, filled with experimentation and constant learning as we honed our craft out of our apartment. Needless to say, we were then and are now a bean to bar chocolate maker.” They also released a statement on their website.
An excerpt reads: “Any insinuation that Mast Brothers was not, is not or will not be a bean to bar chocolate maker is incorrect and misinformed. We have been making chocolate from bean to bar and will continue to do so. Through the years, we have continuously improved our methods, recipes and tastes. We love making chocolate, and we have the audacity to think that we are pretty good at it too.”
As Quartz points out, despite the Mast Brothers stressing the importance of transparency in their cookbook, they didn’t answer questions in regards to what kind of equipment they use and stopped listing the origin of the beans used in their products. “It means that it could be virtually anything,” Pollard said to Quartz.
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Image via Mast Brothers.