Whenever I think of Mast Brothers chocolate I just can't get past big, heavy, cumbersome flavours that are of thick molasses, tar and not much else. I don't ever recall trying their chocolate and thinking of soft, subtle, soothing and creamy flavours as I might get with Domori. Although each chocolate maker has their own style and it would be wrong for any reviewer to criticism them purely on style it is important to focus on execution and consistency of ‘delivery’.
The Mast Brothers have invested heavily in their brand, with an expensive-looking store (that leaves me wishing there was more focus on the chocolate and the story behind it) and a blitz of positive press-spin. My own personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the regard that others hold them in has been far loftier than my (and a few key experts’) perception of their chocolate. For me the execution of the physical form of their chocolate hasn't been great - the texture hasn't been consistent and the flavours somewhat uncouth, unsophisticated, and perhaps even belligerent – if that’s your bag then do head down to Redchurch Street.
It is this internal prejudice that made me take one bite and think this just the 'same old' Mast Brothers. Walking away, making a cup of tea and then coming back to it, I have fewer negative thoughts battling within my noggin – computations of flavour, texture battle with marketing, PR, turned-up jeans and thick-rimmed glasses.
The texture is still slightly coarse and still sticks ungainly to my teeth. It still has a very 'balsamic vinegar' end to the melt that makes you wonder if you’ve just consumed a salad from Ask, or you’ve just actually consumed some average chocolate. The rest of the experience, however, is much better than that prejudice of mine would lead to me to expect. It still is a million miles from the sublime chocolate made in the real world.
The issue is, Guatemala is generally only ever produces chocolate delivering pretty powerful flavours with intense fruity notes, and that's no different here - so if I was looking to see how Mast Brothers' chocolate has changed I've chosen the wrong origin, the Tanzania should be a much better test.
The cacao in Guatemala has a strong resemblance to that of Ecuador but unfortunately little of Belize-like Criollo is available to make the finest of chocolate which, instead often uses widely available cacao with strong Amelonado genetics. So it was always likely that I’d be unlikely to find Mast Brothers making exemplary chocolate given origin.
My fear is that many of the hipsters and buzz-consuming locals that seemed turning up at their new London (Shoreditch obviously) store will get a narrow (NB: I didn't say 'wrong') impression of what craft chocolate is about. Hopefully more craft chocolate will become available in the area so people that like to shun 'big business' as a matter of choice can get a much broader idea of what 'slow chocolate' is all about, and then maybe, just maybe, they'll start to learn about where chocolate comes from; the wide variety of flavours, textures and approaches are available; and more importantly, that unfortunate people that don't sit behind plate glass in a swanky East London are actually involved too – which is something that isn’t apparent in their store.