The Mast Brothers are no strangers to scandal. The artisanal chocolate community was outraged when word got out that the Mast chocolate making process during the company’s infancy wasn’t “bean to bar” like they were initially claiming that it was. This chocolate scandal seriously hurt the Mast Brothers credibility as true artisans in the “bean to bar” chocolate making process. I was able to take a Private Tour of the Mast Brothers DTLA factory during their first week being open to the public. Through out the tour I couldn’t help but notice that there was serious effort made to make every part of the factory and chocolate making process transparent to guests. It is obvious that the Mast Brothers are looking to make amends for their chocolate making sins of the past and are “asking” for a second chance from chocolate lovers and Los Angeles guests by opening their doors for tours and donating to the community.
When brothers Rick and Michael Mast set out to open a third Chocolate Factory to follow in the footsteps of their first two locations located in Brooklyn and London, Los Angeles was a no brainer. The brothers recognized the ever growing food culture and creative energy that defines the DTLA Community and knew that this would be the home of their next factory. Rick Mast actually spent some time living in Los Angeles ( Who knew!?!) and even working at the famed Fingerprints Record Store in Long Beach. So, with a love for Los Angeles already established, they set out to create the largest of their three chocolate factories here in Downtown Los Angeles’ Art’s District.
When I walked into the factory, I was immediately taken aback by the artistic feel of the inside. The interior is beautiful and modern. It looked to me more like a modern art gallery than anything that I could have envisioned for the what the inside of a chocolate factory would look like. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised since Mast has a reputation for impressive artwork on the packaging of their chocolate bars. When I was greeted by our tour guide, I immediately complemented the aesthetic of the inside of the factory. She proceeded to tell me that Nathan Warkentin, along with the Mast Brothers had a huge influence on the design. Nathan Warkentin is also the in house designer for the prints on the Mast chocolate bar wrapper collections that change annually.
The front part of the factory features their small shop where you can purchase three different sizes of their bars as well as chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate, chocolate ganache cubes, chocolate milk and chocolate beer (non-alcoholic.) The back part of the factory houses 4 large cubes that are used in the bean to bar making process. Each individual cube signifies a different step in the process and the front of each cube has a large glass window that allows guests to peer in and watch the action taking place inside. In the first cube, fermented beans are roasted in a convection oven. The cacao beans used to make the chocolate come from all over the world. Places like Belize, Peru, Madagascar, Tanzania and Papua New Guinea. In the second cube, the roasted beans are converted into nibs by being cracked and separated from their shells/husks. In an effort to create as little waste as possible, the shells/husks are donated to L.A. Urban Farms and are used for compost. In the third cube, the nibs are ground for three days straight to create a silky smooth chocolate finish. In the fourth cube, the chocolate is then tempered and molded into bars and other chocolate treats. The fourth cube is also used to house fermentation tanks for their newest venture, chocolate beer. One of the most interesting things that I learned about Mast Brothers chocolate during the tour is that they age their chocolate. The Mast Brothers believe that aging the chocolate brings out different flavor notes. This practice is comparable to how wine and cheese are aged. This process is fairly unique in the artisan chocolate making industry and Mast believes that this is part of the reason their chocolate is so delicious.
At the end of the tour, was when the real fun began- the chocolate tasting! I tasted chocolate bars ranging from flavors like almond butter, coffee, and sea salt to really unique flavors like goat milk, olive oil and sheep milk. All of which are available for purchase at the factory. My favorite flavors were the coffee, olive oil and sea salt (their most popular bar.) I was also able to try their chocolate ganache cubes infused with black tea, their huge chocolate chip cookies and their non-alcoholic chocolate beer. The chocolate beer was really interesting and different and delicious. Our guide informed me that the brothers are very excited about the chocolate beer and eventually intend to bottle it and make it available for purchase. Once the Los Angeles factory is at it’s full capability, it will churn out 500 bars of chocolate daily.
Guests and chocolate lovers alike are strongly encouraged to visit the factory and take tours to learn about the Mast Brothers chocolate making process. Tours are being offered daily to the public, on the hour, every hour from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. In line with this sentiment that puts education at the forefront, the Mast Brothers are focused on being a true part of the DTLA community and are asking that a minimum of $5.00 be donated when taking a tour in order to donate the proceeds to a non-profit organization that is dedicated to education- School on Wheels. School on Wheels offers one on one tutoring to homeless students (grades K-12) living in shelters and hotels in DTLA.
Our guide was reluctant to answer questions about the highly publicized Chocolate Scandal mentioned previously. But when she was questioned about it, the tour guide explained: “The Mast Brothers are only looking toward the future and are going to continue to put in the time and effort that it takes to make the best chocolate out there.” Again, I have to admit that this is evident in the transparency of every part of the factory and in the taste of the chocolate. I also asked about the critics who say that the company is simply good at marketing and not good at making chocolate. She made sure to remind me that: “Critics are always going to have their opinions but have you seen who wrote the Foreword in the Mast Brothers Cookbook? It’s written by Thomas Keller. THEE Thomas Keller.” Thomas Keller is a famous and well respected American chef, restaurateur and cookbook writer who currently holds 7 Michelin Stars. He is a very serious force to be reckoned with in the culinary world and in the foreword, Keller praises the Mast Brothers for the “quality of their ingredients” and the “authenticity of their brand.” If that’s not a singing endorsement, I don’t know what is. Ultimately, the Mast Brothers are opening their doors to allow guests to see how they make their product, to taste their product and are letting you, the guest have the final say about what good chocolate tastes like.
Mast Brothers, Los Angeles- 816 S. Santa Fe Ave. Los Angeles, Ca 90021 mastbrothers.com
Daily Hours of Operation: 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Public Tours Daily on the hour, every hour from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.