Chocolate 101, A Piece of Art Inside & Out

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

3 prime stages: Beans. Nibs. Bar.

While we'd love to welcome everyone to our Brooklyn flagship for one of our daily tours, we understand that distance may make it difficult. Therefore we are sharing a step-by-step guide into the craftsmanship behind our chocolate here, for your immediate consumption. Made as an ode to our customers, here is inside look at excellence as we guide you through our variety of bean-to-bar production.

Some background: Cocoa beans come from the cacao tree. Each pod can contain anywhere from 20-60 beans, enclosed by a sweet pulp. Each tree is estimated to produce only 50-60 pods a year, yielding approximately 12-20 pounds of beans. 
(Fun fact: one pod of fresh cacao yields one 70g Mast bar of chocolate!)


We source directly with partners in regions around the world, looking for the rarest, complex and most delicious organic cacao available. We have been fortunate enough to play an instrumental role in developing new growing regions. Our partners are like family, and we set the standard early in our production to pay at least three times over the established fair trade rates.


The fruit is hand-picked to protect the trees. One of the most magical steps in processing the cacao begins with fermentation. This is where the beans develop their distinct flavor, impacted by the soil, humidity, growing conditions, and it doesn't require any heat at all! Depending on the region, beans are placed in large crates and covered tightly with banana leaves or wooden covers. After about approximately eight days, the beans are laid out to dry, usually using only the power of the sun to finalize the hard work of the farmers. Once dry, it's packaged and shipped to our Brooklyn Navy Yard headquarters.


Sorting takes patience. Before anything else, we hand sort the raw cacao beans, removing any debris, cracked beans. This process ensures the beans we use in our bars are at the highest quality level and created an even flavor after roasting.

The beans are lightly roasted in an oven to develop the cacao flavour and to fully reduce moisture and acidity.


After the roasted beans cool, we need to get to the good stuff - the nibs. We put the roasted beans through a winnowing machine (a fanning machine used for cleaning grain by the action of sieves and an air blast) which removes the lighter shell/husk and leaves us with the most desired inner-portion of the bean. This portion is called the cacao nib and is the primary ingredient in all chocolate. As part of our sustainability initiatives, we donate all of the byproduct of this process, generally unusable beans and the cacao husks, to local farmers who use it as mulch. Two of our partners, BK Grange (we use their garden chilies for our Rooftop Chili bar) and Kings County Distillery (maker of our chocolate whiskey) are both advocates of our cacao husk program.

Using our carefully formatted recipes, we then prepare our ingredients to be added into a melangeur. The melangeur is the workhorse of our production, taking the nibs, sugar, cocoa butter and any other ingredients based on the variety (perhaps coffee, roasted almonds, vanilla), and smoothly grinding it down to a chocolate liqueur. It does this by using simple friction. Two large granite wheels within the steel conch steadily increase the natural temperature of the cocoa nibs, where it eventually hits its melting point and melds into a silky liquid. We grind our recipes for over two days to guarantee a refined texture. 
The liquid chocolate is strained to remove any remaining bits of cacao nibs. Once set to its solid form, we wrap each block and leave it to mature in a stable environment for up to three months. While many chocolate makers would find this unnecessary, our founders discovered that aging the chocolate allows the flavor palette to each bar to mature and reach its full potential, similar to a wine or any other fermented food.
The next step is getting the chocolate to its ideal temperature so that it helps give the cocoa butter crystals the proper structure and allows for a bar with a glossy exterior with an excellent snap. Often chocolate makers will hand temper on marble slabs, but we prefer the uniformity of a selmi. It also takes a full morning for the chocolate to reach the ideal temperature once added to a selmi.

The tempered chocolate is then poured into bar molds and agitated to remove any air bubbles. To receive its signature snap, the chocolate is required to set in its most stable form. 


It is then solidified in a chiller after which, they are unmoulded, and ready to be wrapped (fun fact: we wrap our bars whether its 28g mini's or 70gs with a 1960s machine!) We first wrap the bars in their inner gold packaging to keep the chocolates fresh for the months ahead, then we secure the chocolates with our custom Mast packaging and labels. Then off they go to our customers!


We are humbled to be your chocolate makers and we aim
to provide only the best confections delivered to your door.

 Fun fact: Cocoa is the world’s third-most traded agricultural product after coffee and sugar.


To learn more of our bean-to-bar process, join us for a tour:

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