First Look

Inside the new Mast Brothers chocolate factory and shop in downtown L.A.

Rick and Michael Mast, the brothers behind Mast Brothers Chocolate, the craft chocolate company known for its colorful packaging and interesting flavors (goat's milk, olive oil), are about to open their factory and shop in the downtown Arts District. The Masts, who have chocolate-making facilities and shops in Brooklyn and London, are showcasing every aspect of their process at the factory in Los Angeles, scheduled to open in mid-April. 

If you've heard a lot about the recent accusations made against the brothers, regarding whether their chocolate is a 100% bean-to-bar operation, they say that their new facility is indeed 100% bean-to-bar. 

"We're a facility making chocolate, open to the public, that's bean-to-bar," says Rick. 

The two are storing dozens of 150-pound bags of cacao beans stacked near the front of their sleek, new white building (much like they do at their other facilities), located just a food truck's length from Stumptown Coffee Roasters and across from the American Tea Room.

"We were down in Peru recently, and those are basically wild foraged beans from the jungle," says Rick as he points to a stack of beans labeled Peru. He and his brother are sporting their signature beards. 

Behind him is a storefront full of large (200 grams, $20), medium (70 grams, $8) and tiny (28 grams, $4) chocolate bars — featuring all 12 of the brand's current collection — along with a counter where you can order chocolate chip cookies, hot chocolate and chocolate beer they are brewing on-site. 

The entire point of the new 6,000-square-foot facility is transparency. Just past the shop up front, there are five large glass modules that each house a specific step of the process, intended to display exactly how the chocolate is made. 

"We designed the big space to explore, teach and involve the community as much as possible," says Michael. 

The first of those five glass modules in the factory, each kept at a unique temperature, is the roasting room, where each bean will have its own roasting profile. Just a few steps to the right is a room with a cracker and a winnower, where the beans are shelled.  

The third module is the grinding room, where six granite stone grinders will break down the beans over the course of two to three days, making small batches with which the brothers can experiment.   

Over the past couple of weeks, the brothers have been working with their team of about 20 employees to come up with the bean blend that will be used to make all of the bars in L.A.  

The fourth module is where the chocolate is taken from the grinders and set to rest in large bricks on a shelf. Once it's deemed ready (some may sit for a couple days, weeks or even a year), this room is where the chocolate is tempered, and ganaches are made in small metal bowls; the recipes are written in pen on white paper plates.

There are four ganache flavors being tested: beer, coffee, rose-scented geranium and honey. 

"It tastes like L.A.," says Michael after tasting a spoonful of the rose-scented geranium. 

The brothers are hoping to source all of their ingredients for the L.A. bars and ganaches locally, including the honey, the geranium and beer, which comes from Angel City Brewery. 

The fifth and final module in the factory is where the chocolate (nonalcoholic) beer is made. There are three fermentation tanks — one for a sweet brew, one for a bitter brew and another for a seasonal flavor. They are each made with cold-brewed roasted cacao beans carbonated with CO2 and nitrogen. 

Once the factory and shop open, tours of the space will be offered daily, on the hour, for the first three months. (The Masts just ask that you make a $5 donation to the School on Wheels nonprofit that provides educational opportunities for homeless children.) After the first three weeks, tours will still be available, on a set schedule.

And in addition to providing chocolate for the shop's bars, cookies and ganache squares, Rick is hoping to work more closely with local restaurants. 

"We've got a great relationship with Travis Lett from Gjelina," says Rick, who added that the Mast Brothers supply chocolate to Thomas Keller's restaurants, as well as 11 Madison Park and Shake Shack. 

"We're inspired by this community and what's going on here," says Rick. "You can be a chocolate maker in L.A. now. That's really exciting." 

816 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, www.mastbrothers.com

Dark chocolate or bust. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @Jenn_Harris_

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