Battle of the Dishes: Bean to Bar Chocolate Bars From Jacques Torres and Mast Brothers
There's a reason that very few chocolatiers can claim to manufacture their chocolate from bean to bar. Transforming raw cacao beans to molded bars is a time- and space-consuming process that doesn't lend itself to the snug confines of most New York chocolate shops. The fact that it takes about 400 beans to make one pound of chocolate is in itself a deterrent to manufacture, and that's before you begin to factor in all of the equipment needed for cleaning, bean and nib roasting, liquor milling, cocoa pressing, mixing and refining, conching, and tempering and molding. It's not something you can do in your apartment kitchen, let alone in most professional production spaces.
So having a bean to bar product is a big deal for a chocolatier. When they opened for business last year, the Mast Brothers were able to claim that they were "New York City's only bean to bar chocolate maker," meticulously crafting "delicate batches" of their wares in their Williamsburg factory. But that was before Jacques Torres, in whose chocolate factory Rick Mast once labored, stepped up to the plate, launching his own bean-to-bar creation last month. So how does his bar measure up to the Masts's?
To find out, Torres's 70 percent cacao bar was pitted against the Masts's 75 percent bar. Torres's bar gets its beans from Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Ecuador, while the Masts's uses single-origin beans from Madagascar.
From the outside, the Mast bar certainly looked prettier, with its vintage wrapping paper and gold foil. It also carried a non-vintage price tag: $10 for 2.5 ounces (sold at the factory, they're $8, but this one was purchased at Dean & Deluca). Torres's paper may not have been as aesthetically pleasing, but its price was lovelier, at $5.50 for 2.8 ounces. Unwrapped, the Torres bar had a flashier appearance in contrast to the Mast bar's straightforward squares. But how did they taste?
Both broke apart with a satisfyingly clean snap. The Mast bar had a slightly tannic taste and texture, clinging to the tongue. It had bright, almost fruity notes, and a bit of spicy kick. Its finish was slightly bitter, but not unpleasantly so. Altogether, the bar had great dimension; eating it was sort of like rounding street corners in an unfamiliar city, full of unexpected yet welcome discoveries.
The Torres bar, by contrast, covered more familiar territory. It boasted an impossibly smooth texture, all but dissolving on contact with the tongue. Its flavor was similarly smooth, and huskier. While it didn't offer the same wide dimension of tasting notes, it provided a consistent depth of flavor -- eating the bar was like falling into a dreamless sleep. There was no bitterness at the finish, just drugged contentment.
Both bars, in other words, offered completely different experiences, and beauty that was very much in the eye of the beholder. The Masts and Torres are doing excellent work, so calling one better than the other based solely upon taste does a disservice both to them and to the highly subjective reactions that chocolate inspires. If you want a more bitter, idiosyncratic bar, you want the Masts. If you want a smoother, more comforting bar, then go for the Torres.
So taste-wise, it's a draw, which means that price is a determining factor. The Mast bar is $4.50 more than the Torres bar, and .3 ounces lighter. Obviously, the companies operate at different scales and price their bars accordingly, but if you're a casual consumer with a hankering for a high-quality dark chocolate bar whose beans were cleaned, roasted, and further adulterated on-site, then the Torres bar is definitely better value.
So, with sticker shock in mind, Torres wins.