The drinkable chocolates at Brew Bar (105A North 3rd Street, Brooklyn), the Mast Brothers’ new not-coffee shop now open a few doors down from the siblings’ Williamsburg factory, are the antithesis of Serendipity’s glop, Max Brenner’s price-gouging, even City Bakery’s supremely sippable, seasonal abyss. The Mast Brothers version is not a hot chocolate that evokes nostalgia for thin Swiss Miss, hulking marshmallows, and the peppermint aroma of dissolving candy canes permeating your parents’ living room. Brew Bar is a French parfumerie outfitted like a Quaker church, where experienced baristas hand-grind a panoply of single origin cocoa beans, all brewed to a fragrant berry and buttery climax as addictive, accessible, and questionably healthful as any hot morning cuppa or fruity iced tea.
“Once you taste it, you can forget any preconceived notions of what drinking a chocolate beverage is,” Rick Mast explains. “Leave it at the door.”
Through that door at 105A North 3rd Street is a room Mast describes as a palate cleanser. White brick and tile walls span the space, and the only chocolate touches are inset bookcases housing decoratively wrapped bars, and a plate of freshly baked Brooklyn Blend cookies under glass on the counter. The only furniture is a George Nelson platform bench perched beneath the storefront window.
Opposite that, behind the counter, executive manager Derek Herbster executes his hot water and cocoa bean infusion with precision. The Stumptown veteran’s applied the techniques for coffee-brewing to chocolate’s natural source material, crafting a singular beverage that dates back thousands of years, and has taken more than a year to recreate.
While ordering a cup here can be as simple as “taking it red” (a phrase that refers to the iced tea-hue of the sunny brew), you’ll also find all the iced coffee accompaniments you’d expect, including Battenkill Valley milk and a house-made cocoa nib-infused simple syrup. However the cold-brewed chocolate’s already naturally creamy, and dispossessed of any of the bitterness found in coffee.
“Since it’s literally brewed chocolate, because it’s the first brew bar just dedicated to chocolate ever, we’re just trying to educate people as much as we can,” Mast says.
But those looking beyond a morning blend of caffeine, cocoa butter’s healthful fats, and the natural energy boost of theobromine will find an array of scents and tastes in every varietal as complex as any coffee bean. Sip a cup of the Dominican Republic origin and, Mast explains, it reveals earthy Tobacco and chocolate notes, while the Peruvian beans are bolder with hints of cinnamon, molasses, and fruits. A bean from Papua, New Guinea is both fruity and smoky.
“It’s basically like a fruit drink,” Mast says. “We try to connect to the agricultural element, which is a cocoa bean, the fermented seed of a fruit. If you don’t taste it you’re distancing yourself from what the farmer is doing.”
Served hot, the poured-over grounds filter into something more closely resembling espresso, with a crema of frothed cocoa butter bubbling at the top. The fruit notes dissipate and the aroma of melting chocolate pushes forward. The first taste evokes more curiosity than nostalgia, but that’s only a matter of time.
“It’s hard to believe this isn’t a part of life already,” Mast says.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 25, 2014