From the headlines, you'd think Martin Shkreli started selling sweets.
"Chocolate's biggest hucksters!" screams the Gothamist.
"How the Mast Brothers Fooled the World into Buying their Crappy Hipster Chocolate for $10 a Bar," reads Quartz.
The best-known craft chocolate bar makers in the country—celebrity beardo Brooklyn chocolate sellers the Mast Brothers—admitted in The New York Times today they'd been remelting industrial chocolate from other vendors and reselling it as "bean-to-bar" chocolate. Except, you know, not recently, man. Totally a long time ago.
You can almost feel the contempt for artisanal this-and-that oozing from the headlines across the blogosphere. The idea is that no one now proclaiming the merits of so-called "bean-to-bar" chocolate—the cacao equivalent of single-source coffee roasts—actually knows what they're talking about.
This follows a piece-by-piece dissection by Dallas food blogger Scott Craig in a four-part series this December, which called the Mast Brothers the "Milli Vanilli of chocolate" and tore their craft-chocolate claims apart.
The Mast Brothers initially denied all charges, declaring that they'd always been bean-to-bar, before their admissions today.
But Aubrey Lindley of Portland's Cacao tells WW that in the craft-chocolate world, everyone—except, apparently, the food press—has known all along that the Mast Brothers' chocolate was crap and/or remelted. He also says he's never carried their stuff in his store. (Portland and New York's the Meadow, on the other hand, still does.)
"I've been calling this Schadenfreude Christmas," says Lindley. "It's been an amusing thing. [Craig] has been pushing out those articles. I keep saying, 'I know I shouldn't read this.' and then I do."
But Lindley says he has nothing personal against the Mast Brothers. "It bothers me in terms of my values and what I care about," he says. "I've never met them, I'm not seeking their demise. I'm seeking truth."
In Craig's piece, Lindley is quoted as saying that Mast Brothers' original bars "had an overly refined, smooth texture that is a trademark of industrial chocolate. No small equipment was achieving a texture like that. It also tasted like industrial chocolate: balanced, flavorless, dark roast, and vanilla." In 2010, when Lindley says they actually started making their own, "most of the chocolate [became] simply inedible, by my standards."
Lindley's diagnosis is borne out by the NYT admissions by the Bros today. He says he hadn't enacted any crusades against the Mast Brothers, but he and Cacao partner Jesse Manis have always known the Mast Brothers' product was subpar.
"Our formal involvement is that we're advocates in the industry, and we really care about honesty, integrity and transparency," Lindley says. "I think those are the words they use in their own marketing."
Lindley says the real problem was that the Mast Brothers were owning too much of the craft-chocolate spotlight for a subpar bar.
"If someone wants to make bad chocolate, that's not a problem—there's so much bad chocolate out there," he says. "But I don't want it to be misrepresented."
He expects most of the backlash will be from people who'd previously touted the Mast Brothers in articles, or bragged about buying their crappy chocolate to friends. "They are definitely a product of early adopters and trendsetters," says Lindley. "And some of those people are mad when they feel like they've been dupes."
For evidence the Mast Brothers had a carefully constructed marketing image, Lindley points to the transformation the Mast Brothers made in their personal appearance in 2007 and 2008, amid their chocolate marketing blitz.
(All images courtesy dallasfood.tumblr.com)
"Going through that kind of transformation, but talking about authenticity the whole time," he says. "These were frat dudes. It's just so funny. The thing their audience would hate."
Anyway, if you want actual good chocolate made in Portland that's not a horrible fraud, Lindley says you should roll with Cocanú, which he calls "brilliant, really thoughtfully produced," made with camino verde beans from Ecuador, cooking out the best of what can be done with those beans." So there.