Across Brooklyn Bridge and a short walk along the dockside past Manhattan Bridge you will find one of the biggest coffee shops I’ve ever been inside. Closer to a coffee warehouse than a coffeeshop, the Jay street branch of Brooklyn Roasting Company is literally where the magic happens. As well as having two bars available to order from, the building also houses their Loring Kestrel roaster, responsible for roasting their personal supply of 20 or so coffees from all over the world.
Having a community feel to the place, some appear to have made this place their second home, with others turning it into their office. There are high top tables filled with swathes of industrious keyboard tappers and relaxed sofas threatening to swallow any who stay too long. The whole space has a relaxed but energetic feel, everyone clearly motivated by the caffeine to be doing something, anything, just in a way that feels care free and without worry. This is not a space where people rush after their takeaway cups, in and out within seconds, people here tend to order, sit and stop, something not common in New York’s coffeeshops. Trying to resist the urge to just wander around endlessly, we made our way over to the brew bar and ordered.
Feeling like now might be the best time to ponder over the roots of coffee I ordered the Mocha Java brewed as a french press, which is a blend of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe washed heirloom and Sumatra Permata Gayo, a natural processed mixture of Mandheling typica, bourbon, catimor and Timor hybrid varietals.
Arriving as a medium bodied deep russet brown in a Brooklyn Roasting Company stamped cup. Smelling of sweet rich wood, caramels and lightly roasted tobacco, the aromas were delightfully complex. To Taste it had a very typical coffee flavour to it, with a light well rounded nuttyness to it, like honeyed walnuts. Over time developing fruitier tones of flame raisins and soft cherries in light chocolate. Having enjoyed Brooklyn Roasting Company a lot and not wanting really to leave, we forced ourselves out the door only to stumble past this lovely piece of graffiti on the wall outside.
25 Jay Street, Brooklyn, New York
The eponymous Mast Brothers began trading in 2006 opening their first production plant here in Brooklyn. Upon entering it is remarkably calm and serene considering the production plant is in the back beyond its glass windows. The shop is fairly minimal and well laid out, with a lot of attention focused on the large kitchen table in the centre of the room which hosts the Mast Brothers Range.
Everything about this place feels professional and were it not for the staff, this place might feel a little like a Mast Brothers museum. The staff though, are incredibly friendly and excited to talk about the chocolate. Handing out samples, we were offered the Madagascan truffle to try which was wonderfully smooth and fruity, with that typical typical tang of red berries which you would expect from a Madagascan. Chatting to the staff, they were curious to know where we were from and how long we would be in New York, leading to us discovering that one of the staff had been to my city of Leeds herself.
Noone can deny the quality of the aesthetics here, including the iconic Mast Brothers packaging, but the important bit is what’s inside the packaging, the chocolate bars. Incidentally the reason why we’re here in the first place. The Mast Brothers range is large, there’s over 20 bars here, with a good mixture of origins and flavoured bars, aware that my luggage will only hold so many bars I opt for the Peru, the Madagascar and the Vanilla & Smoke. Saying our goodbyes, it was time to head a couple of doors down to their other shop.
Seeking to expand Mast Brothers decided to open up Mast Brothers Brew House a few doors down, offering to the best of my knowledge, the first shop dedicated to brewing cacao nib tea.
Using the same cacao nibs that they use for making their chocolate bars, the nibs are steeped in hot water in the same manner as tea leaves to produce a tea with the characteristic flavours notable in single origin cacao. Always excited to give new things a go especially when they involve chocolate we ordered a couple of teas to sample. As a window into the flavours I could be expecting from the bars I’d just purchased, we ordered a brew of the Madagascan and the Peruvian.
I wont lie, the tea was unsual, but it did bare a resemblance to tea and it did have the flavours of chocolate in it. The Madagascan tasted of red berries and the Peruvian of raisins, which is how I expected both of them to taste. The flavours were clear and easy to pick out, which lead me to thinking that this might be a great way to sample beans before turning them into chocolate, in order to discover their flavour profiles. What was missing though was the creamy chocolatey texture I’ve come to associate with chocolate bars and hot chocolate, as it’s a tea it’s thin and watery, it is however better than a lot of tea I’ve had.
What is important here, is that Mast Brothers are innovating, that they are pushing the boundaries of our perception of what chocolate should be, ok so cacao shells have been used in tea before and cascara bares some similarities, but this is something different and that is evident when you taste it. It is a tea that has the tastes and flavours of single origin beans, which can be said of no other tea, it offers tea drinkers an introduction to chocolate and chocolate lovers an introduction to tea.
105 + 111 North 3rd Street, Brooklyn, New York
The most rock star of New York’s coffee scene, Third Rail is as energetic as the caffeine it sells. Enough to wake you up on a morning and get you going, Third Rail has a lively rock driven atmosphere, where everything feels at a slightly faster pace, unless you’re ordering the slow brewed coffee of course. Third Rail feels like your local coffee scene where the baristas know everyone and people come in not just for the coffee but for the company as well.
Taking a look at the Chemex menu, traditionally I would have instinctively opted for the Colombian but, intrigued by the unknown I went for my first coffee from Papua New Guinea the Tairora from Counter Culture Coffee a washed mixture of typica, bourbon and arusha varietals. On arrival the coffee had earthy aromas with some light florals, laced with the smell of burnt cinnamon and toffee. To taste it opens deep and dark like you would expect a typica coffee to start, developing very distinctly into a ginger snap with some background tart acidity, over time and as it cools the finish has fleeting florals in it with what I can only describe as those milk bottle sweets you get from candy stores. Unfortunately we were not locals otherwise this may have become our regular weekend hangout.
159 Second Avenue, on the corner of 10th and Stuyvestant, New York
With an air of refinement, but also an air of the exaggerated, Vosges Haut Chocolat inhabits the space between the nostalgia of a Victorian sweetshop and the childlike qualities of a sweetshop wonderland.
The same ubiquitous qualities that are present in the construction of their chocolate bars. These chocolate bars are not for the single origin purists, they are for those that wish to taste chocolate bars with their imaginations. Vosges Haut Chocolat is famed for its wild and inventive flavours, flavours that transcend the traditional sea salt or chilli and aspire for something more akin to gastronomic desserts.
I myself tend to prefer the honest flavours attributed to well sourced single origin cacao, but it’s difficult to dismiss the innovative and carefully combined flavour combinations of Sri Lankan coconut and curry bar or their coconut ash and banana super dark. Vosges Haut Chocolat are not afraid to push the boundaries of chocolate flavours, they’re also not afraid to use classic but untried flavours like their infamous Mo’s dark chocolate bacon bar. Unable to walk away without buying something I picked up a black salt caramel bar intrigued by the taste of a salted caramel using unconventional salt.
132 Spring Street, New York