A Brooklyn company takes hot chocolate back to its ancient roots
BROOKLYN – Creamy, rich, and sweet. That’s how most of us expect our hot chocolate to taste. But the new Mast Brothers’ Brew Bar in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood aims to change all that. The popular craft chocolate makers recently opened a minimalist café a few doors down from their factory, but they don’t sell coffee or even traditional hot chocolate there. What they’re making is a different kind of chocolate drink entirely, a stripped-down brew inspired by ancient Aztecs and Mayans—one that’s been lost for centuries.
The practice, as explained to Hemispheres by Clay Gordon (author of Discover Chocolate and founder of the website The Chocolate Life), involved Aztecs and Mayans fermenting, drying, roasting and grinding cocoa beans before combining them with water, flavorings (such as chili peppers or vanilla) and foaming agents (such as tree sap). The resulting drink would have been quite bitter.
“It’s not actually until the beans find their way back to Europe [around 1530] that the idea of serving it hot and adding sugar to it to make it palatable becomes common,” says Gordon, who adds that, in the United States, hot chocolate drinks became popular during the American Revolution, when it was unfashionable to drink tea.
For its modern take on this ancient method, the Brew Bar adds ground nibs to a tea bag and steeps it for four to eight minutes. You can then add almonds, chilies, maple syrup, coffee, black tea or sea salt to the drink for flavor. The cold brew is steeped for 24 hours.
“It certainly changes your notion of hot chocolate, which is usually too sweet and very rich with cream or milk,” says pastry chef Michelle Tampakis, the resident chocolate expert at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education.
Just as with Mast Brothers chocolate bars, you have a choice of origin for your brewed chocolate, with beans from Peru, Madagascar, Belize, the Dominican Republic and Papua New Guinea. And much as with wine, each bean boasts regional terroir. Cocoa beans from Peru, for example, are more fruity, while those from Papua New Guinea are distinctly smoky.
“It’s come full circle, to go back to a specific-origin bean, just with water, so you really have an opportunity to taste the terroir of the bean itself,” says Tampakis. “The beans have quite a fruitiness to them so you don’t really need a lot of sugar—you taste the bean itself.”
At Brew Bar, if you really do need your sugar and cream, there’s simple syrup and milk on hand. But be warned: Even if you add both of these, it still won’t taste like the hot chocolate you grew up with. And that’s just how the Mast Brothers want it. (Image courtesy of Mast Brothers)
PORTUGAL – Two of the best chefs in Portugal grew up far from the beach, reared on schnitzel and wurst instead of bacalao and chouriço. Until recently, these Austrian transplants, Hans Neuner and Dieter Koschina, ran the only spots in the country with two Michelin stars (a native Portuguese chef joined their ranks last year). They’ve earned international accolades—and homegrown respect—with an unlikely mix of Teutonic and Iberian flavors, a fusion cuisine that’s become its own genre on the sun-kissed Algarve, the palm-filled beach region on the country’s southern coast. Their restaurants, a short drive from each other, have helped turn a region best known for its package-tour vacations into a serious foodie destination.
“After ten years working in Germany, I was sick of the weather!” says Neuner, the young Tyrolean who launched Ocean restaurant at the clifftop Vila Vita Parc Hotel in 2007. Drawn south by the flood of German-speaking tourists who filled the Algarve’s beach resorts, Austrian chefs like Neuner have become the biggest food stars in their adopted country, as dominant as French chefs once were in the States.
“I used to look outside the country for ideas and ingredients,” Neuner says. “Now, 80 to 90 percent of what we use comes from Portugal.” His luxe tasting menu features dishes like black pork from the Alentejo region served with clams plucked from the waters just below the restaurant, plus Central European–inspired cabbage jus and Reinette apples—a North-meets-South-Europe spin on the Portuguese dish of pork with clams.
Koschina, raised near the Austria-Germany border, paved the way for this sort of hybrid cooking 24 years ago, when he took over the kitchen at the nearby Vila Joya Hotel.
“When I arrived here, my style was very meat-oriented,” he says. “With so much great seafood at my fingertips, I had to evolve.” His menu, which changes daily, might feature the country’s famed salt cod served with beet coulis and yogurt or roasted goose liver with pureed broccoli and smoked eel. In 2013, his restaurant hosted the International Gourmet Festival, and it’s currently the only place in Portugal on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, at number 22. And last year, the superstar chef landed on GQ Portugal’s Man of the Year list, alongside athletes, fashion designers and authors. (Image courtesy of Vila Joya)
CHICAGO – Cheese fanatics have long loved goat’s milk for the distinctive tanginess it imparts to fresh chèvres. Now, mixologists are beginning to spread the goat gospel by pairing the uniquely flavorful milk with spirits that show off its surprising diversity. This has resulted in cocktail flavor profiles that range from the expected (cozy and creamy) to the surprising (crisp and refreshing).
“I’ve always had an affinity for goat’s milk,” says Alex Bachman, of Chicago’s Billy Sunday. “It has a similar fat content to cow’s milk, but it’s greener—it represents what natural milk can be.” For his luscious Box Lunch, Bachman infuses goat’s milk with oats and baking spices like vanilla, cinnamon and mace. Palo cortado sherry adds a dry nuttiness, and génépi (an aperitif made from an alpine plant) provides chamomile notes. “It’s rich because it’s dairy, but it’s not super-heavy,” he says. “I’d describe it as an alcoholic horchata.”
While the flavors in the Box Lunch are autumnal, the Citizen Public House of Scottsdale, Arizona, employs goat’s milk in a downright summery concoction, a farm-inspired elixir of gin, lemon juice, orgeat syrup and peach liqueur, topped with a sprig of rosemary.
At New York City’s Betony, Eamon Rockey makes a strawberry milk punch with goat’s milk that has been completely clarified using a process that involves curdling the milk and removing all solids. The versatile finished product can be mixed with any spirit, but he recommends lighter ones like pisco, cachaça or his personal favorite, a Champagne floater. “It’s light and perfect at any time, but best in the sunshine,” he says.
“An ice-cold glass of milk can be a really refreshing beverage,” Bachman says. “There’s no reason why a goat’s milk–based cocktail can’t be refreshing in the same way.” (Image by Matthias Merges)
Box Lunch Yields 1 drink
• 3 oz. infused goat’s milk (see recipe below)
• 1 oz. génépi
• ½ oz. palo cortado sherry
Add ingredients to a mixing tin and stir. Strain into a small frozen milk jug and garnish with a candy-striped straw.
Infused goat’s milk
• ½ cup whole oats
• ½ vanilla bean
• 1½ sticks cinnamon
• ½ tsp. mace
• 1 liter goat’s milk
• ¼ cup brown sugar
Toast oats, vanilla and cinnamon in a pan over medium heat until browned and aromatic. Remove from heat and fold in mace. Heat goat’s milk until it barely reaches a boil, then pour it over the oat mixture. Cover and steep for one hour. Strain and discard solids. Dissolve brown sugar in the milk and cool.