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What price fine chocolate?

By Allan Chernoff, CNN Senior Correspondent
  • Chocolate shouldn't be something you can pick up at the gas station for a buck or two, says Rick Mast
  • Ingredient list is simple: cacao beans and sugar
  • "We're bringing out the different characteristics and the flavors people didn't think were imaginable from chocolate," said Mike Mast.

New York (CNN) -- True love may be priceless, but does that mean we should pay through the nose for fine chocolate on Valentine's Day- or any day?

The answer is unequivocally yes in the opinion of Rick and Mike Mast whose organic hand-crafted chocolate bars garnering rave reviews retail for $9.

"You get what you pay for," insisted Rick Mast, 34. "For me, chocolate shouldn't be something you can pick up at the gas station for a buck or two."

The Mast Brothers are not gourmet chocolatiers -- the artisans who melt down large blocks of chocolate and refashion the mix into delectable treats of all shapes and flavors. Rather, Rick and his brother Mike, 31, are true chocolate makers in the tradition of Willy Wonka's oompa-loompas, though the towering, red-bearded Masts -- Rick is 6'4", Mike 6'3" -- could hardly be confused with author Roald Dahl's fictional Lilliputian chocolate workers.

From a small store-front factory in the Brooklyn, New York neighborhood of Williamsburg, the Masts are producing an intensely complex tasting chocolate -- yes, just the way fine wine should deliver layers of flavor -- even though their ingredients are as simple as can be: cacao beans and sugar.

"We don't dumb it down so it's not as exotic or as sexy an experience," said Rick Mast explaining why he adds no milk fat, cocoa butter or emulsifiers. "Chocolate should take you on a trip."

The Masts began producing chocolate in their apartments. Three years ago after maxing out several credit cards and investing their modest savings they turned their passion into a business that tries to live by an environmentally-friendly ethos.

They purchase organic cacao beans from Venezuela, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic. To reduce their carbon footprint this year they plan to have a friend who owns a large sailboat deliver some of their beans.

The beans are roasted in two convection ovens for about 15-to-20-minutes. Then the chocolate-makers pour the beans into a custom-made whirling, buzzing contraption that separates the husk from the nibs -- the meat of the bean that becomes chocolate. The resulting nibs go into vats where granite wheels crush them. Sugar is added and the mix is stirred until smooth. Pans filled with the thick pudding-like concoction then sit on a shelf for a month, to allow the full flavor of the bean to emerge. Finally, the cacao-sugar mix is melted down, stirred again and poured into bars.

What results is a dark chocolate that tastes like so much more than chocolate: imagine chocolate infused with spice, citrus, and tea, except none of those is an ingredient.

"We're bringing out the different characteristics and the flavors people didn't think were imaginable from chocolate," said Mike Mast.

For extra variety the Masts add coffee, hazelnuts, almonds, sea salt, peppers and black truffles to create additional flavors.

A few of New York's finer restaurants, including Per Se, now offer Mast Brothers Chocolate on their desert menus and leading gourmet shops carry the brand as well. The Masts are shipping 5,000 chocolate bars a week and say they have 1,000 potential accounts on their waiting list.

With a high content of cacao -- 70% to 81% -- Mast Brothers Chocolate has as much of the chemicals behind chocolate's mythical aphrodisiac qualities, the serotonin building-block tryptophan and stimulant phenylethylamine, as most any other bar.

But, is it worth $9 for 2.5 ounces? I can't say it's the most delicious chocolate you will ever eat; it has none of the sweetness that lures so many of us to chocolate. But it likely will be the most interesting chocolate you may ever taste. And, after all to keep priceless love aflame we need to keep things interesting.