According to Slate, Mast Brothers is the most popular craft chocolate in the country, and yet almost no specialty chocolate stores carry it. Rick Mast thinks it’s because they’re outsiders who have never joined industry associations or made friends with alleged chocolate experts. But those experts think it’s because Mast Brothers chocolate just isn’t up to scratch, says Slate.

“If you were to ask the world’s top chocolate reviewers to rate bars, Mast Brothers would hit in the bottom 5 percentile,” said Clay Gordon, a Good Food Awards judge and the author of Discover Chocolate. “There are defects in every bar, and the chocolate is bad.” Writer, chocolate educator, and International Chocolate Awards judge Eagranie Yuh said she’s tried Mast bars that tasted stale or moldy. Both Yuh and Lauren Adler, the owner of Seattle-based specialty shop Chocolopolis, commented that some Mast bars have an unpleasant chalky texture.

Mast Brothers Michael and Rick.

Mast Brothers Michael and Rick.

Despite those flaws, the general populace seems to like it. Thousands visit the Mast Brothers factory in Brooklyn every week, which Slate says could be down to the fact that bean-to-bar chocolate is relatively new, and most consumers haven’t yet developed a sophisticated palate for it. “It’s as though we’ve been drinking wine coolers for years and suddenly have access to a cellar of cabernet sauvignons,” writes Megan Giller, who runs the Zagat blog in Austin.

That would make these critical chocolate experts sommeliers, with one big difference. Unlike sommeliers, chocolate judges and tasters don’t go through any standardized training or certification. They become experts through experience and knowledge, and less fluent people pay them for their opinions because presumably they’re good at what they do.

Sorting cacao beans at the factory.

Sorting cacao beans at the factory.

But that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily right. Some qualities of chocolate can be objectively measured, such as how much cacao a bar contains, but at its core, tasting is a subjective craft. Perhaps we should think of chocolate judges not as sommeliers but as restaurant reviewers: professionals who have a more educated palate than we do, and whose opinions we need not agree with, but are worth considering while we form our own.

It’s important to recognize that there’s a difference between the things you like and things that are actually good. But if you’re enjoying something, how much does it matter what someone else thought of it?

[via Slate, The Guardian]