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Stories of Creativity: Nuance Chocolate

Nuance Chocolate: Where Every Visit is a Special Occasion

Article by Michelle Venus

Ask Toby Gadd, co-owner of Nuance Chocolate on Pine Street, what he considers the best thing about chocolate and he offers up a chuckle. “There are two things,” he says. “First, of course, the way chocolate tastes; the complexities, the details, the nuances.”

Then he gets technical. Chocolate contains the stimulant theobromine. It’s a lot like caffeine, but the effects are longer lasting and mellower, explains Toby. “Even in Colorado, theobromine is my favorite drug,” he jokes.

But when questioned about which chocolate is his favorite, the answer is not so quick. “That's like trying to choose your favorite finger,” Toby says. “It’s all about the context. When you’re hitchhiking, this is your favorite finger.” His thumb pops up. “But when you’re driving, maybe it’s this finger.”

He opens his arms as if to embrace the entire store. “These are my favorites.” All of them? “All of them.”

Nuance Chocolate specializes in small batch, single origin chocolate (chocolate that’s made from one variety of cacao harvested in one region). Toby and his business partner wife Alix, reject about 85% of the cacao beans they try each year. Only the top 15% make it into their bars, truffles, syrups, and different styles of drinking chocolate. (Try the brewing chocolate. Super yum.) Even being this selective, Nuance is the largest single origin chocolate maker in the world. They didn’t set out to make any records, it just worked out that way, and Toby points out, the Fort Collins community has been incredibly supportive of fine chocolate.

Chocolate is one of the more complex foods we eat. There are 600 naturally occurring flavor compounds—more than in red wine—in single origin chocolate. It’s nothing like the commercially produced impulse-purchase bars that crowd the grocery store checkout line. To fully understand and appreciate the difference, one must experience the difference. Toby recommends trying one of Nuance’s single origin flights to train the palette and develop an appreciation of a wide range of chocolates, from the strong chocolate backbone chocolates to the bright, acidic, more complex chocolates. Much like tasting red wine, the palette is cleansed with a bite of water cracker and a swish of water between the different chocolates. That readies the tongue for the next flavor sensation.

How can someone develop their palette? “Eat more chocolate,” advises Toby.

As chocolate warms, it releases different volatile compounds, aromas, and flavors. When it first lands on the tongue, chocolate starts to warm and certain flavors are released. Take your time, let those initial, cooler flavors fill the mouth. Chew it, don’t just let it melt. As it warms further, the retronasal flavors are released, hitting the back of the throat and engaging the olfactory senses. “Take your time. Nibble, repeat, nibble, repeat,” states Toby.

Toby can be found in the shop, interacting with customers and teaching them the ways of single origin chocolate, Alix oversees the manufacturing facility. Located in a building just west of Oak Street Plaza in the Downtown Fort Collins Creative District, that’s where the magic happens.

Making chocolate—and Toby stresses that he and Alex are chocolate makers, not chocolatiers—is a complicated process. After the cacao beans are harvested and the removed from the husks, they are piled on the ground and covered with nana leaves for up to nine days while they ferment. Then they are dried under the hot equatorial sun, all the while being raked and turned to promote consistent drying. After cleaning and sorting, the beans are exported. Once the beans have landed in the Nuance factory, they are roasted at very low temperatures and then winnowed, which is the process that separates the nibs—considered the “meat” of the chocolate—from the husks. Then they are ground into cocoa liquor, which has a consistency like peanut butter which the folks at Nuance have lovingly nicknamed “cacao pie”.

The nibs and sugar are put into the melanger, a large stainless steel vessel with a granite bottom, which grinds the nibs and sugar for 90 hours until the individual particles are about 20 microns in size; too small to felt in the mouth. Undesirable volatile acids are blown off, while oxygenation and aeration help with flavor development. Time and temperature are critical at this stage.

Next comes tempering. During tempering, the chocolate is slowly brought up to a certain temperature and then slowly cooled into the final product that results in the snap, the gloss, the smoothness, and mouth feel that makes chocolate so, well, chocolatey.

Nuance collaborates with local CSAs (consumer supported agriculture), breweries, and distillers to create their truffles. Feisty Spirits, CopperMuse, Odell Brewing Company, and Happy Heart Farm are on their go-to list of partners, making their truffles a true local endeavor.

It’s worth the wander over to Pine Street to visit Nuance Chocolate. Don’t wait for a special occasion like a birthday or Valentine’s Day, go because treating yourself to Nuance Chocolate is a special occasion all by itself.


Michelle Venus is a freelance writer living and working in a little old bungalow in Old Town Fort Collins. She can be found pedaling her bike to coffee shops and happy hours, and is known to dance in the office. Any office.

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