Nuance Chocolate: worldwide taste, local flavor

Nuance Chocolate is one of the only chocolate shops in the country to make its own chocolate, and offers the widest range of single origin chocolates in the world. Let’s dip into the factory making process of Nuance- from bean to bar.

Chocolate Making Process

Video Courtesy of Sierra Cymes.

Q&A with Toby Gadd

I sat down with Toby Gadd, co-owner and founder of Nuance Chocolate, a store in Old Town Fort Collins that provides a unique method of making and selling its chocolate locally. Self-classified as a “chocoholic”, Gadd told me about finding and perfecting his passion for making various chocolate types with beans sourced from around the world.

What made you fall in love with chocolate?

My wife (Alix Gadd) and I are lifetime chocolate-lovers, both of us. My real revelation with chocolate actually came during my trip to Costa Rica. We got to taste some very unprocessed and unrefined chocolate during a tour of a museum on Kone Creek. And we tasted in that flavors we’d never had in chocolate before. Very unrefined, very rough. So I came back from that trip and I started exploring chocolate making- where to source ingredients and how to do it and reading everything from research papers and websites until I started making chocolate.

So you started out of your house? What was that process like?

We took our kitchen over with equipment. So we started buying melangers and things like that and chocolate making is messy, so our kitchen kind of became a disaster zone, but a good one- a very tasty disaster zone. Long story short we spent thousands of dollars on esoteric equipment.

Nuance Chocolate, located in Old Town Fort Collins. Photo Courtesy Sierra Cymes.

Where does Nuance come into the picture?

So the idea of making Nuance came a little later. We never meant it to be a business. But after I had sold my company I had some time and some money so I was making chocolate and looking at corporate jobs which didn’t really have that much appeal. One day driving home I thought this hobby would make a great business, and Nuance was born.

Why haven’t you gone wholesale?

Most wholesalers can provide three to four different kinds of bars. We thought we’d have to do that, because that’s what all the other bean and bar companies do: they pretty much exist primarily as wholesalers. But we thought it would be neat if we’d have both- we’d have resale for the fun part of the business and wholesale would pay the bills. So we opened up and quickly realized we would not have enough chocolate to meet both markets. We were just having so much excess in retail that we decided to do retail-only for the moment.

And what about later on?

We may do wholesale down the road- we haven’t ruled it out. It all depends on production levels and demand.

How is Nuance different from commercial chocolate makers?

It’s a pretty big distinction. People think, ‘well it’s chocolate, how can it be so different?’ The difference would be the difference between making a really wonderful cheese- a nice aged Gouda- and say, Kraft Singles. That analogy works very well in the chocolate world.

Truffles line the display case, waiting to be sold. Photo Courtesy Sierra Cymes.

Because of how the chocolate is made?

Most of the big chocolate makers are pushing out a commodity product. They’re more concerned about colors and cost than they are about the unique flavors that can be achieved from that particular type of bean. So along those lines they usually buy mixed and lower-grade beans which they tend to roast very hard to get a deep color. They alkalize it to remove much of the complexity of that in the acids through a chemical process. They separate out the solids and the butters, then they deodorize the butters. Then they have to bring flavor back in after that point so they run it through a number of chemical baths. Those aren’t listed in the ingredients because most of those are volatile and they’re not remaining residues in the chocolate. But it does change the core structure of the chocolate chemically. And they end up with something that’s pretty one-dimensional. So compare that to us where we’re really trying to celebrate the fact that different types of beans make different types of chocolate.

So you take the beans you get and make them into better chocolate.

We can’t make all beans into good chocolate, we have to figure out a good bean to start with. If it tastes bad to begin with, there’s not a whole lot we can do to fix that. But with good beans we want to preserve what makes that unique. So that’s a big distinction right there.

Single-origin and flavored chocolate bars are displayed. Photo Courtesy Sierra Cymes.

And as a retail store Nuance is currently offering 17 different single-origin chocolate varieties, correct?

We do have the widest range of single-origin chocolate of any maker in the world, for sure- by far. We’re not trying to beat any records- it kind of came about by accident, really. I love chocolate and every time I come across a good bean we make it into chocolate. And if it’s something wonderful that we think people would like we put it on the table and go from there.

Flight Tasting with Kristin Mastre

I had the opportunity to sit down with Kristin Mastre, a foodcritic from Feasting Fort Collins, to taste a flight of single-origin chocolates from Nuance Chocolate in Old Town Fort Collins. Co-owner and co-founder Toby Gadd guided us along as we tasted and gave our opinions on five different chocolates.
Video Courtesy of Sierra Cymes.

Is the taste of the chocolate different for every customer?

Absolutely. Different people like different chocolate. And that’s largely based on what they’re used to eating. So let’s say someone comes in who is a real coffee freak, who doesn’t know much about chocolate but goes to places like Harbinger and the Bean Cycle and they’re used to buying good types of coffee. They will come in and tend to gravitate towards the brighter, more acidic, complex bars- there’s a lot more going on with those. Then somebody comes in from the Midwest, from a farm family and they really haven’t had that big city broad food experience. These guys tend to go for the stronger chocolaty backbone, less-complexity milk chocolates. The good thing is I’m happy with all those people. There’s no ideal chocolate customer except somebody who loves chocolate.

Is that true across the board? What you are used to eating will determine your taste for different chocolate flavors?

Not necessarily- that’s why we have the flights. Sometimes we surprise ourselves because somebody we think will gravitate towards a simpler flavor profile will walk out of here loving Madagascar and Dominican Republic. So we have kind of general guestimates but in general that falls apart when we get enough people through the door.

Photo Courtesy Sierra Cymes.

Is there anything else that determines the way the chocolate is going to taste?

Your pallet changes according to the time of day. The most obvious one is temperature of your mouth. So if you’re talking a lot your mouth will be cooler, and the chocolate will not melt the higher temperatures. Different compounds are released in different temperatures as well as the mouth feel of the chocolate will be very different with a warm mouth or a cooler mouth.

So right now for example, as I’m talking a lot my mouth will be cooler and therefore different types of bars might taste better or worse after that. And of course what I’ve had for breakfast that morning, if it was something spicy- a Consuelo’s burrito- I’m kind of primed for the more detailed and complex chocolates. And also mood- sometimes I want to sit down and eat a bunch of chocolate- I just want that satisfaction of eating a bar or two at one time. And Madagascar is pretty zippy- I might not do that with an entire bar of Madagascar or two at the same time. I might go for something like dark milk. It’s just very satisfying to just pound those things down. Where if I want something more complex I may grab a bar of Guatemala and nibble on that as we sit there and maybe I’m working on my computer and want to sit there and nibble on half a bar for a few hours.

Your passion really comes through as you’re speaking.

Thank you.

Yeah, it’s really cool. With a lot of people it feels like they’re searching for what they are supposed to do, but it really seems like you’ve found what you care about and have become an expert in.

Never meant to be that way, as far as ten years ago I never imagined myself to be a chocolate maker. I’ve always loved it but not too many people have had a childhood dream of wanting to become a chocolate maker by any means. It’s something I stumbled across at a stage in my life where I could follow that passion. I’m pretty fortunate, honestly.

Tables line the walls of Nuance. Photo Courtesy Sierra Cymes.

What do you hope to accomplish making chocolate bean to bar and selling it independently here in Fort Collins?

To pay my rent and have a good time *laughter*. But I guess on a more philosophical level the interacting with customers and sharing that passion of chocolate and teaching people something they did not know. There are very few chocolate makers in the country. It sounds kind of bad but maybe only one in a thousand people who walk through my door understand what single-origin chocolate is, and who understands that different cultivars and different fermentations can taste very different. And sitting down and doing a flight of chocolates with somebody and introducing them to those various types and ranges and complexities- that’s really fun. We often get our nicest, most engaged customers late in the day. They’ll sit down and they’ll do a flight and I watch that same kind of revelation I had the first time I had a really complex, detailed, interesting and different chocolate. So sharing that is what keeps me going every day and why I come to work every day.