It’s sweet and dark and good, and we offer it to conjure our love’s affections—no point in limiting the taste to Valentine’s Day—Fresh Coast Chocolate Company, Traverse City’s new chocolate bar, sure doesn’t. (Though, if you do need Valentine’s Day ideas, we have you covered with these romantic getaways, events and specials.)

Fresh Coast Chocolate Company
221 Garland Street Suite D, Traverse City | 231.943.1078

Snow flecks the windows and a deep chocolate waft infiltrates every nook at Fresh Coast Chocolate Company’s swank Warehouse District chocolate bar and production house. Chocolate lovers wearing various expressions of euphoria people the two-top tables in the airy galleria of reclaimed wood and polished concrete as they linger over demitasses of rich drinking chocolate. On the counter, temptation waits under polished glass domes housing tasting shards of chocolate crafted from the fruit of small grower co-ops in Brazil, Belize, Peru, Tanzania and Madagascar.

Chocolatier and proprietress Nichole Warner, tasting and tempering behind glass panels, presides over the mechanized whir of roasters, winnowers and mélangers, shiny stainless steel apparatuses that transform burlap sacks of raw cocoa beans and sugar into Fresh Coast chocolate bars sublimely nuanced with fruit, nut and espresso notes. Read on as Nichole teaches us the delicious alchemy of chocolate-making, and we troll the North for cocoa in various and delectable forms.

Owner/Chocolatier Nichole Warner

A lifelong sweet tooth and a passion for fair trade commerce drove you to launch Fresh Coast Chocolate Company in 2014 and bring to the North your incarnation of handmade, terroir-driven chocolate bars … 

Your process is bean to bar, so let’s start with the beans. Where do they come from?
Because Fresh Coast is not yet big enough to source our cacao directly, we work with great cocoa bean importers, who in turn work directly with their network of small cacao farmers. The biggest farm is not more than a few acres, and the importers work with them to ensure that the fermentation and drying processes are perfected to produce the highest quality beans and therefore the best livelihoods for the growers. Right now we’re making bars from Belize, Peru, Brazil, Tanzania and Madagascar.

Are we talking about chocolate terroir here?
That’s exactly what’s happening. Chocolate is very much like wine in that soil composition, weather and elevation all affect flavor. We use the exact same process on all of our beans, so the nuance and character of each bar is definitely a reflection of the place where it was grown.

So what can we expect to taste in your Madagascar bar compared to, let’s say, Peru?
Madagascar produces one of the most unique beans in the world, with brown-fruits notes of fig and raisin that are only found in those beans. Peru has more than 30 different micro-regions, but our beans come from San Martin, and I’d say it’s our most straight-forward chocolate. Some subtle fruit notes and really fudgy.

What does the cocoa percentage on the label say about the flavor of the bar?
Our bars are all 70 percent, which means they’re made with 70 percent cocoa nibs and 30 percent sugar. To me this is the sweet spot, where you can taste all the interesting flavors, and the chocolate is still approachable.

Mystery solved. What’s the right way to eat a Fresh Coast bar?
If you want to explore the flavors and really taste the chocolate, take a square, put it in your mouth, and wait for it to melt. As it’s melting move it around on your palate and breathe through your nose.

Leave us with some insight on making hot chocolate, Fresh Coast–style.
Fresh Coast Chocolate CompanyOf course. True hot chocolate is actual chocolate, not cocoa powder. You want to warm up some whole milk on the stove, even add some heavy cream for extra richness, chop up some high quality dark chocolate and whisk it in. We use half a bar per cup here in the store. Add a homemade marshmallow and you’re in heaven.

On The Road:

From cherry-studded chocolate bars to silky ganache bombs, soak up the cocoa love at these Up North chocolatiers:

Grocer’s Daughter Chocolate
12020 South Leelanau Highway, Empire | 231.326.3030

Sink your teeth into texturally sublime bars studded with local fruits and nuts, honey caramels and chocolate clusters.

1050 Bay View Road, Petoskey | 231.347.7112

Offering hundreds of handmade confections, Kilwin’s has recently launched a line of rich single origin bars and drinking chocolates. (Several Northern Michigan locations. Find one nearest you at

Charles Layton Chocolates
800 Cottageview Drive #10, Traverse City | 231.938.9865

Top-shelf ingredients conspire in these rich handmade truffles filled with fruit, mint or espresso ganache.

More Sweet Finds in Northern Michigan:

Crazy Woman Cookie Recipes

Ruthann’s Gourmet Bakery Opens Storefront in Bellaire

Small Batch Delicacies (Plus Recipes!) for Special Occasions

Traverse City’s Sweet Tartlette For You & Your Sweetie! (Plus Tart Recipe!)

Photo(s) by Dave Weidner