Posts Tagged ‘cacao’

Celebrate Valentine’s with local bean-to-bar chocolate

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

If you’re buying chocolate for Valentine’s, why not try some small-batch artisanal chocolate made here in Ottawa?  Hummingbird Chocolate Maker handcrafts its dark, organic chocolate bars from single-origin Latin American and Caribbean cocoa beans and uses 19th century methods to bring out their unique flavours.

Hummingbird is a labour of love for owners Erica and Drew Gilmour. It fuses their passion for chocolate with a commitment to social justice that’s rooted in years of aid work with farmers in developing countries. Not only does the couple strive to produce exceptional chocolate, they insist on buying cocoa beans that have been sourced ethically to ensure that the farmers who grow them receive a fair price.

Hummingbird chocolate has become a hit since its launch in June 2012. In fact, the Gilmours have had to buy more equipment to keep up with demand, and have moved the chocolate workshop out of their Stittsville home and into commercial space at Alice’s Village Cafe in Carp. “With our old equipment, we could only make 50 bars at a time,” Erica says. “Now we have two larger machines that can each produce 200 bars at a time.”

How does the chocolate taste?

Wonderful.  Depending on the origin of the cocoa, you can detect flavour notes of fruit, honey, toffee and whisky to name just a few. I sampled several bars at Hummingbird earlier this week, including their delicious Bolivia and Cumboto lines.  My very favourite was the deliciously spiced Patanemo bar, made from Venezuelan cocoa beans.

How is it made?

Making the chocolate is a 10-step process that takes about a month from start to finish. When the Gilmours receive the dried, fermented beans from the wholesaler, they: 

  1. sort the beans to remove twigs and debris
  2. slow-roast them
  3. crack them into bits called nibs
  4. sort the nibs by size
  5. winnow the nibs to remove the shells
  6. grind the beans into a moist paste called liqueur
  7. conche the beans. This is done by running the liqueur for 3 days, non-stop, through a machine that rotates grinding stones to develop taste. Organic sugar is added (the only other ingredient in Hummingbird chocolate) at this stage.
  8. let the mixture rest for 3 weeks to 30 days so the flavours can settle
  9. temper the chocolate in a special machine that adds sheen and rounds out flavours. Then the chocolate is poured into decorative molds.
  10. wrap the finished bars

How does the long process improve the flavour?

Like wine, coffee and tea, the taste of chocolate is a matter of terroir – the interaction between a given plant (the cacao tree, in this case) and the geography, climate and harvesting methods of the place where it’s grown. With chocolate, the longer production time expresses the unique flavours of the cocoa origin, offering more complex, layered tastes. It also gets rid of off-flavours, such as acidity. By comparison, mass-produced chocolate tends to have a uniform taste with more sweetness than character.  Acidity doesn’t burn off naturally, but is masked by adding other ingredients such as vanilla extract.

How much do the bars cost?

They retail at $6.50 each. The higher price reflects the higher quality cocoa beans, the labour-intensive production and the deeper flavours.

Who’s buying Hummingbird bars?

The bars appeal to different people for different reasons. Besides enjoying the taste, there are customers who may appreciate that Hummingbird is a local business, or that the chocolate is small-batch, or that it’s ethically traded. Others are drawn to the health benefits of cocoa. In addition to its following in the Ottawa area, the chocolate is sparking interest elsewhere in North America and in Europe, Erica Gilmour says.

Will the business stick with chocolate bars or branch out with other products?

The plans are to try darker and lighter chocolate and to sell cocoa nibs, Erica says. “The nibs are crunchy pieces of pure cocoa that taste very good sprinkled on oatmeal, for example.” In the long term, she’d also like to do some hot chocolate.

Where can I find Hummingbird chocolate?

It’s available at the Ottawa Farmers Market, Thyme & Again Catering and Food Shop, Coco Jojo, Gaia Java, Alice’s Village Café and Pêches & Poivres. You can also order it online from Foodie Pages.

What’s your favourite chocolate and where do you buy it?