- Hummingbird owners Erica and Drew Gilmour (above) met eachother in Afghanistan and moved to Stittsville nine years ago.
- The chocolate is sold at about 30 stores in Ottawa and they’ve just moved to a bigger production facility, with plans to distribute the chocolate across Canada.
- The chocolate comes from cacao beans, sourced from places like the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Vietnam.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Stittsville’s Erica and Drew Gilmour are the owners of Hummingbird Chocolate, an award-winning craft chocolate maker based in Almonte.
They recently moved into a bigger facility at 9 Houston Drive in Almonte, and they’re holding a grand opening on March 21 from 11:00am-4:00pm. The opening includes an egg hunt, roast house-made marshmallow, hot chocolate and chocolate chili. There will also be a make your own chocolate bar station.
Here’s an interview I did with Erica last week. Photos by Barry Gray.
Glen Gower: How did you end up starting a chocolate company?
Erica Gilmour: My husband Drew and I started it in 2012. We both have a background in international development and have worked a lot overseas with farmers in developing countries.
I’ve always been a chocolate fanatic, and Drew and I were looking for something that would allow us to stay at home, and travelling to warzones was not ideal for a family situation. He had been in Haiti right after the earthquake and met some cacao farmers. We did some research into it and found there was a new movement in craft chocolate makers. There is quite a bit in the States, and it’s just starting in Canada. It’s where coffee was a few years ago. People are just starting to understand the different things: how it can taste, how it’s made, where the beans come from.
GG: Tell me about your work in developing countries.
EG: Drew and I met in Afghanistan. We were working for the same NGO (non-governmental organization) at the time. He has worked with the United Nations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has also worked in the Balkans.
I’ve worked with NGOs for quite a few years and was in the Peace Corps in Zimbabwe. I’m an American originally.
Some of what he had done was helping to build food production facilities in Afghanistan. I had done some work with agricultural production with women in Afghanistan – those are the types of things I like doing.
By working with farmers we help them have a sustainable income by buying their cacao.
GG: So you met in Afghanistan – but how did you end up in Stittsville?
EG: Drew is from Pembroke originally and he has family here in Ottawa. When we decided to move to Canada I was doing my master’s degree at Carleton and we ended up buying a house in Stittsville. We’ve been in Stittsville for nine years.
GG: Tell me about where the chocolate is produced.
EG: All the manufacturing is done in Almonte. There are maybe ten to twelve bean-to-bar chocolate producers in Canada. We receive raw cacao beans from three different countries, and we do the whole process in our workshop in Almonte. We have four people working there in addition to ourselves
GG: Where can people buy your chocolate?
EG: Right now we’re mostly in the Ottawa area. We’re in about 30 stores in Ottawa, and a few in Montreal and British Columbia. Locally you can find it at Gaia Java in Stittsville and Natural Food Pantry in Kanata, also JoJo CoCo in Kanata, and there will probably be a few more in Stittsville in the near future.
GG: Tell me about your new location.
EG: We’ve been fairly small so far. We were in an 800 square foot space in Almonte until Dcember, when we moved into our new larger space. We purchased a lot of new equipment and we can make more chocolate. We’re looking at selling Canada-wide.
The nice thing about our new space is we have a retail space, so we’re open six days a week, Monday through Saturday.
GG: Tell me a bit about the process for making chocolate.
EG: The whole process is outlined on our web site but I’ll briefly describe it. It’s about a 10-step process.
When we receive the raw cacoa, we hand-sort through the beans, to take out anything that’s not a bean, like string, newspaper, twigs. We roast them in a drum roaster, which is a re-purposed a chicken rotisserie roaster and with a drum inside it.
After they’re roasted, we crack the beans into little pieces. There’s not a lot of equipment for making chocolate, and at this scale for cracking we use something made by the craft beer industry used for barley and hops.
Then we winnow – separate the shell from the bean. We put the beans into a machine called an melanger. It has a stone bottom and two stone wheels and it grinds the cacao beans until they become liquified. They have such a high fat content that the pressure that’s generated and the heat from that process crushes the beans right away.
It stays in that machine for three days and three nights. We let it run for a day and then we add the sugar to it, and we add a tiny bit of extra cocoa butter. It’s 70% chocolate, and 30% sugar.
After it comes out of the melanger we let it age for about a month, pour it into pans, wrap it up in butcher paper, and allow it to age. It allows the flavours to mellow out a little bit. Then we melt it again and we temper it with a tempering machine.
The result is a nice shiny piece of chocolate, and when you break it, it has a nice snap to it.
GG: How did you learn how to do it?
EG: I took a course online, which was mostly about tasting chocolate and identifying flavours from beans made in different countries and different percentages and different styles of coffee making. A lot of it was research online a practice, because there isn’t a place online to go and learn how to make chocolate.
GG: Do you do a lot of travelling to find the right beans?
EG: We’ve travelled a bit to Costa Rica and Dominican Republic to find beans, and then whenever we’re not able to do that ourselves we’ve worked with other chocolate makers to buy beans if they’re going someplace. That’s how we can ensure we’re getting good quality beans. That’s the most important thing to making good chocolate.
GG: What countries do the beans come from?
EG: We’re concerned that farmers are being paid fair trade prices for their beans. Most beans come from the Dominican, Bolivia, Nicaragua. We also received some from Vietnam.
GG: Do the flavours change from country to country?
EG: Yes, for example Dominican Republic beans tend to have a fruity quality. The Vietnam beans are really interesting because they have a really strong taste of cinnamon.
GG: What are some of the challenges of being an independent chocolate producer?
EG: We’re really introducing chocolate not as a commodity product to the public. It’s something that has a lot of different flavour profiles and that’s made with a really high quality bean. It costs more than a Snickers bar or a Kit Kat. Part of the challenge is trying to communicate that to customers why it’s worth it to pay more.
We’ve had great support from people we know in stittsville. that’s been really helpful. Other local business have been encouraging and carried it in their stores and done collaborations with us. It’s a supportive business community we have in the greater Ottawa region for sure.
GG: Where does the name come from?
EG: We fell in love with the image of our hummingbird logo. And there are hummingbirds which migrate between here and parts of Latin America where we source our beans, so we like the synergy of that.
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