Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hummingbird Chocolate makes me want to fly . . . to Ottawa!

Long ago, if you wanted to make chocolate bars, truffles, chocolate showpieces or filled chocolates, you had to roast and grind the beans yourself. Then, chocolate manufacturers started popping up in the early 1900s. They began roasting, grinding, mixing and conching and essentially creating a final chocolate product that small chocolatiers could buy and melt down to create their own confections. This made work easier for chocolatiers, who could then focus on the artistic side of working with chocolate, rather than the cumbersome, equipment-heavy and rather messy side of chocolate making.

Since then, chocolate manufacturers have industrialized, internationalized and considerably grown in size.  Companies like Valrhona, Callebaut, Hershey, and others have become international giants who still supply chocolatiers all over the world with finished and semi-finished chocolate products. Raw cacao is purchased in large quantities, mixed and processed in ways that remove a lot of the true cacao bean flavours. Vanilla or artificial `vanillin` is added in large quantities to improve the flavour, along with refined sugars.
All this industrialization and over-processing has lead to the recent emergence of many small bean-to-bar manufacturers in North America. Their goal is to coax out the true flavours of the cacao bean by making chocolate in small batches, and usually by using non-commercial or antique equipment. Other bean-to-bar makers get their start for other reasons: they want to support small farmers in developing countries, they want to create an organic chocolate brand or they want to preserve the healthy antioxidants in chocolate.
This bean-to-bar chocolate-making trend has created a wonderful variety of chocolate bars for chocoholics like me to taste and compare.  And now, Canadians are beginning to get in on the action. The newest bean-to-bar maker, Hummingbird Chocolate Maker, has opened its shop in Ottawa, Canada`s capital. According to their website, they craft “small batches of dark chocolate directly from cacao beans” in their workshop. And from my communications with Erica, one of the founders of Hummingbird, they are clearly very passionate about their craft.

Hummingbird has just gotten its start and in fact, the chocolate that I acquired from them said “test batch” on the packages indicating that they are still perfecting their chocolate recipes.  I have tried making chocolate from the bean and I can easily see how a chocolate maker might change the recipe many times before deciding on a final product.  That is both the science and the art of the artisan chocolate maker.

I tried three of Hummingbird's 70% dark single origin chocolate bars: Hispaniola, Venezuela and Talamanca.  I was impressed with all three. I found Talamanca to be the tangiest with a zest that was remarkable. My favourite was the Hispaniola - also very tangy with tropical fruit overtones and coconut (like a Pina Colada). In fact the Hispaniola chocolate bar reminded me of some Hawaiian chocolate that I recently fell in love with.

Oddly, after spending years believing that Venezuela has the most superior cacao beans, I liked the Venezuela the least of the three.  Do not get me wrong; I liked it, but felt it had a flatter flavour in comparison.  Venezuelan chocolate is so popular because it has a milder flavour and appeals to the general public (for wine lovers, that is like a Shiraz compared to a complex Cabernet or Old Vines Zinfandel). For me, I like a full-flavoured chocolate with a lot of tang, bitterness and some acidity.

All three chocolate bars offered the full flavour of the cacao bean, which was also not inhibited by vanilla or any additiona flavourings. I could tell from the taste, even before Erica told me, that traditional methods were used to make the chocolate, which preserved the flavours of the beans.

I highly recommend - to anyone in the Ottawa area or visiting Ottawa soon - that you give Hummingbird's chocolate a try. They have a great range of single origin chocolate that would make any chocolate-tasting party a success and their chocolate is made with Fair Trade and Organic beans.
Although they do not yet sell online, they are available at the Ottawa Farmer's Market at Brewer Park on Sunday's. Hummingbird also plans to soon sell their chocolate at local stores. Look for thier Ecuador single origin chocolate bar, which is back now after having briefly run out.

If you are just learning about bean-to-bar chocolate making, Hummingbird has a great and slightly humorous description of making chocolate on their website.  Check it out:

The package details from the chocolate bars that I tasted this week are:

70% Hispaniola Single Origin (La Red Trinitario Cacao beans Dominica Republic), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #32 (Test Batch)
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

70% Venezuela `single origin` (Trinitario cacao beans from Venezuela), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #33 (Test Batch)

Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

70% Talamanca `single origin` (Trinitario cacao beans from Bri-Bri farmers in Costa Rica), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #34 (Test Batch)
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.


  1. Hi Lisabeth: Interesting how you liked the Venezuelan chocolate the least. I have the same findings when I have tasted other single origin bars. I haven't yet tried the Hummingbird bars, but hope to soon.

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    Apt. 12 Basement
    425 Parkdale Avenue,
    Ottawa, Ontario, K1Y 1H3

    Cell #: 613 315 8815

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