Drew and Erica Gilmour's Hummingbird chocolate shop is located on a suburban street in Almonte, 40 minutes west of Ottawa, in a small nondescript building marked by a sidewalk chalkboard. Their cacao beans are roasted in an oven meant for rotisserie chicken, then stripped from their shells in a homemade winnower, which Mr. Gilmour built with boards from the hardware store and "a lot of duct tape and string." The five or so employees include their 10-year-old daughter, Hannah.
So the Gilmours, who met as foreign-aid workers almost 15 years ago in Afghanistan, didn't have especially high hopes when they entered six of their handmade dark chocolate bars into London's Academy of Chocolate awards this winter, along with 580 of their closest friends from such places as Italy and France.
They saw it as a chance to learn from their peers in the bean-to-bar community – named for the purity of the process – and maybe one of their bars would place in the bronze category, if they were lucky.
Instead, on the weekend, their Hispaniola 70-per-cent cacao bar was chosen as the best dark "bean to bar" in the world.
"It blew us away," Mr. Gilmour, 52, said on Tuesday in the shop's kitchen at the back of the store. When she found out, Ms. Gilmour, 41, nearly dropped the phone. "I didn't think we'd win anything."
In fact, all their entries won something: gold for Hispaniola, which uses beans from the northern highlands of the Dominican Republic; three silvers, including one for a fleur de sel bar, which features sea salt from Vancouver Island; and two bronze, including a honey lavender bar with Ottawa Valley honey and lavender from Prince Edward County, Ont.
Among the 14 gold winners from around the world, the Hispaniola – with its robust fruity taste and hints of raisin and cherry – was also awarded the "Golden Bean," the academy's highest honour.
"What's really special for us about winning this award is that the first chocolate we ever made was with these cacao beans from Dominican Republic," Ms. Gilmour said.
That was about five years ago, in their basement in nearby Stittsville, Ont. Mr. Gilmour got the idea to make chocolate after travelling to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake to work with schools. He remembers having this "incredibly good coffee" and after pestering the waiter in his "horrible French," he was told that there was cocoa in it. The idea for a business was born.
"We thought it's a really good fit with our backgrounds," said Ms. Gilmour, who worked with female farmers in Afghanistan while her husband helped out in village development.
"And my addiction to chocolate," she added.
They opened their shop in 2012, learning skills through websites, online courses and cookbooks from the 1930s. The entire process takes up to a month to complete.
The Gilmours pride themselves on working directly with farmers, which they have done everywhere from Vietnam to Guatemala to Bolivia.
"It's really important to us that the farmers get what they're paid for," Mr. Gilmour said. "Our approach is really to pay for excellence. That can make a huge difference in the life of a farmer. It's not charity, it's business."
Their products are currently found in Canada and China, and they hope to be shipping to the Middle East and Japan within the year. They named their store Hummingbird because they fly between Canada and Latin American – where the Gilmours hope to visit more farms when things calm down.
And how does Ms. Gilmour stop herself from eating chocolate all day?
The answer is simple. "I don't."