Two-story glass windows frame a sand-colored mosque inside Dubai’s most famous chocolate factory, Mirzam, known for one thing: real chocolate. You will see a group of women chatting and sipping hot chocolate and espresso in a corner and a couple savoring the latest flavors: chocolate mixed with coffee, cardamom, rose, halwa, Kashmiri chili. , orange blossom, saffron, fennel, or a combination of a dozen other iterations, in another. The workers of the chocolate factory can be seen as they move through the process from the bean to the bar.
Inspired by the sea spice route, Mirzam’s single origin cocoa beans, native to Vietnam, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India and Madagascar, produce complex flavor profiles that you would never expect. find nowhere else.
Chocolate chef Kathy Johnston has loved chocolate for as long as she can remember. She got into the chocolate game, after years in marketing and events, just as the artisan cooking movement was gaining momentum. Promoting small-scale production, supporting biodiversity and less intensive agriculture, and creating simpler packaging and delivery practices is important to its work, as is a deeper understanding of where food comes from and how it is. transport. “There is a great distance between the manufacturer and the supermarket customer, which does not serve any community or environmental purpose,” says Johnston.
Creating innovative chocolate flavors has set Mirzam apart and the reception in Dubai has been overwhelmingly positive. “Our natural ingredients are a reflection of very local flavors and recipes, which makes us quite unique in the market here, where most of our competitors make mass-produced chocolate with very poor quality ingredients,” says Johnston. “This differentiation has been a big challenge in educating our community, but we were blown away by the welcome here and the way our community appreciated our unique origin dark chocolates and regional flavors.”
One thing that has helped educate visitors is the transparency of the factory. Sitting in the cafe, munching on truffles and sipping a hot drink, you can see how everything is done – the whole process is on display and visible through floor-to-ceiling windows. Children can walk on stools to see inside large tubs of churned chocolate, or watch workers pour slimy goodness into molds.
Interestingly, the Sea Spice Route influenced the designs, artwork, and ingredients of chocolate in Mirzam. “The historic Spice Route is a trail that crosses many oceans and seas, from this region to the southern tip of Japan,” says Johnston. “The trade that slowly developed over hundreds of years as ships and navigation became more reliable has led to the transfer of all kinds of things beyond spices – knowledge, culture, religion – c t is so fascinating and impossible to capture in a single historical narrative. . “
Mirzam sheds light on the historical stories of precious and precious seasonings, which were cultivated in the East, traded and transported to the Middle East, then traded, sold and used in Europe, changing cuisine for the masses. “Everyone thinks a vanilla custard is quintessentially French, but the vanilla they use comes from a thousand miles away,” says Johnston. “How it got there, how it was traded, who traded it, the battles and the stories – there really is endless inspiration for the chocolate recipes and wrappers.”
Mirzam’s indelible wrappers and wrappers are part of what makes chocolate so special. The stories of the Spice Route are not only reflected in the flavors of the chocolate, but also in the illustrations on the packaging. “We’re looking for artists with a connection to the part of the Spice Route that we looked at for the recipe or ingredients, as well as artists who create packaging artwork the same way we make chocolate, at the same time. main, ”says Johnston. .
Cocoa beans are purchased for Mirzam’s line of single-origin dark chocolate bars at the same locations along the Spice Route where the historic flavors originate from. For Indonesian cocoa beans, a new connection with a small farm in Ransiki, an area of the West Papua island that forms the tail of the Spice Islands, is underway.
“Arab merchants began trading with island farmers in this archipelago in the 14th century, harvesting cloves and nutmeg, among other spices, from the island forests,” says Johnston. “This link with our region and the history of the Spice Route is the first point we look for when sourcing cocoa beans. When the cocoa beans arrive in Dubai, they have already been fermented and dried. The fermentation process is essential to our production process as we do not add any chemicals or flavors to cover up improper processing.
Since the chocolate maker and the farmer have a direct link, the farmer has an incentive to maintain high quality standards. “The first thing we advise people who ask us how to buy good quality chocolate is to look for chocolate where the origin of the cocoa beans is provided in as much detail as possible,” says Johnston. “Small farmers usually can’t afford certifications, like organic or fair trade certifications (these don’t define or reward good quality), but when the chocolate maker has been able to support the farmer, and vice versa, there is generally has the greatest chance of direct benefit to the community, biodiversity and quality.
Mirzam supports and showcases UAE culture and history through chocolate, not only with their recipes and attention to historical detail, but also with thoughtful collaborations. For the UAE’s National Day, for example, Mirzam partnered with Emirates Airlines to provide a pair of Emirati Collection chocolate truffles and bites.
“It’s honestly the best part of my job at Mirzam,” says Johnston. “I grew up in the United Arab Emirates and I grew up with the United Arab Emirates, and at that time, when I was a teenager, the only brands you trusted were the big names imported, mass-produced products. Seeing how much our community here now supports us and trusts the quality of our production, it has become more and more exciting to stay close to home with our recipes, artist partnerships and stories. “