Arts & Culture The Norm Breakers Issue

Is the UAE the next Switzerland?

Inside the UAE's first bean-to-bar chocolate factory.

Over the past few years, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has witnessed an increasing number of homegrown brands, especially within the food and beverages industry. The likes of No. 57 Boutique Café, Salt food truck and Camel Cookies are not only famous within the UAE; many GCC nationals also make sure to have a bite whenever they are in town.

Mirzam Chocolate is another addition to the expanding list of the UAE’s homegrown brands. Not only was the idea of the chocolate boutique born in the UAE, but the entire product is manufactured in the country, making Mirzam Chocolate a pioneer in its field.

Stepping into Mirzam Chocolate, which is nestled amongst the warehouses of the Al Serkal Avenue, the new hub for arts and creativity in Dubai’s industrious Al Qouz area, is something out of a Roald Dahl novel.

Pushing through the glass doors, we could not help but to notice the mysterious black door on the left, with a sign that reads ‘For Chocolate Makers Only’. The inner child in us wondered if Willy Wonka’s Oompa Loompas would jump out and break into a song and dance, just like in the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie.

Opening its aroma-full doors earlier this year, Mirzam Chocolate is the only chocolate factory in the UAE that specializes in producing hand-made chocolates from cocoa bean to bar.

Kathy Johnson, Mirzam’s chief chocolate officer (possibly the world’s coolest job title) tells us that Mirzam was established upon the realization that consumers in Dubai were just as frustrated as they were that good-quality, fine chocolate was not readily available.

Mirzam is an Arabic name of one of the brightest stars in the night sky that appears most vividly at the beginning of summer.

‘Arab spice traders followed this star for hundreds of years to find their way to faraway lands from which they brought back exotic spices’ says Kathy. ‘Our single origin plantation locations where we source our cocoa beans have been inspired by the lands that they visited’.

The shop offers its visitors the chance to view the entire chocolate-making process, beginning with the sorting of the crunchy cocoa beans, the beans roasting—the secret behind Mirzam’s delicious scent—and the grinding of the chocolate. This is then poured into Mirzam’s signature pattern mould and eventually hand wrapped.

A staff member is always ready to provide a thorough tour for those who are interested to know more about the chocolate manufacturing process.

Kathy tells us that what differentiates Mirzam from other chocolate brands in the country is that the chocolate bars’ ingredients consist of only cocoa beans, cocoa butter and unrefined cane chocolate, which makes the product vegan and very natural.

Besides the transparent chocolate-manufacturing process, we were intrigued by the combination of flavors that Mirzam offers. The different products were placed neatly on marble top tables, with a sample for tasting next to each bar. Our favorites were alphonso mango white chocolate, rose and pistachio falooda white chocolate, and dark chocolate with Kashmiri chili.

Mirzam’s role does not stop at providing us with exotic mouth-watering bars, however. Rather, it extends to members of the community and the environment.

‘Through our chocolate-making process, we generate zero waste, and we are supporting farmers by not only making sure they are paid well but encouraged to continue to use the best possible post-harvest processing methods’.

Mirzam also extends its support to local artists who collaborate with the chocolate manufacturer on creating beautiful handmade artistic wrappers that you’d feel guilty throwing away.

Earlier this year, Mirzam developed a dark chocolate bar with roasted pumpkin seeds and sea salt recipe, for which Emirati illustrator Maryam Al Thani designed the wrapping paper artwork.

Regional artists who wish to work with Mirzam can contact the team directly to discuss future collaborations.

Before we left, our attentive tour guide for the day left us with instructions on how to best taste and enjoy the chocolate we bought:

  • Ensure that your chocolate bar is always stored at room temperature.
  • Smell the chocolate, and enjoy the aroma.
  • Last but not least, place the piece of chocolate in your mouth, and let it slowly melt for 10-15 seconds; then, move it around your mouth and tongue.

As we left, we wondered if Dubai and the UAE would one day become one of the important chocolate capitals in the world and would compete with the likes of Switzerland and Belgium.

Manar Alhinai is the Storyteller-in-Chief at Sekka.