Mirzam Chocolate, based in Dubai, only just opened its doors two months ago in September 2016. Mirzam follows the motto “From bean to bar” and its chocolate bars are exactly that. It has a store in Al-Serkal Avenue in Dubai, where the space also functions as a museum, giving customers a transparent behind the scenes look into how the chocolates are made.
Kathy Johnston, a New Zealand national, is the Chief Chocolate Officer for Mirzam Chocolate – yes, that really is her actual title. Kathy entered the field of chocolate because of her lifelong obsession with exploring the world to find the tastiest chocolate being crafted, and considering her current job; she must have found it. The word Mirzam comes from the name of a star, also meaning “The herald.” At the beginning of every summer this star becomes more visible, and as a result, heralds the incoming warm winds, ripening the dates.
What’s the idea behind Mirzam Chocolate?
We have designed our chocolate making space to function as a museum, where visitors can watch every stage of production, so they know exactly what ingredients we use to make the chocolate, and can understand how our high-quality chocolate is crafted.
Our Single Origin chocolate bars are made with cocoa beans sourced from one plantation in that country. These origins were selected for the highly different natural flavor variations and the locations along the Maritime Spice Route.
What sets it apart from other chocolate brands in the region, or the world?
Mirzam’s most unique quality in this region is offering the experience of ‘real chocolate’ with no added fats, harsh chemicals or additives. All the customer will taste are the natural variances in the cocoa bean, coming from the genetics of the cocoa, the weather that year and altitude of the plantation. We are the only bean to bar chocolate maker in the UAE, creating chocolate with just three ingredients.
Many customers tell me, “I’ve never enjoyed dark chocolate until I tried yours,” and that is because we roast our beans very gently to ensure they never burn and become bitter, and we grind the cocoa for an extra long time to reduce the particle size to below what your mouth can feel, creating creaminess without any additives.
The packaging is quite unique, can you tell me the story it portrays?
Our chocolate mold design was based on hand-drawn illustrations of waves, the dark swirling oceans our merchant sailors crossed to find the spices in the 15th and 16th century.
Each wrapper includes a different galaxy artwork with either a hand-illustrated map, inspired by the navigation theme – or a monster – which came from the historical stories of traders increasing the prices of their exotic haul by telling European buyers that they had needed to fight off giant birds of prey and sea creatures in order to reach the spices.
What are some of the flavors or types of chocolates you have?
Inspired by the historic Spice Route that Arab merchants traveled, to find spices they could sell on to European buyers, we have focused on spices that were bought and sold in this region and even in the Dubai Creek. We use freshly ground cinnamon, fennel and star anise in our spiced bars.
We have five single origin chocolate bars and five bars that have been infused with spices. We are also working hard on testing our range of truffles that will be launched in November.
What was your involvement in Dubai design week?
For Dubai Design Week, we organized three different activities. Design has been an integral part of the development of our chocolates, from researching the story that has inspired the mold and the creation of the wrappers and other packaging elements. To tell the story of this process, we set up an exhibition called ‘Maps and Monsters.’
‘Contemporary Handmade’ was the second element of Design Week for us, with an exhibit of handmade pieces of furniture from Envoy Design, placed around our chocolate making space.
The third and most delicious element of Dubai Design Week at Mirzam, was our collaboration with Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al-Maktoum, who created a recipe and wrapper for Dubai Design Week.
Tell me about your collaboration with Sheikha Wafa Hasher Al-Maktoum
Sheikha Wafa is a talented Emirati designer and photographer who is behind a number of ambitious creative projects. For this collaboration, she worked with us to develop a delicious special edition recipe (toasted sesame and organic orange,) and created an equally unique wrapper inspired by mashrabiyya patterns.
Images provided by Mirzam Chocolate.