Throughout my childhood I've known Willy Wonka to be a legend. The man had a factory dedicated to all things sugar. Chocolate, sweets, ice cream; it’s what my chubby childhood dreams were made of. So when I found out that Dubai now has its very own bean-to-bar chocolate factory, I cried shotgun to go and learn how to make my own bars and laid out my best Wonka outfit the night before in prep for the big day.
Mirzam Chocolate Makers in Alserkal Avenue, Al Quoz, is the city’s first homegrown chocolate factory where everything you find in wrapped-up perfection is made within the four walls of this factory. Right from sorting the cocoa beans to roasting them and even grinding the cocoa nibs into the sweet liquid, Mirzam really does everything in-house.
Named after the brightest star in the night sky in summer, Mirzam uses the idea of celestial navigation in its very philosophy. The brand name is an ode to Arab traders who travelled the Gulf and Europe over the harsh summer months to bring spices back to the UAE. And in keeping with this, when you enter this shop, located next to Wild & The Moon, your olfactory senses are teased with the scent of cocoa.
As my colleague, Shaikh Saleh, and I walk in, we feel like we’ve stepped into Wonka’s haven. My childhood dream come true, indeed. We’re handed aprons, Crocs (I rebelled with vigour, but failed), hair nets and a lab coat. “This chocolate-making thing is serious science,” I whisper to Saleh, and then cackle uncontrollably because the Crocs don’t fit me.
Florence, Mirzam’s head chocolatier, begins the session by talking us through what we’ll be doing. The entire factory is set within glass walls, so even if you didn’t want to get stuck right into the sugary mess, you can stand back and watch the magic come to life from afar.
We start in the sorting area where the bad cocoa beans are separated from the good by hand. Mirzam has five single origin chocolates, all inspired by the spice route story: Madagascar, India, Papa New Guinea, Vietnam and Indonesia. There are also cocoa beans from Ghana, which are used for all the infused spice flavour blends.
Finding a new appreciation for all things handmade (it’s hard work, y’all), we move on to the roasting station where the cocoa is slowly roasted for up to an hour, depending on the origin of the beans. From here, we move to the station where the very elusive cocoa nibs are made. These (very expensive) products that you might recognise from health food stores are essentially ground up cocoa beans, and they’re derived from this vacuum cleaner-like machine. It’s all very scientific until we get to the grinder.
This is a good time to mention that I strongly feel someone needs to invent a cocoa perfume. The aroma in this room is hypnotising. So much so, that I forget I’m wearing Crocs…
The cocoa nibs are mixed with cocoa butter and unrefined cane sugar in massive steel containers and the mixture is ground for a week. This is where the liquid chocolate – that familiar sweet liquid we all know so well – is made. As Shaikh and I pour litres of the amber and chestnut-hued product into the mixer, we feel our biceps tremble. Mirzam’s HQ is definitely not a no-flex-zone.
At the end of the grinding process, the chocolate is left to rest for up to six weeks to let the cocoa butter take its flavours. But without having that kind of time or patience, Shaikh and I battle it out at a little cheating. We both smear the chocolate onto a marble slab and meddle with its temperature until it’s ready to be poured into a mould. While Shaikh wins points for the cleanliness of his chocolate bar, I win for wrapping the finished product with poise.
As we hang up our aprons and head outside for coffee and single-origin chocolate tasting, I realise Mirzam is Dubai’s answer to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. And I need membership… Free (tours and school groups), Dhs32-40 per chocolate bar.Mirzam Chocolate