Ari's Top 5

Mirzam Chocolate with Coffee & Cardamom

A cup of amazing Arabic coffee in chocolate bar

If you like both great dark chocolate and a good cup of coffee, as I do, you might well want to check out this terrific chocolate bar made by Kathy Johnston and her team at Mirzam in the unlikely origin of Dubai. I’ve gone back to the Candy Store to buy more bars many times in the last few weeks. Lightly spiced with cardamom, it’s a bit like a small cup of intense, sweet Arabic coffee deconstructed and reconfigured into the form of a high-quality craft chocolate bar. Or maybe we could say that it’s a Middle Eastern take on a mocha, formed into a chocolate bar. As Kathy explained:

The Coffee & Cardamom bar is based on traditional Arabic coffee, which is usually served really lightly brewed and called “gahwa.” To make it, we use Turkish-style ground coffee beans that get roasted nearby by some friends of ours (the beans are a blend of Kenya and Laos origins), together with some cardamom.

Laos, it turns out, has a reputation for a very small crop of Arabica beans that are known for medium body and mild citrus and floral tones. Coffee was introduced there by the French in 1915 and today it’s one of the small country’s biggest export crops. The cacao for the bar comes from Ghana. While the vast majority of West African cacao seems to come through unsavory growing and farming practices, the folks at Mirzam are going in the other direction. The beans for this bar come from ABOCFA, a farmer cooperative. They’ve spent years working with small farmers to teach them good growing and fermentation techniques and to care for the soil. In the spirit of what I wrote above about pushing power back into the cultural soil, the coop works democratically, and each hamlet of growers participates in the governance.

If you don’t know Dubai, it’s on the Arabian Gulf, one of the United Arab Emirates. While today it’s quite wealthy, two hundred years ago it was a fishing village with under 1000 inhabitants. In 1901 it became a “free port,” which probably mattered a lot in the world of international trade, but would pretty surely never have come up when the Disderide family were having dinner here in Ann Arbor on Kingsley street, discussing whether or not to build the two-story brick building in which they would put their corner grocery (which they went ahead and did the following year). Dubai was known primarily for pearl exports up until oil was discovered in the 1960s.

World class chocolate crafted in the blistering heat of the desert sands of Dubai sounds, at first, a bit… dubious? If you think it was hot here last week in Michigan, the average temperature in Dubai in June is 103°F. But as our wonderful Montreal-based spice merchant Philippe de Vienne says in Secret #48 in Part 4 of the Guide to Good Leading, “The impossible is possible if the circle of your vision is wide enough.” Mirzam is the product of a wide and inspiring vision—a vision that belongs to its founders and also to chief chocolate maker Kathy Johnston—to make chocolate from start to finish in the desert. They sort each bag of cocoa beans by hand, roast and then grind with granite stones before mixing and conching. The finished bars have won a bunch of awards from the Academy of Chocolate in London–they are the first chocolate maker in the United Arab Emirates to be recognized by the organization. Mirzam, as such, is not just refinishing other folks’ chocolate. “Everything that we sell is made here,” says Johnston. “There is no finished chocolate coming in from anywhere else—you can see the beans, the raw ingredients, and the facility and that is it.”

This bar—along with some of Mirzam’s other offerings—was inspired in part by Dubai’s role on the Spice Route that traders sailed hundreds of years ago to gather valuable ingredients to sell on to European buyers. The route would also likely have carried some of the crystallized ginger that ended up in European baked goods, along the lines of the ginger scones. We have a half a dozen bars from Mirzam and all are marvelous (don’t miss the one made with bits of traditional Arabic Khabeesa, or crumbled biscuits, in it). The labels are lovely as well—all are done by local artists! It pairs beautifully with a bit of Bakehouse baguette (yes, bread and chocolate are a great combo) and for a really delicious treat, put a piece of the chocolate atop a bit of Bakehouse Graham Cracker!

The Mirzam chocolate bars are at the Candy Store on Plaza Drive (inside the Coffee Company!)

Buy Coffee & Cardamom chocolate bar
See all the Mirzam chocolates