With dark chocolate back on the menu of the modern-day consumer, Vision meets Dubai-based entrepreneur Qudsia Karim, who brings the traditional methods of the chocolatier to the city
Ever since Richard Cadbury created the first known heart-shaped candy box for Valentine's Day in 1861, chocolate has been a byword for romance, celebration and guilty pleasures.
It’s safe to say our appreciation of the silky mix of cocoa, cocoa butter and milk hasn’t dimmed since those early entrepreneurs popularised what had been the preserve of Europe’s elite. Tastes did change, however, as more and more milk chocolate graced shelves from high-end department stores to petrol station forecourts.
Now, tastes are changing again. Dark chocolate and artisanal techniques are once more in vogue and one Dubai-based chocolatier, Qudsia Karim, is bringing this trend to the emirate.
“Initially a lot of people [in Dubai] liked milk chocolate. But in the last five years I have noticed people are diversifying towards dark chocolate,” says Karim. “People are becoming more health conscious and dark chocolate has flavonoids, which reduce blood pressure levels.”
After an impromptu chocolate-making course led to studying the art in France, Switzerland, Germany and North America, Karim launched her own chocolate company in 2013. Called Cocosia – a blend of ‘cocoa’ and ‘Qudsia’ – she invents and hand crafts artisanal confectionery from her boutique in Al Barsha, Dubai.
Far from your ordinary white, milk or dark choices, Karim seeks out fresh ingredients from all over the world, such as the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, saffron, lemongrass, peppercorns from Madagascar and, of course, camel milk for Cocosia’s Desert Safari chocolate. Every Cocosia piece is covered with a thin layer of 62 per cent dark chocolate.
Experimenting to get just the right balance of flavours can take anything from two days to weeks, she says. Her salted caramel Fleur De Sel and white chocolate Classic Truffe are the bestsellers.
Karim’s globetrotting background inspires the chocolates’ names, as well as the flavours, such as Young Street an orange and cayenne pepper concoction based on the road in Toronto, Canada, known for its Thai restaurants. Her inventions for special occasions cater to Dubai’s own myriad influences, from masala chai infusions for Diwali, to root beer caramel for Christmas.
The chocolates take around three days to make, using a mix of machines and hand finishing by Karim and her five chocolatiers. She has had to adapt some traditional techniques to the UAE market. “In Europe, most chocolatiers add one per cent alcohol in artisanal chocolate to increase the shelf life. Whereas here we have to schedule more chocolate production,” explains Karim. “We also cannot store it as much because it is so humid and hot. Everything has to be fresh.”
Karim seeks out fresh ingredients from all over the world, such as the Japanese citrus fruit yuzu, saffron, lemongrass, peppercorns from Madagascar and, of course, camel milk
As well as retail, Cocosia works with around ten hotels in the UAE and provides corporate clients with bespoke chocolates for events, such as Eid. Last year, Cocosia made and wrapped 20,000 chocolates in four days for one client to be distributed in malls across the UAE.
The shift in Dubai’s taste for the sweet stuff is happening gradually, she observes. “It’s rare to find people in Dubai who love 60 or 70 per cent [cocoa content], it’s still around 10 to 15 per cent,” notes Karim.
“In Europe the trend is more towards artisan chocolates. The average person who doesn’t have that much income wants one piece of good chocolate, rather than having a whole bar. People are becoming more conscious and it’s all about the taste and flavours,” she says.
Still, as artisanal, unique products become flavour of the day in the UAE too, Karim is well placed to take advantage, including plans for a store in Abu Dhabi by 2016. Even with expansion, the handcrafted and individual attention to each chocolate will remain: “The visual appeal is very important. People eat with their eyes.”