I look in my mind for memories of one year back, when I met Nissreen Haram on a rainy day at her workshop in Amman for a tour at Mistaka’s production facility. The savory familiarization tour had a sweet end: a piece of raspberry-filled chocolate that melted beautifully in my mouth. A rush of extraordinary feelings went through my body, stimulating my mind and my heart alike. Mistaka’s sister was slowly being launched by Zahira Haram, where at that stage, Ishq Chocolate عشق was being developed with a vision to be Amman’s finest handcrafted chocolate. Two weeks ago, I spoke with Zahira, whom with her delicate French accent and her passion took me in a journey through the two-year progress of Ishq عشق.
As an international nomad, Zahira worked her way to be a chocolatier through years of corporate positions she occupied throughout her career. Whether as a French teacher in South Florida, a patient experience manager in Amman or a support for USAID medical tourism project in Jordan, Zahira believes that her past experiences allowed her to explore herself and build the brand that she is today. “Each stage of my life is unique. All those experiences have helped me develop as a person and added to my personal and career dictionary valuable meanings,” says Zahira. Dealing with several cultures and people from different backgrounds, Zahira came to realize that the small things in life matter the most. “The memories we collect from our journey travels with us through our lives, reminding us with the flavors we tasted, the places we visited and the people we interacted with. The densely layered memories in the back of our minds can again become alive by an unexpected piece of chocolate.” She smiles.
In 2013, Zahira dropped her job to learn about the magical ingredient of chocolate as she was disappointed by the commercial offerings in the market compared to the artisanal and fine chocolates she used to source whether in the United States or Europe especially France, Germany and Switzerland. With dedication and hard work, Zahira was able to study chocolates carefully through online courses, professional sessions and meeting chocolatiers in the countries she visited. “It is when I realized the difference between the true soul of chocolate and compound chocolate (a combination of cocoa, vegetable fat and sweeteners). This piece of information triggered an idea to start a whole new chapter of my life and to launch Iqsh Chocolate عشق, the handcrafted artisanal chocolate of Jordan.”
The sound of the brand implies a wonderful meaning of admiration. “The name resonates with pure love,” Zahira explains. The flavors pairing, colors and unlimited imagination that Zahira place in Ishq عشق is inspired by her memories and the stories shared by her social circle and customers. The smell of the sea, the farms of mandarines and orange, the sweetness of strawberries and the light breeze of an early winter morning are translated into wonderful pieces of chocolate, incorporating quality ingredients and natural flavors. Each season, Zahira introduces different assortment of flavors and textures to deliver a unique experience for Ishq عشق fans. The rich ingredients and luxury chocolate are reflected in every piece of the selection that Ishq عشق offers each season. “Ishq عشق is not your traditional chocolate shop, over the shelf ready-made and wrapped chocolates. The conventional combinations of hazelnut, almonds or croquant are not on the menu. I want to make quality chocolate accessible and available while maintaining the essence of the craft,” Zahira adds.
Since October 2014 Ishq عشق has been exceeding the expectations of her loyal customers and chocolate enthusiast. “Quality is a red line. I never compromise quality of the chocolate, even if that implies additional costs and extra work. Each piece is inspected before packaging to ensure a consistent offering throughout the whole batch of the chocolate.” To fulfill her vision, Zahira scouts the world for ingredients to use in shells and chocolate fillings such as premium chocolate and high grade honey, natural maple or agave syrups that substitutes the granulated sugar or corn syrup used commercially. The cleanliness of the equipment and the production area at Ishq’s workshop is as essential as the quality ingredients to prevent flavors cross contamination. “After each batch, all the equipment and molds are cleaned and disinfected properly. Following such a procedure prevents flavors from traveling from one batch to the other preserving the unique flavor of each batch,” explains Zahira.
For the holiday season and winter specials, Ishq’s selection was paired with truffles, porcini and pumpkin. Such selections are filled with Zahira’s own recipe of ganache, homemade low-in-sugar jams and ingredients sourced from local farms in Jordan. ‘Orange by the Sea’ is a perfect example of pairing and flavor layering that Zahira tries to create through Ishq عشق. “It is my favorite for this season. It reminds me with the orange farms and the smell of the citrus blossom mixed with the sea breeze during my stay in Beirut. It is fresh and full of character: a balance of blood orange, mandarin and orange blossom flavors,” Zahira adds while radiating passion and admiration. Ishq’s originality is inspired by pioneers in the confectionary and chocolate worlds. “I am fascinated by the history of chocolate and I look up to world leaders to learn from to more develop Ishq عشق as a brand and to add value to the heavenly pieces it offers. Such are Reber Mozart and Niederegger, world famous Mozart-Kugeln and world’s best marzipan respectively,” adds Zahira. Following the leads of world’s best chocolatiers and industry passionates, Zahira is devoted to her “stage of outrageously different work” quoting her words for the ‘chocolatier’ she became today. By creating memories and inspiring people, Zahira is a true example of love, passion and hard work.
* Visuals courtesy of Ishq Chocolates and Kava Espresso Bar