Day in the Life: The chocolatier living a sweet dream making dessert in the Dubai desert

Iman Suguitan's confectionary company, Co Chocolat, makes 1.5 tonnes of tasty treats every month

A day in the life of: Meet Dubai's first farm-to-table chocolatier

A day in the life of: Meet Dubai's first farm-to-table chocolatier
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A Day in the Life allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life.

Many of us dream of spending the day surrounded by chocolate but for Iman Suguitan it’s a sweet reality.

In November, the former hospitality director joined forces with her sister Luchie to open the Middle East’s first farm-to-table chocolate factory operating in the Dubai desert, Co Chocolat.

The sisters previously learnt to plant, prune and harvest cacao trees on the island of Mindanao in their native Philippines, before launching a series of pop-ups in 2018.

Today, they run a successful social enterprise covering 20 hectares of farmland, supporting more than 300 farmers and their families in their homeland.

Here, The National follows Iman through a typical day juggling chocolate tastings and tours with merchandising and motherhood.

7.30am: Precious family time

I usually start the day by making breakfast for my three-year-old daughter, Khadeejah, who is the only toddler I know that doesn’t like chocolate, ironically.

When I was pregnant, we used to do a lot of pop-ups and I ate so many leftover monster cookies and chocolates that I think I sickened her in the womb.

I was probably so nervous about her having constant access to chocolate that I’ve gone too far the other way by saying it’s not for her. Now she won’t eat anything brown, though I’m sure she’ll grow out of that soon enough.

8.30am: Plotting a course for the day ahead

Luchie and I pick up some of our staff from the metro stations on the way to the factory in Al Warsan 3. Doors open at 9am and then we’ll usually have a staff briefing in the kitchen to discuss the day ahead.

Often, we’ll have factory tours planned, showing people how we make our chocolate, right from grinding the beans to pouring moulds. If we’ve had a crazy day before, this is when the staff get a pat on the back and we gear ourselves up to do it all again.

9.30am: An eye on design

A lot of my morning is spent at the laptop, approving artworks for new products and reviewing mock-ups. Since launching our pop-up five years ago, we’ve developed more than 60 flavours across 150 products.

Now we sell 16 varieties of healthy chocolate bars, as well as cookies, doughnuts, truffles, bonbons, gianduja spreads and apoptogenic hot chocolates, so there are always new colours and designs to look at.

Noon: The taste test

My favourite part of the day is tasting the chocolates. Usually in the afternoon I’ll taste new products and make sure our best-sellers are still up to scratch.

Since opening the factory eight months ago, we’ve made on average 1.5 tonnes of bean-to-bar chocolate every month and I’ve probably tasted every single batch. We’re committed to using healthy ingredients like matcha and moringa and lots of our bars are low in sugar, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

We actually started Co Chocolat after our mama was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Luchie and I tried to find low-sugar chocolates to satiate her sweet tooth but there were no premium options so we decided to make our own. The rest is history.

2pm: Touring the chocolate factory

Luchie Suguitan shows how sweet treats are made at Co Chocolat. Leslie Pableo for The National

Sometimes in the afternoon I lead a factory tour. Often we get schoolchildren, corporate visits and families stopping by to watch the chocolate-making process. Visitors are always surprised to learn that chocolate comes from a fruit and there are a few puzzled faces when they try it for the first time.

The tour starts with an explanation of how cacao fruit is harvested before it’s time to peek into the kitchen and watch the grinding and mixing as it’s made into silky smooth chocolate. At the end of the tour, our guests have a go at making their own chocolate bars, which is a lot of fun, though we’ve had a few people get heavy-handed with the chilli powder.

A couple of weeks ago, a guest asked me what brands of chocolate I eat aside from our own and I honestly couldn’t answer. I decided to try a brand in the grocery shop who claim to make white chocolate from hazelnuts for Dh5 [$1.36] and it was so disgusting that no one at home or in the factory could finish it. A word to the wise – no decent chocolate is this cheap and unsurprisingly it tasted like a bar of pure sugar.

4pm: Ensuring business is bustling

In the afternoon, I regularly head to The Dubai Mall to our stall in Candylicious. This is where our business really took off and I like to stop by just to make sure all of the merchandising is up to scratch and the products are visible. I sometimes indulge in some of the chocolates here, too – purely for research purposes, of course.

6pm: Time to unwind

Getting home in the evening and playing with my daughter is the best part of my day. She’s a little chatterbox and I love to hear a rundown of the day’s events.

She’s currently learning to swim, so we might have a splash about in the pool or watch an old Hollywood film, then we have dinner together and start to wind down for the evening. I’m usually in bed by 11pm, gearing up for another day at the factory.

Updated: August 02, 2023, 11:30 AM