With two locations on one of the city’s most vibrant market streets dating back to the 16th century, Dark Sugars Chocolates brings Ghanian traditions to east London’s Brick Lane.
Dark Sugars founder Fatou Mendy has sold artisanal chocolates in London for more than 20 years. An east London native, Mendy’s unique chocolates are inspired by years of travel across West Africa and South America, where she learned the ins-and-outs of cocoa production. Combining this knowledge with a celebration of her own Ghanaian heritage, Dark Sugars was born. Senegalese sabar music plays as customers peruse truffles set in wooden bowls and conch shells, and the products — everything from vegan truffles to the Pitch Black Hot Chocolate to indulgent chocolate ice creams — use cocoa beans imported straight from Ghana.
From East London to Ghana
Mendy got her start as a chocolate vendor at Spitalfields Market, an open-air market in east London that hosts small retailers and local creators. Her stall at Spitalfields only offered two flavors: coffee and walnut, and stem ginger and honey.
She later moved her chocolate business to Borough Market, another bustling London food and drink market south of the River Thames. Mendy spent 11 years as a vendor at Borough before embarking on her educational journey across West Africa and South America, which lasted for three years. While working on her family’s farm in Ghana, she studied cocoa production and gained the techniques needed to bring these chocolate-making traditions to the UK.
Historical Brick Lane
When she returned to London in 2013, Mendy opened Dark Sugars, her first brick-and-mortar shop on Brick Lane. Now lined with vintage shops, trendy bars, and splattered with colorful graffiti, this artistic neighborhood used to be a poor slum — as well as the site of Jack the Ripper’s famous murders. The name “Brick Lane” was first recorded in 1542, due to the abundance of clay used to produce bricks and tiles. In the 17th century, the lane became popular with breweries; in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jews from Eastern Europe arrived. A few traditional beigel shops remain, including Brick Lane Beigel Bake, a 24-hour local favorite.
On Sundays, the street floods with both locals and tourists. Brick Lane Market was first licensed in the 1800s. Since the locals were primarily Jewish at the time, the market was given special permission to open on Sunday, rather than Saturday, to account for the Jewish Sabbath.
Each week, market stalls — not unlike Mendy’s first chocolate stand back in Spitalfields Market from years ago — line the streets, selling vintage clothes, books, and street food with flavors from around the world.
Today, Brick Lane is also known as BanglaTown due to its high number of Bengladeshi immigrants. Dark Sugars offers a sweet alternative to the street’s abundance of curry houses (though the authentic Bengali cuisine is also not to be missed).
Getting Creative During Lockdown
Dark Sugars shut down both locations during London’s COVID-19 lockdown. While closed, the company began making DIY hot chocolate kits. Each set contains all the traditional utensils and high-quality chocolate needed to make high-quality West African hot cocoa. After Dark Sugars announced their kits on Instagram, customers were thrilled, finally able to recreate the shop’s decadent hot chocolate at home.
In May, the stores reopened for delivery and pickups. Though customers used to enjoy their hot chocolates and truffles inside the shop, both locations will serve take-out for the foreseeable future.
The Art of Chocolate-Making
Dark Sugars chocolate-maker Oksana explains that Dark Sugars’ products use cocoa imported from Ghana. Both locations offer vegan and nut-free options, along with special dark chocolate truffles with 75-85% cocoa. “There are no preservatives: just chocolate, cream, and flavours,” Oksana explains. The hot chocolate, too, features Ghanian cocoa beans. Thick bars of chocolate are melted down with milk and topped with chocolate shavings. Vegan versions are also available.
Luxury truffles are the name of the game at Dark Sugars. Favorite flavours still include the traditional stem ginger and honey, dating all the way back to Mendy’s original stands in Spitalfields market. Chilli truffles also offer a surprising kick: ground Moroccan chilies are blended into dark chocolate ganache, before the truffle is dusted with cocoa-powder.
The Overdose truffles, branded as ”the mother of everything that is dark chocolate,” are popular choices. Vegan bestsellers include chocolate mango and orange slices.
Dark Sugars has become a Brick Lane staple. Though Mendy originally had plans to sell the flagship store when the newer, bigger location opened down the road, those plans never came to fruition. Instead, both shops continue to draw customers on both ends of the famed lane.
Every day of the week, Dark Sugars offers visitors a taste of authentic Ghanian cocoa; Mendy’s travels throughout South America and West African influence each batch. Minimalist, unpretentious, and unwaveringly welcoming, Dark Sugars encourages Londoners to treat themselves.
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