Caffeine is key to London life and where you get your fix is a big deal. Brand loyalty generally means Costa’s on one side of the ring while Starbuck’s defends in the other. However, are these mainstream brands giving you value for your money? In the past couple of weeks the exaggerated attention paid to the annual re-launch of seasonal Christmas flavours, indicates that customers are year-round bored with what’s on offer. Which is where Brick Lane’s Dark Sugars come in – this coffee house has the capacity to change the hot drinks game for good.
With truffles galore, luxurious hot chocolates and a welcoming atmosphere, Dark Sugars go above and beyond the average coffee shop experience. Along with this, the venue is staffed by vibrant baristas, spiced with catchy R&B tunes and free chocolate upon arrival. (Compare Starbuck’s offer of misspelling your name and a queue out the door.)
It ain’t cheap, though. Hot chocolates come with a starting price of £4. However, their basic hot chocolate is far from ordinary, as white, milk and dark chocolate shavings pile the cup high. And for the chocolate connoisseur, there are flavoured syrups such as ginger, nutmeg and even chilli.
Also on the menu are quirky ‘chocktails’ which can be enjoyed in the seating area or at the bar. Plus vegan options, and a vast range of chocolates, truffles, pralines and pearls available to take home in carved wooden bowls or decorative seashells.
Starbuck’s prices range from £1.50 to £3.70, whereas Dark Sugars may charge up to £7 for a specialty coffee with added extras. Is it worth it?
Paula, a self-confessed “Starbuck’s queen”, said “I think that although Starbucks is nice, you can get accustomed to having the same thing over and over and the choice of menu is quite limited. With this menu they’re able to command a higher price because of the range and uniqueness of the products. It also creates the atmosphere where it’s not a rushed, fast moving place. Instead it’s more calming and relaxing, and I think that makes a big difference.”
Gabby and Rachel, two students from Peckham, were enjoying their signature hot chocolates in the warm seating area, decorated with traditional Ghanaian artwork. Gabby, 20, said: “There’s so much character here, I guess if you compare that to Starbuck’s, it’s a lot more personal here. Even though they ask you your name in Starbuck’s, they don’t really talk much.”
It’s true, in Dark Sugars the baristas make a positive first impression, and once you’ve walked through the large glass doors, you immediately feel like family. They are all true jokesters and it is clear that they love telling people all about their Instagram-famous products. Behind the counter, Tyrone pointed to a hot chocolate he’d just poured and scattered with chocolate shavings, proudly declaring: “Yep, this is just our standard hot chocolate, you know!”
Another barista, Paul, was handing out little chunks of dark chocolate to those in the queue. When asked how many calories are in this hot chocolate, he simply said: “Man, sod the diet, sod the calories and just be happy!” One of the hot chocolates he was pouring didn’t look quite right, so he immediately remade the whole thing, shouting out, “this one is beautiful, this is the one!”
Since gaining popularity online, Dark Sugars are branching out in East London and gaining a dedicated following on social media. They have a unique brand, with their decadent hot chocolates and chocktails, their warm, bubbly staff, and their huge range of takeaway chocolates and truffles.
It’s not hard to see why Dark Sugars are making such a mark on the East London coffee scene.