Foreign beans, local heart: A Singaporean chocolatier’s commitment to cacao

Chocolate is serious business. Local entrepreneur Li Lihui has worked with everyone from global cocoa brand Cacao Barry, to a humble tree-to-bar Filipino farmer who farms his chocolates in the city of Davao. That’s because in the chocolate trade, branding counts for nothing when measured against heart. “We have no fixed rules on who we work with and what specific factors to consider; we mainly look for quality, taste and consistency first, before the more logical cost considerations,” she said.

36-year-old Li is the CEO and founder of The Dark Gallery, a boutique-and-cafe concept specializing in artisan dark chocolate desserts and the art behind their making. The brand launched its first store in Millenia Walk last July to resounding success; and less than a year later, they’ve opened a second branch, their flagship, in Takashimaya Shopping Centre, with a full-fledged cafe space for ultimate chocolate enjoyment.

, Foreign beans, local heart: A Singaporean chocolatier’s commitment to cacao
The Dark Gallery’s signature chocolate tap

In the intimate 40-seater is an entire world of dark chocolate. But while Li sources her cacao from all around the globe, all the desserts served at TDG are 100% made in Singapore. After importing the chocolate, it’s onto the local hands. From a central kitchen in Pandan Loop, two ice cream chefs and four pastry chefs hand-make the desserts in small batches. The resulting products “don’t just have the ‘chocolatey’ taste”, said Li, but also encompass a lot more taste profiles. And because everything happens in-house, they’re able to push out batches faster, and adapt to changing or last-minute demands from hungry chocophiles.

Doing it yourself also gives you room for more creative pairings and interpretations, said Li. “We have a freer hand to creativity and maintaining quality and consistency when it’s done by us,” she pointed out. For example, new on the menu and exclusive to the second outlet is the Four Senses of Chocolate ($10 each)—a four-part drinks platter that lets you savor TDG’s signature 66% dark chocolate in four unconventional ways. Sucre (sweet) is a classic frothy hot chocolate; Spice (spicy) a chocolate drink infused with turmeric, star anise, ginger, cloves and black pepper; Savoury (salty) comes with a layer of cold cream cheese foam; and Sangria (sour) steals the show as an iced chocolate blended with cold-pressed orange juice. Each platter comes served with a treat corresponding to the flavor profile.

, Foreign beans, local heart: A Singaporean chocolatier’s commitment to cacao
From L-R: Sangria, Savoury, Spice, Sucre

The desserts are made six days a week in the central kitchen, before being delivered to the two stores three to four times a week.

New to try at The Dark Gallery flagship store

Four Senses of Chocolate ($10 each): Sangria was our personal favorite—zesty and light, with the unexpected consistency of water

Dark Chocolate and White Chocolate croissants ($3.50): baked fresh daily and slathered with chocolate; an easy, breezy midday shopping break treat

Chocolate Souffle ($15): made with TDG signature 66% dark chocolate, espresso coffee powder, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream

Single Origin Pour Over ($6.50): an artisanal cuppa lovingly hand-brewed, with a concentrated caffeine content that’s higher than your average espresso shot

Experimenting doesn’t mean neglecting what made TDG popular in the first place—”single origin” desserts and drinks, so named for the beans that grow within a single geographic origin. The focus is part of the TDG mission to introduce Singaporean consumers to new kinds of dark chocolate as well as their exotic origins. Existing treats like the Single Origin Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Platter ($12) let customers explore single-origin chocolates of varying cacao content, from less accessible countries like Venezuela, Ecuador, Madagascar and the Dominican Republic. Li takes an average of three to four months to source new international cacao, before adding it to the menu of Single Origin offerings. 

A new drink, the Single Origin Pour Over ($6.50), builds on the single-origin focus to showcase the art of pour-over coffee via TDG’s new Mod-Bar system. The machine dispenses water at a specific pressure and temperature, but the real work comes down to the skill of the barista in delicately filtering the coffee. As a time-consuming, hand-brewed drink, you’re less likely to find it readily available at regular coffeehouses.

, Foreign beans, local heart: A Singaporean chocolatier’s commitment to cacaoSingle Origin Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Platter

It might seem like overkill just for chocolate (or coffee), but not to Li. “Artisanal foods may tend to appear as luxury items because more thought and marketing effort is given to achieve customers’ perception of these products,” she said. “But it’s not a luxury trend in my honest opinion.”

“We wanted to showcase artisanal foods in a competitive market so that it is accessible to everybody. Someone who doesn’t care much about the origins or craft of chocolates can still enjoy that scoop of (Single Origin Dark Chocolate) ice cream because it tastes good and is reasonably priced ($5) while on the other end, a chocolate connoisseur will also be able to appreciate and enjoy the same scoop of ice cream his or her way, at the same price.”

While The Dark Gallery remains for now a place for crafting good desserts, Li said she hopes to eventually go into full-fledged chocolate making (from cacao beans to chocolate) in the future; “but not until we have perfected what we want to do as chocolatiers”. She’s already got the passion down pat, so hopefully Lihui’s Chocolate Factory becomes reality soon.

The Dark Gallery is now open at #B2-29, Takashimaya Shopping Centre, .