Hands Off – Tony’s Chocolonely

The dutch supermarket shelf for chocolates has gotten some interesting additions over the last years, and they slowly seem to outrun the typical multi-national chocolate brands by Kraft and Co.

Hands Off My Chocolate and Tony's ChocolonelyHands Off My Chocolate and Tony’s Chocolonely dark chocolate bars, dressed (up) and naked.

When moving to the Netherlands I was surprised to find a nicely designed fairtrade chocolate in most supermarkets, ‘Tony’s Chocolonely’ (which you can’t find, for example, in Germany). It is particularly interesting because of the story behind it and its introduction to the market again helped sensibilize consumers for ethical issues in chocolate production1. Another dutch chocolate brand just began to deliver their chocolates (they actually produce in Belgium, using Barry-Callebaut chocolate), ‘Hands Off My Chocolate’. Being mean, it looks like a new brand hitchhiking on the concept Tony’s chocolate brought to the supermarkets. Hands Off chocolate also speaks a nice, young design language and advertises with the ‘Quality Cocoa for a Better Life’ program. Unlike the well-established ‘Fairtrade2’ label that Tony’s chocolate has to offer, the better life program is run by Barry-Callebaut itself. This doesn’t have to mean that it is not produced in a fair manner, but it could raises some suspicions and is certainly not as well controlled, and less verifiable for the consumer.
To the chocolate.
I compared the ‘Hands Off My Chocolate – Double Dark’ and the ‘Tony’s Chocolonely 70%’ which is pretty straightforward because both contain about 70% cocoa. I would say, the bars both offer an appealing design. When I first saw the Hand Off Bar, it briefly made me laugh. It is structured into 14 round pieces in an unconventionel design. Again very reminiscent to the Tony’s bar that also offers a non-classic layout to stay away from the very standard array of rectangular pieces. Although in both cases the changed layout visually is a pretty variation, I most of the time still prefer classical and preferentially thin bars. The Hand Off pieces are rather thick and its hard to break the bar into smaller pieces then intended by design. The Tony’s Chocolonely bar is less regular which offers some more choices3. Anyway, that’s not a real big issue. Let’s taste.
Both chocoaltes have a very good snap and offer a very creamy texture (both use extra cocoa butter, the Hands Off maybe a little too much in my opinion). Both are only mildly bitter, and show no strong acidity. Some mild nutty and roasting notes, but in generall they display very little special character, especially when compared to very high-quality chocolates. OK, one shouldn’t expect those qualities in fairly cheap mass-market chocolate. In the end you get good snap, good texture, no off flavors, let’s say a very inoffensive chocolate. While eating them as a snack you could easily call both lekker4. However, if you really concentrate on the taste you will quickly realize that another word for inoffensive in this conext is tame. Which is not far from boring.
In summary, both chocolates are visually nice additions to the supermarket shelf. Much more important, however, both (in particular the Tony’s) are politically/ethically a clear improvement when compared to most of their shelf neighbors. Considering the fairly low price, one cannot complain taste-wise either. Tony’s chocolate being a bit better, more intense. But clearly, none of these chocolates can compare with the rich flavor you can find in high-quality bars. If you want to get more flavors while staying in the geographical region, I strongly recommend trying the Amsterdam based ‘Chocolate Makers5’ instead…

  1. The dutch journalist Teun Van de Keuken showed that a significant fraction of Ivory Coast chocolate production involved slavery. He got a lot of attention when he handed himself over to police as a chocolate criminal and later founded Tony’s Chocolonely with the aim to produce slavery-free chocolate. []
  2. See for example the blog article on chclt.net (in German). []
  3. I have to say that the geometrical, irregular design is quite appealing to the nerd part of me. []
  4. ‘Lekker’ is dutch for yummy []
  5. More on them, for sure to come… []

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