Bean to bar

Local craft chocolate with a taste of place

Rusty Bogart pipes tempered PipeVine chocolate into molds.

Rusty Bogart pipes tempered PipeVine chocolate into molds.

Photo by Howard Hardee

The level of detail in PipeVine Chocolate’s packaging is a good indication of how much Rusty Bogart cares about his craft. The bars are wrapped in patterns found on the wings of butterflies or moths, each one representing a species native to the country where the cacao beans are sourced—and underneath that layer is golden foil à la Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

After biting into a piece, the flavors come in waves. The Madagascar variety (with the sunset moth on the wrapper), for example, is light and bright up front, but melts into a berry finish complex enough to make high-sugar, industrially produced candy bars seem fairly one-dimensional. And showing that chocolate holds many different flavors—berries, citrus, nuts—is a big part of the burgeoning bean-to-bar chocolate movement, Bogart said.

“As the movement grows, hopefully consumers are saying, ‘Wow, there’s something different about chocolate now; it’s not just sugar.’”

During a recent tour of his self-built production facility at his home in south Chico, Bogart said he was recently granted a license as a cottage food maker, allowing him to make chocolate at home and sell it in stores. Currently, PipeVine Chocolate is available for $8 a bar at Zucchini & Vine in downtown Chico, which probably seems like a steep price to those unfamiliar with bean-to-bar.

There isn’t yet a standardized definition, but it’s generally accepted that “bean-to-bar” chocolate makers walk through each step of the production process themselves, from sorting, roasting and grinding ethically sourced whole cacao beans to tempering, pouring and packaging.

The movement is picking up. According to the recently published book Bean to Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution, by Megan Giller, there has been a recent explosion of artisan chocolate makers in America, and the quality of their products has caught up with or exceeded long-adored exports from France, Belgium and Switzerland. She writes: “This new movement of bean-to-bar makers produces bolder, bigger chocolates. Distinctly American chocolates. Just as craft beer and specialty coffee have taken America by storm, with small-batch makers creating products that take taste to a higher level, chocolate is evolving, too.”

Bogart is a husband, father of three and educator at Butte College, but somehow found time to steadily grow his business over the last few years. He got into it while following his Eureka friends Dustin Taylor and Adam Dick as they built their own business (now known as Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate). He was impressed enough with their product to research what it would take to do it himself.

“I kind of went on an Easter egg hunt,” he said. “I found out there was this whole community sharing information on how to do this, and part of what I love about it is how collaborative everybody is. We’re not competing.” Bogart immediately embraced the DIY spirit of the movement. In late 2015, he bought a tempering machine and built a bean roaster out of a hand-me-down electric oven and an old lobster pot.

When the time came to name his business, he picked one as multilayered as his products. He wanted something that spoke to his love of nature and butterfly photography but also reflected Chico, so he chose PipeVine Chocolate in honor of the pipevine swallowtail—one of the first butterflies to emerge in Bidwell Park each spring. The park is also home to the pipevine, a large plant with heart-shaped leaves that commonly hosts black-bodied pipevine swallowtail caterpillars.

“People don’t realize it, but they’re all a part of Chico,” Bogart said. “I wanted to have a product identity as a biologist, as a Chicoan and a nature-lover. A lot of people tell me, ‘Gosh, your wrappers are so beautiful,’ and I hope they give people the same feeling they get when they walk in Bidwell Park.”