CHICO’S CHOCOLATE

Simple Yet Surprisingly Complex Craft Bean-To-Bar Chocolate

Even if one doesn’t know a whole lot about chocolate, clearly chocolate-covered cups of sweetened peanut butter are different from Rusty Bogart’s elegant bars of molded craft chocolate wrapped in gold foil and colorful paper decorated with butterfly wing designs.

His chocolate boasts complex flavors not found in industrial chocolate. Instead of masking the unique flavors of chocolate with copious amounts of sugar, soy lecithin emulsifiers, and unnecessary vanilla flavorings, Bogart’s craft chocolate highlights the unique nuanced flavors of singleorigin beans.

Crafting chocolate is both a science and an art; craft chocolate is a dance of changing flavors melting on your tongue, simple yet complex. It begs the question: how can such flavors, textures, and delight be captured by just two simple ingredients, cacao and sweetener?

The simple answer: craft chocolate is more than the sum of its parts. It is a journey from bean to bar through roasting, winnowing, refining, aging, tempering, and molding, often using custom retrofitted equipment, requiring innovation, creativity, mad-scientist eccentricity, engineering, and experimentation. One maker is bringing the simple elegance of craft chocolate to Chico.

ENTER THE CRAFTSMAN

With chocolate stains near the doorknob, the door opens to dispense a gushing aroma of dark chocolate so thick and delicious, I feel as if I just walked into a cloud of bittersweet brownie batter. This is the certified home kitchen where Bogart crafts his PipeVine Chocolate bars from ethically sourced, single-origin cacao beans. A trained natural biologist, Bogart was hooked on craft chocolate after his first nibble of Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate. The result has been a three-year chocolate chase of delicious proportions, a chase to make the most delicious bean-to-bar chocolate in Chico. Choosing to source beans ethically and learning radical styles of roasting, Bogart joined the ranks of countertop chocolate makers crafting really good chocolate in small batches at home from custom, retrofitted, and recycled equipment. Now he needed to get his hands on some cacao beans.

ABOUT THE BEANS

Cacao, as Bogart explains using a ceramic model showing the pod and interior beans, is a corn cob–like prize of the cacao tree, once traded and used as currency in Mesoamerica. Bogart’s ethically sourced, single-origin beans come from Belize and Guatemala, among other countries, as the tree grows best within a forty-degree latitude band of the equator. Farmers ferment and dry raw cacao beans, then pack them in burlap sacks for shipping to chocolate makers.

Because Bogart crafts PipeVine Chocolate from singleorigin beans, you can travel the world through chocolate as you taste his chocolate bars. The bars made from Belizean chocolate have flavor notes of plum and jasmine; beans from Ecuador hint at fudge brownies and toasted almonds. Those from Papua New Guinea are smoky, because farmers in its humid climate dry the beans over a wood fire. You can taste the smoke in the chocolate.

IN THE CHOCOLATE KITCHEN

Each bar of PipeVine Chocolate takes well over one week to get all the way from bean to bar. The process of making this craft chocolate begins with sorting the beans. Bogart removes over-fermented, under-fermented, or moldy cacao beans and any non-cacao materials. He’s found string, unidentifiable beans, buttons, twigs, even a feather. Once cleaned, the beans are ready for roasting.

Bogart heard about other chocolate makers using old coffee roasters, convection ovens, and lobster pots to roast their cacao beans. The route he took involved drilling holes through the sides of an old electric oven, taking the racks out and installing a lobster pot roasting drum inside the chamber, then rigging up a motor to rotate it. On the side of the oven is a plugged hole; Bogart inserts a probe through the hole to measure the temperature of the roasting beans without having to open the oven door.

Roasting cacao is crucial for developing rich depth of flavor; it also kills bacteria that may linger after fermentation and transit, and it dries the thin shell covering the bean. How long the beans roast and to what temperature are what most influence of the chocolate bar’s final flavor. Bogart keeps thorough notes on each batch, the better to replicate or alter his method.

Once roasted, the whole cacao beans must be crushed and separated from the lightweight shells in a process called winnowing. In true craft chocolate fashion and as with his roaster, Bogart created his own winnower. He modified an old Champion Juicer using tubes, a vacuum, and two buckets, one for the processed nibs and one for the shell pieces, which he composts or turns into chocolate tea.

Once the beans are winnowed, Bogart grinds the roasted cacao nibs in an Olde Tyme peanut grinder, which transforms them into a sort of wet mash called the chocolate liquor. The next step towards a bar of chocolate is refining, an action of aerating and agitating the chocolate, the heat of friction helping to further develop pleasing flavor and texture. Bogart mixes the liquor with sugar, then pours it all into an Indian-style spice grinder for hours of spinning, mixing, and thorough aeration.

In the same grinder, granite wheels are loosened to allow for even further aeration of the refining chocolate. This process is known by chocolate makers as conching. This aeration process acts to subdue the acetic and lactic acid present in the fermented cacao beans. After two to three days of refining and conching, volatile off-odors have been dispersed, releasing smells that Bogart relates to the slightly fermented funk of old man feet. This step also smooths out the rough micro-edges of each chocolate particle down to less than thirty microns. Effectively refining and conching the chocolate yields a product that feels exquisitely smooth as it melts in your mouth.

FINAL STEPS

The chocolate at this stage smells bittersweet and decadent. Bogart prefers to age his chocolate in the fridge for at least one week before tempering. He proclaims, “Something happens during the aging process,” something he can’t quite put his finger on—but it seems to make the chocolate even more complex and tasty. This might just be the step that makes PipeVine Chocolate so complex and rich with flavors that seem to change magically in your mouth. The last step is tempering. The machine for this process was the first piece of equipment Bogart purchased. “Out of nowhere, I spent $1,200 on a machine that I didn’t know how to use.”

He soon learned that tempering is one of the more finicky processes in chocolate making. Chocolate has to crystallize in a specific way in order to appear glossy and silky smooth and retain decent shelf stability (i.e., no melted puddle of chocolate at the store during the summer). Bogart must monitor the tempering machine so that it heats and cools the chocolate precisely to result in glossy finished bars.

Next, he fills his PipeVine Chocolate molds using a big syringe to pull the chocolate out of the tempering machine. A dental vibrator aggressively agitates the molds, removing air bubbles that have formed, allowing chocolate to flow into every crack and crevice. After a few affectionate, not very gentle smacks on the countertop, he places the bars in the fridge. For the last step, he wraps each bar in gold foil and the paper sleeve he’s designed himself. Featuring images of butterfly wings, the design expresses Bogart’s roots as a naturalist and his attraction to the Pipevine swallowtail butterfly. Thousands of the irridescent black- and blue-winged butterflies decorate Bidwell Park in the spring. “I wanted a name that represented Chico and also sounded good,” he says of his brand.

By day Bogart runs the physical science labs at Butte College, which gives him access to the College’s new Maker Space. He used its laser cutter to create his company’s display boxes. The laser both cut the box parts from eighth inch birch plywood and burnished in PipeVine Chocolate’s logo and the other designs on the box.

HOW PIPEVINE FITS THE MOLD

Craft chocolate involves a multi-step process. For each bar of PipeVine Chocolate, Bogart sources, sorts, roasts, winnows, grinds, conches, ages, tempers, molds, and wraps. His attention to the expressiveness of each region’s chocolate, his custom equipment, and his scientist’s methodology enable him to tell a story through his chocolate. An edible stamp of his personal style, his chocolate can never be duplicated, not even by him, as all the factors involved transform dusty fermented cacao beans to silky smooth bars. Chico has many makers: bakers, brewers, fermenters, juicers, a chai brewmistress. Now it also has its own craft chocolate maker in PipeVine Chocolate’s Rusty Bogart.

PipeVine Chocolate can be purchased at Made in Chico and Zucchini and Vine in Chico and at PatrickRanchGift Shop and Almendra Winery and Distillery in Durham.

During Sierra Oro Farm Trail’s Passport Weekend, October 6 and 7, Rusty Bogart will talk chocolate, offer tastes of his chocolate bars, and have them available for purchase there at Almendra Winery and Distillery.