My husband’s favorite place to take out of town visitors is Taste, a new shop in Provo that sells high-end chocolates, olive oil and sipping vinegar (his new favorite thing). He loves to share the experience of the mini-tasting because they offer samples and teach to proper way to eat a piece of chocolate to get an accurate sense of the flavor. He’s been several times and I never have, but that’s okay because he always brings me a bar of my favorite fancy chocolate. My friend Tiffany recently brought me one of their business cards and recommended I try one their tastings for my blog. She didn’t have to work hard to talk me into the idea, and just so I could get the full experience and so my husband could try a new version of it, I decided to book a full 90-minute tasting Friday for our date night.
When I booked our tasting, I was pretty sure this post would be all “wow, this was hard, look how I suffered, ha ha”. I could take my tired format describing the difficult experience of trying something new and I could mock it by writing all about how I overcame the trial of being forced to eat a lot of chocolate. It would be hilarious. But the truth is, we really didn’t enjoy ourselves, in fact we couldn’t wait to leave. As fun as it would have been to write a light-hearted post filled with self-mockery, that’s just not how it all went down.
First, I want to be clear that everything we tasted was very high quality stuff. Even the chocolates I didn’t care for as much were obviously well-made. The store is tasteful and fun with a variety of products I would love to try and the concept of educating customers on discerning quality in their products is a valid one. From what my husband tells me, the experience of stopping by anytime for a mini-tasting is quite enjoyable. We just didn’t like the 90-minute group tasting.
We did enjoy trying the chocolate, balsamic vinegar and sipping vinegar. We followed instructions to wash our hands with unscented soap, to rub the chocolate first to release the aroma, to “sniff vigorously”, to suck the chocolate so it travels to all parts of the tongue, then to chew on all sides of the mouth.
As instructed, we wrote down our impressions on the texture, flavor, “notes” (which I took to mean flavors you imagine are there but aren’t actually in the chocolate), and we gave each chocolate a rating from 1 to 5.
There were several chocolates that surprised me by the complexity of flavor, some I really enjoyed, and some I didn’t like at all. The hosts asked us to describe the notes we experienced. When I was called on, I panicked because I didn’t notice anything specific, so I made something up. I suspect many others did the same. At one point, my husband mentioned that one chocolate we tried reminded him of a Nilla Wafer. Later in the evening, I overheard a woman near us saying, “You know, it really did taste like a Nilla Wafer!” I sometimes felt like I was one of the villagers in The Emperor Wears No Clothes.
Some of the descriptions went a little overboard with flowery prose. One chocolate brought back a specific memory to me of the time I snuck into my mom’s baking stuff, stole a square of unsweetened chocolate and was bitterly disappointed. Our host described his “sensorial experience” when trying the same chocolate as taking him to an outdoor cafe in Paris…sitting next to the Seine…listening to music…wearing a beret…sipping drinking chocolate…blah blah blah… My husband leaned over and muttered, “…there’s a mime nearby…pretending to smoke a cigarette,” and I lost it completely.
We sipped our vinegar and swished olive oil in our mouths as instructed, which looked and sometimes tasted like we were being given medicine by a snake-oil salesman.
We were introduced to several flavors of vinegar we’d like to try and we learned a lot about the chocolate and the process of making balsamic vinegar. We really liked most of what we tasted and we got to spend time together away from kids. It should have been ideal, so why didn’t we have more fun?
The setup is like a cafe so my husband and I had our own table, but because we were all scrunched together and it was a group activity, we never felt at liberty to just have a natural conversation the way we would if we were out to dinner. This was unfortunate because during the tasting, there were many times when we were left to just sit and wait while they delivered something to each person one at a time. I mean sure, I sucked the balsamic vinegar off my snuffbox, (hand) he sucked his, we talked about the taste for a minute (the best I’ve ever tried), but then what do we do for the next 5 minutes as the dropper travels one by one to thirty other snuffboxes?
The least interesting part of the evening was when they asked us to rate our top three favorite chocolates, then they visited each person and asked for the results, called them out, then moved on. I thought they’d ask a few people and then we’d do something else, but no. Each person had a chance to share his/her top three rankings, not that they were tallying the results for any research purposes or anything, then they moved on to the next, and the next… It seemed like they were trying to fill time to stretch out the experience more and it felt like it took forever.
I’ll admit that some of the problems I had with the tasting were my own issues. We didn’t eat before coming because the website said their tastings are “never just chocolate” and we didn’t want to compromise our taste buds by rolling in too full after a quick sandwich stop on our way. That meant that by 9:00, after drinking cups of olive oil (my least favorite part because it reminded me of self-inducing labor with castor oil) and vinegar on an empty stomach, we were hungry and annoyed.
Also, it probably wouldn’t have been as unpleasant for someone who enjoys crowds of strangers, but since I am easily annoyed by just about everything, that part wasn’t much fun. There was a particularly boisterous group with strong opinions, including one woman who prided herself in her ability to recognize hidden flavors. She called out “Juniper!” or “Anise!” with the pride and energy of a teacher’s pet when all I could taste was dark chocolate. She would scrunch up her face and stick her tongue out repeatedly, whining, “This one is rough on my palate!” every time she tried a chocolate she didn’t like. At the end of the tasting, we were offered a discount on any purchases we made that night. As tempting as it was to get a good deal on something we were planning to buy anyway, it was not enough to persuade me to linger in the crowd when all I really wanted was a big hunk of crusty bread to eat.
But I think none of these small annoyances would have bothered me so much if it weren’t for the sheer volume of the presentation. The tasting was hosted/presented by a cute little Italian man and a younger American. The Italian man was friendly, took time to learn our names, and seemed to always be smiling. The younger man was loud. SO LOUD.
If I were to describe his voice, I would have to say it combined the bold woodiness of a football coach with the subtle undertones of a carnival barker and notes of a Tony Horton workout or maybe a late-night infomercial. It’s a flavor that might appeal to some, but let’s just say it was very rough on my palate.
Somehow his voice, which even his partner described as “thunderous”, managed to only get louder as the evening progressed. Every time he walked past us and shouted, my husband would visibly jump and wince. (His reactions were the most entertaining part of the evening.) I left with a raging headache.
Based on his experience, my husband is pretty sure two $6 mini-tastings include more chocolate than one $20 full tasting, so it’s probably a better value to avoid the crowds and the noise altogether and just drop into the shop for a more one-on-one experience. He also promises that the mini-tastings involve no shouting. I do want to return to Taste to try some of their treats and to make sure my husband’s sipping vinegar needs are met. I also think it would be fun to introduce a friend to a mini-tasting. But for me, the experience is probably best consumed just as the passion fruit drinking vinegar was – in very small doses.