Tasting a cigar might seem like a simple enough thing to do; but the flavours that we experience whilst smoking are largely dependent on how well our individual palates are developed. So, how can you properly taste a cigar?
Taste: What is it?
Taste is traditionally thought of as being one of the key five senses. It is a form of chemoreception, which allows us to detect flavour in the things we consume. When taste is paired with our other senses, most notably the sense of smell, these flavours get further developed, and we are able to pull apart the components working together to make the wonderful symphony of flavours present in each and every cigar.
How Do You Taste?
To properly appreciate and taste a cigar, there are three different areas that all work closely together to build up the flavour profile.
- The use of the tongue.
- Use of the nose to smell all the flavour notes present in cigar.
- The finish, which is the aftertaste.
The tongue, when picking up taste notes from the cigar will focus on five elements:
Sour – sourness refers to acidity. This isn’t a flavour that cigar makers strive for, but cigars can taste sour if they have been aged incorrectly.
Bitter – the word ‘bitter’ is often associated with something that is unpleasant in taste. When it comes to cigars, bitter can work quite well with other flavour combinations. Tastes that are considered to be bitter include, coffee, citrus and dark chocolate.
Salty – this is found in Cuban cigars, due to the soil in Cuba containing a high concentration of lithium, which is close in taste to sodium.
Sweet – whilst sweet tastes are considered to be the most enjoyable, they are difficult to achieve as two receptors need to be activated for the tongue to detect the flavours.
Umami – a meaty or savoury taste. This receptor is activated by amino acids which are things that are high in protein, such as meat and cheese.
The sense of smell is the second part of tasting your cigar. Whilst your tongue can detect only five distinct qualities, your nose can detect hundreds. So your sense of smell is very important when it comes to tasting your cigar.
When we talk about smell, we don’t mean the aroma in the air from the smoke you are exhaling; we are referring to the smell that is gained when the smoke is in your mouth. To enhance this smell, the smoke can be introduced more prominently to your sinuses, by breathing through the nose in a process commonly known as retrohaling.
The Finish, Aftertaste
The finishing touch to fully enjoying a cigar is the aftertaste. This refers to the flavours which linger long after you’ve exhaled. When it comes to cigars, the finish should be enjoyable and the longer the flavours remain, the better. Specific flavours are more likely to linger for longer, or to give off a more prominent taste at the finish – this is found particularly with cigars that contain notes of cocoa, liquorice or coffee.
To really “taste” a cigar, you need to combine the initial tastes from your tongue and nose, as well as the finish – it is a function of the sensory organs, coupled with time.