Of Cigar Tasting - The Lit Cigar Appreciation


During the whole cigar tasting experience, it’s when the cigar is lit that most of its aromas and tastes are perceived.

In a previous article we have discussed the correlation between raw cigar aromas perceptions and the lit cigar aromas perceptions. The analysis data of our panel shows that the aromas we perceive before lighting a cigar do not reliably predict those we will find in the lit cigar.

If you light your cigar and focus on this part of the tasting you will be able to support or deny the statement, this is up to you and I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Lighting the Cigar

I don’t like rules, but on the lighting of a cigar there are a few simple ones that are worth following, in the interest of fully enjoying the cigar:
– no temperature shocks: the cigar needs gentle, even toasting of the foot, no charring
– odorless flames are required
– relighting the cigar when it has become cold is not recommended (I will write more on this in next article on the mechanics).

There is a lot of material to complement these few bullet points. I find this one, published by Cigar Journal, complete and easy to read.

The First Aromatic Perceptions

Try to get to the point in which you have lit the cigar without puffing. You can blow on the foot of the cigar and retouch with the flame in order to get to an evenly lit cigar. If you do this, before you draw the first puff, try to inhale the smoke released from the brazier approaching your nose. Be careful, by all means you should not irritate your nose. But train to repeat or prolong until you perceive aromas as they are freed up in the atmosphere. These are the notes mainly coming from the most volatile molecules.

You may identify differences between these aromas, via orto-nasal perception, and the ones that you perceive through retro-nasal perceptions as you proceed with your tasting. The aromatic notes that we perceive in the latter way, from the smoke that we capture in our mouth and push up toward the nasal cavity, are mainly coming from less volatile molecules.

Dividing the Cigar

The tasting of a cigar sees us applying a theoretical break down of the experience in 3 phases: some call each phase tercio, some call them parts, some call them entrance, center and finish. I like how some French cigar lovers may also call them:  foin, divin, purin, (= hay, divine, manure). I like the emphasis that is put on the center and the implicit reference to the evolution in a lit cigar.

You have cigars that clearly manifest changes as you taste them. These changes can be mainly observed in the aromas, in the tastes, or tactile perceptions in the palate, and in the strength. There is no metric rule, but you will find it intuitive to write down your perceptions based on the 3 phases approach.

There are also cigars that display different sensations based on how you cut them before smoking them. For instance, if you smoke hand made fire-cured cheroots, you will find differences if you smoke the whole cigar as compared to cutting the cigar in 1/2 or 2/3 and smoking those parts only. You would still always try to bear the hypothetical 3 phases in mind.

There are also cigars that do not present evident changes, no matter the origin or the cut. As a consequence, such division in phases can be less evident too.

Personal Judgement vs. …

For many people there is an immediate connection made between what they are tasting and the hedonistic judgement based on whether they like the cigar or not. The case in which we will tend to agree is when we smoke a defective sample. In such case we can perceive what we call off-flavors. These can include for instance tar, coal, ammonia aromas or excessively sour, bitter tastes. Typically these will be defined as unpleasant by most cigar lovers.

Nose and Mouth

When we appreciate a lit cigar, we focus on the perceptions we get through our nose and our mouth and throat: in each of the hypothetical phases of the cigar we perceive aromas, aromas by the mouth, as well as nicotine strength. And we perceive the intensity of all of them.

It is worth noting that when you perceive a sweet aroma, such as brown sugar, or honey, this does not necessarily mean that the taste of the cigar is sweet. The backbone of the cigar could be savory or creamy.

Just like when you perceive a pepper aroma. This does not mean that the cigar is spicy.

You might say a cigar is harmonic when there is consistency and great balance among aromas, tactile perceptions, tastes, nicotine strength.

It is good to focus on describing what we perceive as opposed to judging a cigar based on theoretical parameters. Judging a cigar can offer short term benefits, but describing a cigar certainly offers an educational depth that the simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it” cannot grant.


Houvenaghel Didier, The Cigar From Soil To Soul, Ed. Myosotis, 2005

Next steps

If you wish to learn more about cigar tasting, how to fairly evaluate a cigar and how to break down a cigar review, A Cigar Tasting Course might be for you.

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