In the language of cigar tasting, developing the nose is more key than developing the palate. Let’s distinguish. Perceiving tastes in our mouth is more straight forward than perceiving aromas.
The perception of aromas, for which we need our nose, is more complex. This is why I talk about developing the nose rather than the palate.
Some of the things I am going to write are quite common sense for our members and this list is not exhaustive. However, I want to share the tips that I find most interesting and effective.
In the Forest, in the Garden, at Home
At home and in nature we can find many of the aromas that we find in cigars.
Train your memory of scents and aromas at the table. Please try not to do it when eating rich dishes with a lot of sauce. It’s hard to describe a cigar as having aromas of a Carbonara sauce. Just focus on individual ingredients or simple products as much as you can: mushrooms, truffles, fruit, nuts, cocoa, chocolate, coffee, bread,…
At home I assume you also have spices in dried format, which are very practical to smell and remember. You might also have ammonia at home, that particular scent that we hope not to encounter too often, but that alerts us when a cigar needs more rest in the humidor.
In your furniture you can find wood aromas too, including those old chests that release scents or aromas found in some vintage cigars. Of course, your leather recliner is very helpful too in memorizing that very common aroma.
It’s easier to start identifying a generic category like spice, then try to get further into cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, etc. Or just say wood, and maybe later you can say it’s cedar or sandalwood.
Use the Aromas Wheel
Looking at the aromas wheel can help you a lot in locating what you sense into a category or stimulating your memory on how to name what you are perceiving.
Those Little Aromas Vials
The best you can buy are pure essential oils, many of which you can find in most natural products shops. They can help for many spices and woods.
However, for some aromas there is no corresponding natural aroma extraction possible, therefore you might need to opt for the vials that provide chemically reproduced aromas. You may skip the toasted bread or leather vials as you know how to find these at home, but for other aromas such as iodine, or for anything else you may not have handy around you, you will find a chemically prepared vial helpful.
These tools are very practical as they last relatively long and you can have them easily ready when you want to train. Vials also offer a great playing opportunity: a guessing game to play blind with friends.
Try to avoid training or playing after a heavy meal. The same is of course valid when tasting a cigar. Because it’s better to…
Use your Senses when They are Most Alert
It is easier to focus on a cigar (or on training exercises as described above) earlier in the day, when your senses are more receptive, as opposed to after a heavy meal at the end of the day, when your senses can be affected by fatigue.
Retro-haling means bringing the smoke from within your mouth up toward the nose cavity, as far as possible. Some people fully exhale the smoke through the nose. Some other smokers just do it partially or every now and then. Some people not at all as they find it irritating.
If it’s irritating for you and/or you cannot obtain results (aromas perception) when trying to simply bring the smoke toward the nose cavity, you can try this. Right after emptying your mouth from the smoke, you can inhale (air, not smoke) through the mouth and exhale through the nose. This can still grant some perceptions without being too hard on your nose.
Inhaling the smoke is very different from retro-haling. A cigar’s smoke is absorbed mainly in the oral membranes, as opposed to cigarettes’ smoke, where the nicotine has a different form and is absorbed through the bronchial membranes in order to satisfy the smoker.
Therefore, it is not advisable to inhale the cigar smoke, especially when the objective is the enjoyment of the cigar and the perceptions of its aromas. Aromas are perceived through the nose, not through the lungs Click To Tweet
I do not encourage to read others’ notes before or during your tastings. You could be influenced and you could even think you got it wrong.
Write your own notes, keep track. This helps you go back and review what you perceived when tasting the same cigar in the past. You can see how you grow as a cigar smoker overtime by doing this.
Try to re-taste the same cigar in the same conditions in which you tasted the prior ones. So, if you tasted a cigar drinking water in the past, try to replicate drinking water again, unless you want to focus on a pairing rather than on the mere cigar.
Get two different cigars :
- of similar format, so you have approximately the same duration of smoke for each
- of similar nicotine strength (if you can have such indication upfront), so one cigar is not overwhelming in power vs the other one.
Slowly taste the two cigars alternating repeated puffs from one, cleansing your palate with water, or what else you like for this purpose, and then slowly taking another series of puffs from the other cigar. Continue to alternate, cleansing your palate before you move to the other cigar.
Comparative tasting is very helpful because if gives you some instant reference, else you need to make efforts remembering aromas only from past experiences. If you don’t smoke very often, your memory can be vague.
Smoke as slowly as possible. A slow pace when appreciating a cigar is a general rule that allows you to be aware of what you perceive.
Adjust your pace to the cigar rather than asking the cigar to adjust to your rhythm Click To Tweet If you smoke nervously and fast, the cigar may become too hot and off-flavors may replace the pleasant registers.
The Glass Technique
This is an advanced technique that is often used with catadores. The steps to follow in this technique are the following:
- exhale the smoke from the mouth and trap it in an empty glass
- cork the glass with a hand
- free up the smoke so that it slowly leaves the glass
- smell the smoke as it leaves the glass and the empty glass
This allows to better understand the quality of the cigar and of its smoke, as well as of its residues.
Focus and Experience
Techniques, but especially focus and experience are the key elements to develop your ability to appreciate fine cigars.
Take time to smoke alone or with people who have more experience than you as much as you can.
There is no need to be in learning mode every time we smoke a cigar. We can just desire to simply sit back and enjoy without focusing too much on the cigar.
Connoisseurs will understand the cigar even without much focus, while certain cigar smokers prefer to always just relax and not really taste. All is fine, as long as we enjoy what we smoke.