When looking at the elements of cigar tasting, the olfactory and gustatory senses are key. Tasters frequently use the term organoleptic, which refers to all the attributes that can be perceived by the senses.
In fact, in order to fully appreciate our cigar, we use most of our senses. However, the sensory systems that allow us to most efficiently discriminate among the plethora of cigars available on the market, the ones we mostly deep dive into, are two:
The olfactory and the gustatory senses
Olfaction (“nose” in the Cigar Sense sensory charts)
Differently from images and sounds, scents do not seem to give us “intellectually” meaningful information. They mainly have an emotional character, they light up passions, they activate memories or alert us of risks. Often what goes through the nose is not consciously perceived.
When we smell a cigar before lighting it, we talk about scents, or raw aromas or odors. When the cigar is lit, we typically refer to aromas.
Whether you call them as above or not, all can be perceived in two different ways:
- directly (direct olfaction), as we approach our nose to the cigar. This can be in the case of the raw or of the lit cigar.
- indirectly (retro-olfaction): this means perceiving the aromas through the smoke (or the air, in the case of the raw cigar) that we push from within our mouth up toward the nose cavity.
You can also read this article about aromas.
What about flavor or flavour? In short, flavor is a complex combination of scents and aromas that have one characteristic: they are perceived in retro-olfaction. Most cigar lovers (87% based on an informal survey conducted by Cigar Sense in 2014) find that flavors are the most important criteria for them to choose new cigars to try. Of course, once we have a good set of fine cigars that we want to try, which we selected based on our personal taste, then many other factors come into play: how much time we can set aside to enjoy our cigar, in which moment of the day we want to smoke, the drink we wanted to try for a long time, … you name it.
Tastes and tactile perceptions (“mouth” in the Cigar Sense sensory charts)
When we hold the smoke of the cigar in our mouth, we perceive aromas through the nose, but we also have perceptions in our mouth. In addition to the 5 basic tastes (sweet, sour, savory, salty, bitter) we also have tactile perceptions. This is why it is common to simplify the verbiage and define as tastes not only the basic tastes, but also the tactile (palate) perceptions or mouthfeel. The most common tactile perceptions when we smoke a cigar are: dryness, spiciness and creaminess.
You can read more about confusions and misconceptions in this further article about tastes.
It is also important to separate the mouth perceptions from the nose perceptions. When trained, we can easily establish the difference between a peppery and a spicy cigar, or a sweet cigar and one that displays sweet aromas. Feel free to use our free aromas wheel tool to help identify the most common aromas you can find in a cigar.