In this article we will focus on the evolution of a cigar as it is smoked, its importance in the cigar tasting, what triggers it and how to interpret it.
Evolution is typically a prerogative of long-fillers, who benefit of the leaves substances and their transformation along the body of the cigar while we smoke it.
In theory, it is a time related dimension, representing the changes of the cigar characteristics as the tasting of the cigar progresses.
As Giuseppe Elefante explains, evolution differs from complexity, as the latter is a horizontal dimension expressing the quantity, the quality and the variety of the aromatic palette.
To simplify, we could say that evolution represents the when and complexity the what. They are two very distinct parameters, although they superpose one another or interact with each other. Evolution cannot be evaluated if not in close connection with complexity. Therefore, although for some smokers evolution by itself is not a determining characteristic based on which they evaluate the quality of a cigar, we believe that it is important to understand how it does influence the overall smoking experience.
The different types of evolution
Per Giuseppe, even if a cigar presents few aromas, it can evolve qualitatively during the tasting. It can enrich the aromatic shades and make them more elegant even if there are no hints of different aromas. This type of evolution is probably more difficult to identify for novices. For aromatic quality are meant delicacy and neatness of the aromas. The key factors here are the variety, the intensity and the time when the perceptions occur during the tasting.
This type of evolution is easier to grasp. It is where the overlap with complexity is most evident. However, as we talk about evolution, time is here again the key factor.
This is again a well defined type of evolution, arising essentially from the physiological production of new substances that sediment in the cigar body as its smoking progresses. The toasted aromas in the finish of a cigar can be often contemplated here. Needless to say, time, again, plays the key role.
One thing is certain, a poor quality cigar evolving in mediocrity certainly does not offer the greatest experience, especially if its lingering after-smoke perceptions last long.
The three types of evolution are not to be seen separately, they concur to define one unique aspect of the cigar tasting, which is the aromatic and palate perceptions offered by a cigar, in constant interaction with other factors such as strength, burn and draw. It even goes as far as defining the smoking pace, which is the synopsis of mechanical and gustatory analysis. Because, as we all know, a cigar is not evaluated based on single components, the analysis needs to be comprehensive and integrating many factors. In a good cigar, the components are not solists executing their own score, the symphony comes from all the components together.
According to Giuseppe, the best types of evolution are the qualitative and the quantitative (the physiological one has a minor weight in the analysis). The evolution of an aroma in its different facets can offer unique experiences. However, this depends on each smoker’s personal preferences to consider more or less seriously the factors that influence evolution. A cigar just offering a physiological evolution is not necessarily to be considered negatively.
A few pitfalls
Aniello Buonincontro adds to the analysis some facts to be aware of when tasting a cigar:
The sensory assuefaction
This means for him that the cigar in entrance can present certain organoleptic characteristics, which then seem to fade as the tasting progresses. For example you can initially sense an intense aroma and it can happen that this aroma subsides and another one appears. This change, which we attribute to the cigar with the term evolution, could be just a sensory assuefaction effect. The first aroma covered the second one, our nose got accustomed to it, so the second one emerges, although in reality it was already present.
According to Aniello, we must also consider that in a highly complex cigar with high intensity of organoleptic perceptions, changes are perceived, but to a lower extent. He explains it is as if we listened to music with low volume and then increased the volume a bit: we would perceive that increase in a sharper way than if we listened to music with high volume and then increased to loud.
The tercios division
Another aspect that Aniello raises is related to the hypothetical division of the cigar in tercios. Everybody tasting cigars refers to that, he admits he does that too. However, he thinks this division is in fact a stretch used to simplify the work of tasters, but it can affect the way we perceive evolution. We must be aware that the characteristics in a long-filler vary linearly and not in steps.
Aniello explains this theory further with another example. Let’s imagine we immerse ourselves in a tub of warm water, maybe smoking a nice cigar. The water temperature will cool down slowly until it reaches the ambient temperature. We would not perceive the temperature drop until the water would feel cold. If we asked a friend to put a finger in the water every 10 minutes, she would experience a sharp drop in temperature between one test and the following one. This explains that splitting a cigar in thirds means imposing moments when the check is performed, and we check a magnitude that has probably changed continuously. This prevents us from clearly understanding what happens, as our focus is between a check point and another one, while the senses become addicted to that magnitude. The risk is that a characteristic that has changed gradually, while our attention was low, may appear to us as being unchanged.
It is therefore necessary to maintain a high level of attention, in addition, of course, to awareness and exercise.
Evolution is not necessarily a function of the ring gauge or the length of a cigar, although a longer cigar has higher physiological probabilities to evolve as compared to a shorter cigar.
Claudio Sgroi helps us shade more light on this.
How the construction of a cigar drives evolution
According to Claudio, one needs to look at how a cigar is constructed in order to understand the type of evolution it can offer. There are different techniques in the different production countries. A consumer cannot easily determine the construction, but a few details are easier to recognize:
- A strong and/or spicy cigar in entrance, which smoothens in the center and then picks up again in the finish – recorte is the technique used to position parts of broken leaves when rolling the cigar. In this case the foot of the broken leaf is in the foot of the cigar, whereas the head of the broken leaf is in the head of the cigar.
- A cigar mild in entrance, which follows its natural evolution in crescendo does not have broken leaves, the heads of the leaves go in the foot.
- A flat or monotonous cigar, without evolution, does not have any broken leaf at the foot, it has a broken head to fill the cigar body from the center to the head.
So, cigars can be constructed with foot of the leaves in the head of the cigar, or in the contrary direction, or only some in the contrary direction, adding the recorte either in the head or in the foot of the cigar… it becomes complicated.
By all means, it is not sufficient to look at the way the cigar is rolled. Claudio adds that key are the intrinsec quality of the tobacco, the master blender style, the aging, the blend concept and how it transposes into the cigar, which are many variables.
If we add the consumer driven variables, such as relative humidity, storage, further aging of the cigar, as well as smoking pace, just to name a few, we can understand how complex the work of art is and how intricated the interaction of all the organoleptic parameters is in the evaluation of a cigar.