A Helpful Guide to Tasting Cigars: Flavours and Notes
To be considered a seasoned cigar aficionado, you should have successfully gained the ability to distinguish distinct flavours and notes from a puff of smoke. Being an avid Cuban Cigar enthusiast, you should be familiar with how cigar aficionados describe ‘flavours’ found within cigars; for instance, describing cigars to the likes of “chocolate” with notes of “pepper” and “cedar”. It makes you wonder; how do people recognise such flavours when cigars are entirely made out of pure tobacco? The flavours of your cigar are intentionally made by the cigar blenders from Cuba, with all the cigars enduring a lengthy process. Therefore, after all that time producing the cigar, it is worth learning how to analyse the complex flavours within a stick of tobacco in order to fully appreciate the cigar-crafting process. For tips and tricks on tasting cigars, here is a short guide on how to develop and enhance your cigar palate.
“DEVELOPING YOUR PALATE”
Right off the bat, your cigar-tasting skills will not be up to par with the cigar experts. It requires a great deal of practice recognising flavours, prepping your palate and developing an intense scrutiny in every little note. Therefore, it is highly necessary to take appropriate measures to strengthen your taste buds to gain the ability to recognise individual flavours. Though taste-testing cigars is a highly-subjective experience, there are certain notes and flavours that the blenders have intended for you to taste, and is, therefore, worth exploring. To develop your palate, it is recommended and necessary that you keep a ‘cigar journal’ to jot down notes on its flavour and character, because as you smoke more – the more you will be able to recognise similarities and differences between different cigars and therefore allowing you to identify specific flavours and notes better. If you want to get your hands on cigars to try, browse our range of Cuban Cigars Online. A great product to buy is one of our Cigar Samplers like the All-Star Cigar Sampler which offer 4 different cigars from different brands – allowing you to try something new each time.
BLINDFOLD TASTE TEST – A very useful exercise for you to develop your cigar palate is through conducting a smell test. Many wine and cigar sommeliers use this method to test themselves in recognising specific aromas until they can start identifying these scents within their subject of focus (wines or cigars). To do this, you can ask a friend to purchase items that resemble cigar ‘notes’ such as dark chocolate, coffee, leather, nuts and other notes. Afterwards, you can wear a blindfold and guess what they are or try to identify these aromas within the cigars - helping you to train your sense of smell.
Above: A range of different spices that you may identify in a cigar
“Retrohaling” is a highly useful technique for recognising flavours that you otherwise wouldn’t have recognised in your cigar. Keep in mind, the art of tasting involves both acknowledging the aroma and the flavour of something – in this case – retrohaling emphasises the aroma element. Smelling the cigar is arguably even more important than tasting the cigar; according to research, your sense of smell can account up to 75% of your tasting ability. To retrohale, you need to draw the smoke into your mouth and hold your breath, and once ready; you would need to open your throat and push out the smoke through your nose. Many cigar experts report having taste dramatically different flavours when retrohaling in comparison to the regular method of smoking through the mouth. This may further enhance your experience, allowing you to taste additional flavours.
"USING YOUR TASTEBUDS"
As you know, your taste buds are responsible for the recognition of flavours and also helping you to determine whether you like the flavour or not. Our tongue picks up five different flavours; sour, sweet, salty and umami. Umami refers to a savoury, meaty taste so if you happen to recognise ‘meat-like’ flavours in your cigar, you know it is umami. Another taste we can recognise is ‘saltiness’, this is very common in cigars as Cuban soil has a higher concentration in lithium, which is similar to sodium. Another typical flavour is ‘bitterness’, which is often recognised within the notes of coffee, citrus and dark chocolate. Then, of course, other flavours could include sourness and sweetness. This combination of the five tastes can help us identify what flavours remind us of certain foods and elements – allowing us to appraise the different and flavours a cigar may have.
To aid you in identifying flavours, below are some common categories of flavours and notes that you may compare a cigar to:
NUTTY – Within medium-to-full flavoured cigars you may recognise hints of nuts such as almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts and pecans. Have a look at the Montecristo 80 Aniversario Cigar; it is delivered distinctly as a complex bouquet of ‘nutty' and 'earthy' notes.
EARTHY – You may be able to recognise some ‘earthy’ elements in cigars. Some specific flavours and notes may include shavings, cedar, cut grass and soil. The H. Upmann Royal Robusto Cigar is also described to have notes of cedar, along with black chocolate and pepper.
SPICES – Again, spice flavours and notes are commonly found in cigars. This includes dark coffee, liquorice, caramel, malt and cardamom. For instance, the Cohiba Esplendidos is described to have notes of cocoa along with “kicks of pepper” – medium-to-full flavoured like many of Cohiba Cigars.
Above: Smoking a cigar in Amigos De Partagas XIV
“MAXIMISING FLAVOURS WHILE SMOKING”
SMOKE SLOWLY – When looking to assess the flavours and notes of a cigar, you must smoke slowly. As mentioned in our article on How to Light a Cigar, quickly puffing the cigar may heat it too fast and therefore destroying the intended flavours. So stop, savour and enjoy the taste. Give it up to 60 seconds until you take your next long puff, this allows the cigar to burn slower and to prevent the taste of burnt tobacco. Furthermore, by letting the smoke linger in your mouth, it creates a more prominent aftertaste so that you can explore the flavours in full. When evaluating the flavours of a cigar, many aficionados refer to not just the prime flavour but the overtones and undertones of the cigar – this is the taste that lingers after you’ve smoked a cigar. You might be able to recognise additional flavours you may not have noticed before.
Now that you have read about the basics about tasting and recognising cigar notes, we hope that you can develop your cigar tasting skills that maybe one day – you can even become a potential cigar sommelier. Want to start taste-testing cigars? Explore our extensive range of cigars in our Cuban Cigar Shop for you to try! For more articles about all things cigars, check out our Cuban Cigar Blog: