Cigars are like wine, in the sense of being able to pull out notes through your smoking experience. Whether or not you know how to recognize the notes, is a matter of experience level and whether or not you actually want to try and pick out the notes while puffing your favorite cigars. I hear all the time that people wonder how cigar reviewers get notes of cocoa or pepper and even notes of citrus when reviewing a cigar. From my experience of conversing with various cigar enthusiasts, I get the impression that the average cigar smoker thinks that picking out flavor notes in cigars is only for long time smokers and those with “golden palates.”
I want to make it clear this is not the case! Yes – even you can begin to develop your palate and begin to appreciate notes in cigars, other than just tobacco! If I had a dollar for every person that told me all they taste is tobacco, I would almost be a rich man. Let’s look at how you can detect, savor, and appreciate flavors in cigars, so you can begin your journey of recognizing flavor notes.
6 Starting Points with Flavor
To start your flavor journey, it is important to know that your palate is going to recognize 6 primary tastes which are; sweet, sour, salty, peppery, bitter, and unami. I am going to break down each category and better explain what flavors you are going to get from each category.
- Sweet– just behind the tip in the center of tongue -Sugary and/or creamy might be chocolate, dark chocolate or cocoa
- Sour– back side of tongue -more of an acidic, citrus, wine or weak coffee
- Salty– tip of tongue -self explanatory although might not quite be table salt but anything that reminds you of salty.
- Peppery– lips and tip of tongue and cheeks -reminds you of different types of pepper such as black pepper, red pepper etc…
- Bitter– back of tongue -tastes like bakers chocolate, espresso or citrus peel
- Unami– center of tongue -savory, meaty, grains, bread or leather
How Does This All Work?
After looking at the starting points for flavors you might be asking yourself “Why These flavors? Its just a cigar and the tobacco’s aren’t infused with any of these things why would I taste these specific notes?”
The answer is simple, the flavors you will pull out will remind you of these specific base tastes and will be able to be further broken down to more specific notes depending on the experience you are having with your choice of cigar. Remember these are starting points so they are the basic level of tastes you will get and the more specific notes might vary from individual to individual. Of course, there will be some core notes that should also be relatively close for each enthusiast.
By now you might be asking yourself “How do I know what these more specific notes are?” Look at it like this, if you go into your kitchen and pull out items from your spice cabinet, get some chocolate (milk, dark, and cocoa powder), grab some fruit also. If you consume each individually you how each of these fire up parts of your palate and deliver specific flavor. . Now imagine these items being mixed together, you would find things taste different than if tasted alone. So when you are smoking a cigar you have to think about what each note reminds you of. Even the aroma can trigger a flavor sensation. You should also note where flavors transition in the cigar, as a good cigar should start off one way and offer transitions at different parts of the smoking experience.
As you take a puff of any cigar just swish the smoke around your palate like you would a fine wine, and even retro-hale a little bit and think hard, on every draw, about what notes you are getting. In the beginning you don’t have to get so complex, you can even choose to be simple and start to identify if you are tasting sweet, pepper, creamy, or earthy notes. Earth notes can be categorized under unami at least in my opinion. You know you are getting earth notes because the taste you get from the cigar tastes like dirt but could be a mushroom flavor, hence the reason why you would identify that taste as an earthy note.
Putting this into Practice
Now that you have an introduction to identifying flavor notes in a cigar, I think the best way to put this into practice is to pick out your favorite cigar and pull up a review of that cigar and follow the process the reviewer does. Smell the cigar before you light it; from the foot up the barrel of the cigar and take note on what the reviewer got and compare what’s written to what you just experienced. Do you get the same aroma? Cut the cigar and take a cold draw and compare what you get to what the reviewer got. Finally light the cigar and the whole time you are smoking it begin to think of what some of the flavor notes remind you of, you might get a few different notes than the reviewer. Either way, finding notes in a cigar isn’t rocket science, it is simply a part of the fun of smoking cigars. There is no need to be intimidated when it comes to picking up flavor notes in cigars. It is a process of learning to identify each one. It takes some time but in the end it enhances your experience as a cigar enthusiast.
In the end I hope this primer on picking out flavor notes in cigars was helpful. I challenge you to pick out any review that Boston Jimmie has done and sit down one day and put what you learned into practice, feel free to leave comments about your experience in trying this out. I always enjoy hearing feedback from readers about how what I wrote has helped them and even improved their experience as a cigar smoker!
Our friends over at CigarInspector.com have a detailed flavor wheel for the more advanced cigar enthusiasts. You can check it out here – http://www.cigarinspector.com/cigars-101/cigar-flavor-components/