When you read a review about a cigar, it might be described as sweet, salty, or bitter. Some reviews describe a cigar as full bodied, or strong. Some liken the taste to coffee or chocolate. What is going on? Where do all these flavors come from? Once you understand the how of taste and smell, it becomes clear that there are, indeed, many flavors and scents to be found in cigars.
There are four taste areas on the tongue, providing sensations of sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. A simple description is: Bitter – Bitter tastes (like the taste of tonic water) are mostly sensed towards the back and rear sides of the tongue. Salty and Sweet – Salty tastes and sweet tastes (like sugar) are mostly tasted at the tip of the tongue. Sour – Sour tastes (like lemon juice) are mostly tasted at the sides of the tongue, at the middle and towards the front.
These four tastes are only a part of what we experience when eating, drinking, or, important for us, smoking a cigar.
Each of the taste receptors on the tongue bind to a specific structure of a “taste” molecule. Sweet receptors recognize hydroxyl groups (OH) in sugars, sour receptors respond to acids (H+), the metal ions in salts (such as the Na+ in table salt). Alkaloids trigger the bitter receptors – alkaloids are nitrogen containing bases with complex ring structures which have significant physiological activity. Some examples of alkaloids are nicotine, quinine, morphine, and strychnine (we only recommend nicotine!).
Approximately 80-90% of what we perceive as taste actually is due to the sense of smell. Just think about how dull food tastes when you have a head cold or a stuffed up nose. At first you might not be able to tell the specific flavor of a cigar, perhaps one of the four groups. As you smoke the cigar, you will begin to discover nuances, or more specific tastes. This is because some scent molecules volatilize and travel up to the olfactory organ through a back door – that is up a passage at the back of the throat and to the nose. Since we can only taste four different true “tastes”, it is actually smell that lets us experience the complex flavors we associate with our favorite cigars.
From the simple description, above, myriad labels have been placed on what we sense, when smoking a particular cigar. The labels are general, and vary due to age, experience, what we eat and drink, as well as the acuteness of our gustatory senses. While someone might describe the subtle flavor or honey, while smoking a cigar, others might never have this experience. Therefore, you should never voice disapproval or disbelief with a review just because your experience might be different.
SPECIFIC TASTES, FLAVORS, AND AROMAS
Before you can truly understand what reviewers describe in a cigar, we ask you to perform a little experiment. In our reviews, we have described a cigar as having an espresso taste or flavor. This means nothing to the reader, unless you have tasted an espresso bean. Go to the market and pick up a freshly roasted espresso coffee bean. Smell it. Put it in your mouth and suck it for a second. You will have had two distinct impressions of what the term means. Wait, you’re not done. Chew the bean, really. You will never forget your experience. More importantly, you know that a description of ‘espresso’ flavor can vary from mild to bitter or harsh. Now we can try to discuss what you might experience when smoking a Cuban or Non-Cuban.
We believe it is important to understand the terms used when describing a cigar experience. While we have been smoking Habanos for more than 45 years, we still have difficulty in separating tastes, aromas, and overall impressions, in preparation for a review. In fact, we have finally concluded that the three terms are so intertwined, it is best simply to understand how each can be described. While it is not critical to be an aficionado, it helps to be able to select a cigar with specific tastes and flavors, and to talk about your experience with other smokers.
Some cigar terms need no explanation, others defy it. You are the only one who will recognize a cigar which is Bland or Dull, Rich or Exotic. The following is a partial list of some of the most often used descriptive words for taste, smell, and aroma, of cigars.
Acrid, Aged, Aged cedar, Almond, Amber, Ammonia, Anise, Aromatic, Autumn, Balsa wood, Barnyard, Berries, Bitter, Black pepper, Bland, Bold, Burnt chocolate, Burnt citrus, Burnt leaves, Burnt sugar, Burnt toast, Butterscotch, Camphor, Caramel, Cardamom, Cedar, Chemical, Chestnut, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Citrus, Citrusy, Clove, Cocoa, Cocoa bean, Coffee, Crisp, Dark chocolate, Dried balsa wood, Dried citrus, Dried fruit, Dried orange peel, Dried spice, Dry, Dry paper, Dry straw, Dry wood, Dusty, Earth, Earthy, Espresso, Flat, Flint, Floral, Flowers, Flowery, Fresh earth, Fruit, Fruity, Full-bodied, Grass, Green, Harsh, Heady, Heavy, Herbaceous, Herbs, Honey, Hot, Hot pepper, Leaf, Leather, Leathery, Lemon, Licorice, Medium-bodied, Mellow, Metal, Mild, Milk-chocolate, Nut, Nutmeg, Nutty, Oak, Oily, Old Leather, Orange, Paper, Peat, Pepper, Peppery, Piquant, Raisins, Rich, Ripe fruit, Roasted nut, Rosemary, Salty, Sand, Sharp, Smooth, Soft, Sour, Spice, Spicy, Spring Flowers, Stems, Straw, Sugary, Summery, Sweet, Sweet spice, Sweet wood, Tangy, Tannic, Tart, Toast, Toasty, Toffee, Unctuous, Vanilla, Vegetal, Vegetation, Walnut, Weeds, White Pepper, Wood, Woodsy, Worn-leather, and Young-leather.
The Cuban often question our attempt to classify the taste and aroma of their cigars. While they take the production of cigars very seriously, they believe our obsession for descriptive words is unnecessary. Interestingly, as late as 2000, Habanos S. A. started having tasting contests; we must be doing something right, or at least something which helps sell Cuban cigars.
The wonder of it all is that smoking a cigar might bring back memories from your past. Volumes have been written about how smells and tastes affect memory; it is sufficient, for our purpose, that when you smoke a cigar, the experience is pleasant.
If you want a cigar which is light, medium, or full bodied, we can help you. If you want to read some of our reviews, to assist in your selection, just remember that what is written is but one man’s opinion; yours can be, and perhaps will be, different.
What we can do is guarantee you will be delivered the finest of each brand and vitola selected.