“It is natural for us to seek a Standard of Taste; a rule, by which the various sentiments of men may be reconciled; at least, a decision, afforded, confirming one sentiment, and condemning another.”- David Hume
There is, perhaps, nothing more subjective in human experience than taste. Thousands of mysterious evolutionary, cultural, temporal, and psychological factors combine to ultimately produce the experience of what one tastes. Even among individuals who share similarities across these categories; varying opinions concerning the taste of one single item abound. How then, are we as cigar enthusiasts, in light of this well-known idea, to make sense of the various reviews and descriptions we encounter in our search for our ideal cigar?
The answer lies not in some unequivocal objective reality of taste, but in our ability to recognize characteristics and familiar themes from all of our gustatory experience. Here, in six easy steps, is the Cigars Everyday cigar tasting method. Will the following of this program make your reviews and tasting notes immune to criticism? No. There’s a lot of “haters” out there (to use the parlance of our times). There are smokers and lovers of cigars- veterans of years of enjoyable smoking- who never have, and never will taste flavors so universally agreed upon as coffee in a cigar. Those who enjoy a cigar for what it is, remain open to creative interpretation. Those who do not, will balk at any attempt to compare the smoke of a cigar to a demitasse of espresso or the aroma of leather. We’re not concerned with the latter group. Our journey is one of knowledge and diversity. With this in mind, take in the following six steps to cigar mindfulness. Put into practice, this method is guaranteed to increase your enjoyment not only of cigars, but the entire world of taste and aroma at large.
- Brothers and sisters, start smoking. Don’t just stick with the first “favorite” you’ve landed upon. There is an entire world of flavor, texture, and taste to be had in the multitude of cigars available today. To limit oneself to an early favorite does great injustice to the countless hands and minds who’s sweat and blood are shed to produce each different cigar. Perhaps more importantly, you do yourself the injustice of missing the wondrous variety of different experiences available in our time’s incredible selection of fine cigars.
- Read everything you can find on wine, scotch, and cigar tasting. Wine-tasting is probably the most abundant category for learning about this sort of thing- and not at all irrelevant to cigars. Wine For Dummies is an entertaining and educational read that contains an excellent treatment on how to use the palate as we seek to use it here.
- Read millions of reviews. Pick up some terminology; see what the preponderance of evidence is for certain flavors. Coffee, for instance, is an “easily” found flavor, especially in more full-bodied cigars. Leather, nuts, soil, etc are also commonly found flavors. Be sure to read reviews from all walks of life, not just from the so-called “big boys”. The reviews of independent blogs, newsletters and the anonymous online denizens of message boards not only provide a wealth of information, but also are usually straight-forward and down to earth in their descriptions . If you see one review out of a hundred where the self-appointed aficionado of the universe waxes poetic about “Playful notes of Quince-preserves subtly enveloping a demure saddle-soap finish” (and I had to try very hard not to parallel my own reviews too closely on that one. What was that I said about self-appointed….oh well, nevermind), you can pretty much discount the rest of what he says. Keep it real, keep it close-to-home, and learn.
- Pay attention to flavors and aromas from a variety of sources in “real life”. Wine-tasting, as painfully snobbish as it is, is a great way to start training your palate to receive all of the information available to your senses. Get your mind used to analyzing these things. Until you train it, your palate is like an HDTV that only gets basic cable. Once you’ve been really giving your attention to the olfactory input of food, drink, and cigars a new vista of information will be available from them. It’s like beginning to learn a new language. Eventually, a conversation that once would only have registered as total jibberish, begins to reveal its meaning in tiny bits and pieces of understanding. That’s what it’s like when you start to actively smoke cigars.
- That being said, realize the limitations of the palate. There are only five basic tastes; from all of their possible combinations and permutations, we humans have come to be able to recognize the flavor of lemons or apples or maple syrup (for instance). What that means is that any given flavor we find in food or drink is some arcane combination of these five tastes. That’s why it’s possible to pick up “Earl Gray Tea and dark-roast coffee” in a cigar. This is a very subjective matter. Someone who has never smoked a cigar before is unlikely to find anything much besides “smoke” and “burning” for a flavor. Therefore, it’s all about combinations of flavors, proclivities of the taster, memory, and conditioning.
- There’s no wrong answer. There are snob answers, grandiose answers, unlikely answers, and oversimplifications; but ultimately, there’s no wrong answer. If it tastes like rhubarb tops to you then fine. There is no holy-standard, no ‘theory of everything” in the cigar world. As such, respect must be given to all of those who put voice to the analysis of a cigar. Through thoughtful training of the palate we hope to transform it into a precision instrument, capable of detecting minute hints of familiar flavors in the ephemeral smoke of a fine cigar. But until we all get there, one man’s sea turtle roe may be another man’s rhubarb tops; and there’s nothing wrong with that.