Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cigar Tasting: 31 Flavors and Counting

Ever read cigar reviews and the cigar is described as chocolaty, earthy, or leathery and spicy, or creamy and nutty? And those are just a few of the major descriptors. Sometimes when I read those reviews while smoking that same cigar, I taste something dissimilar from what the reviewer has written. How valid are the use of these flavor descriptors when reviewing a cigar? Tobacco tastes like tobacco, right? In my opinion I think these reviews are valid, but not completely.

There are three major aspects that affect a cigar’s flavor profile; the type of tobacco seed, the region that the seed is grown, and the cigar’s blend. There are many types of tobacco seeds used in the industry. Some of the most well know being Cuban, Habano, Connecticut, Criollo, Corojo, and Cameroon. And there are new hybrid seeds being created all the time through cross pollination. All these seeds will produce a different type of tobacco leaf with differing flavor profiles.

The region a seed is grown in will also greatly affect the flavor. This is due to differences in soil, whether it is sandy, marshy, volcanic, rocky, and so on. The regions cloud cover and annual rainfall will also greatly affect the tobacco. A Connecticut seed grown in Connecticut will taste different from a Connecticut seed grown in Honduras. Even within the same country, differing soils and weather patterns exist. The same seed grown in two different fields will yield slightly and sometimes greatly varying flavor profiles.

The cigar’s blend will also affect the flavor profile of a cigar. The various types of tobaccos that make up a cigar work together to give the cigar its unique profile. The cigar’s filler is made up of Seco, Volado, and Ligero, all of which may come from the same plant or from various plants from different regions. A cigar’s flavors can be drastically changed just by changing the type of wrapper leaf.

A cigar’s flavor comes from the seed, the region, and the blend. So, how do we decide a cigar tastes creamy with overtones of coffee bean and a subtle hint of cinnamon? Taste is subjective and cigars have these extreme differences in flavors, and we can’t make up words to describe these tastes, so we fall back on what is termed “sense memory.” Sense memory is the brain’s catalog of all the smells and tastes you have experienced, so when you are smoking a cigar and a certain flavor is tasted, the brain tries to interpret that flavor against its sense memory. Whatever that flavor reminds you of is the flavor of that cigar. I have smoked a cigar that reminded me of steak. Not well done, but a rich slightly sweet medium-rare steak. Others have told me that that same cigar reminds them of dry roasted coffee. So who is right? We both are. The cigar ratings and tastings, even though they are sometimes overboard in their descriptions, are legitimate. But they are also opinion. Have fun using your sense memory when picking out the various flavors of the cigar. You can’t be wrong; it’s your cigar.

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