Of Cigar Tasting : The Olfactory and Gustatory Senses


You might have noted, in the language of cigar tasting, that the olfactory and gustatory senses are key. Tasters frequently use the term organoleptic, which refers to all the attributes that can be perceived by the senses.

In order to fully appreciate our cigar, we use all our senses, and more.

In fact, the sensory world goes beyond the 5 common senses: we don’t only look, touch, listen to, smell or taste a cigar. We also feel the effects of external conditions such as temperature, sounds, social atmosphere, …. Needless to say that we better are in a good physical condition to enjoy a cigar. Tasting a good cigar may improve our mood, but if we are in a bad mood we risk to negatively affect our experience.

I would like to share the olfactory and gustatory language that we adopt at Cigar Sense. In other words, on how we call what we perceive with our nose and with our mouth when tasting a fine cigar.

Scents, Aromas, Tastes…

Most cigar lovers (87% based on an informal survey conducted by Cigar Sense in 2014) find that flavors are the most important criteria for them to choose new cigars to try. Of course, once we have a good set of fine cigars that we want to try, which we selected based on our personal taste, then many other factors come into play: how much time we can set aside to enjoy our cigar, in which moment of the day we want to smoke, the drink we wanted to try for a long time, … you name it.

But now, let’s deep-dive into a first step and consider the role of our nose and palate in the tasting of a cigar.

When we smell a cigar before lighting it, we talk about scents, or raw aromas or odors. When the cigar is lit, we perceive aromas.

All can be perceived in two different ways:

  • directly (direct olfaction), as we approach our nose to the cigar. This can be in the case of the raw or of the lit cigar.
  • indirectly (retro-olfaction): this means perceiving the aromas through the smoke (or the air, in the case of the raw cigar) that we push from within our mouth up toward the nose cavity.

Flavor is a complex combination of scents and aromas that have one characteristic: they are perceived in retro-olfaction.

When we hold the smoke of the cigar in our mouth, we perceive aromas through the nose, but we also have perceptions in our mouth and palate. At this point, it is common to simplify the verbiage and define as tastes not only the basic tastes, but also the tactile (palate) perceptions or mouthfeel.

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