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How Does That Cigar REALLY Taste?

How does that cigar really taste? Do you really know? Are you truly experiencing ALL of what that cigar has to offer?

One of my favorite cigar-related quotes is from the late Zino Davidoff, who stated that "A cigar ought not to be smoked solely with the mouth, but with the hand, the eyes, and with the spirit." In addition to the fact that a cigar may provide a meditative and spirtual experience, the pleasure is truly maximized when all of one's senses are stimulated. The visual aesthetics of a beautifully constructed cigar includes its size, shape, and color of the wrapper; however, the burn, the ash length, and billowing smoke provides a truly relaxing effect as well. Not only does our sense of touch determine the comfort of a cigar in our hands and in our mouth, but our fingers can help us to determine if a cigar has been stored at the proper level of humidification by virtue of its construction, firmness, and silkiness of the wrapper.

Time should be taken when smoking a cigar, it deserves attention in efforts to experience the nuances of its flavor - relishing in its combinations and complexity. The smoke is the key to the flavor, which is why cigar smokers never inhale - the smoke is held in the mouth for a moment and then exhaled slowly. Take the time to enjoy the aroma of the smoke and allow the taste buds to differentiate the tastes.

Our sense of taste (also known as gustation) exceeds the taste buds on our tongues, which are limited to sensing the tastes of saltiness, sweetness, sourness, and bitterness. Our sense of smell (also known as olfaction) allows our sense of taste (or palate) to distinguish between different tastes - which is why it is challenging to taste anything when your nasal passage is obstructed. For this reason, the optimal way to truly taste a cigar is to "retrohale", or exhale the smoke through the nose. To understand the concept of retrohaling, one must understand the connection between gustation and olfaction.

To distinguish most flavors, the brain needs information about both smell and taste, which are communicated to the brain from the nose and mouth. Several areas of the brain integrate the information, enabling people to recognize and appreciate flavors. The olfactory membrane is a small area on the mucous lining of the nose that contains specialized nerve receptors with tiny hairlike projections (cilia) that detect odors. When airborne molecules enter the nasal passage and stimulate the cilia, they trigger a nerve impulse in nearby olfactory nerves (the nerves of smell). The olfactory nerves extend upward through the bone forming the roof of the nasal cavity and connect to enlargements of nerve cells called the olfactory bulbs, which sends impulses to the brain that are interpreted as a distinct odor.

Taste is perceived and affected by two distinct ways in which we smell - by orthonasal olfaction (smell originating from the perception of odors originating from the nose) and retronasal olfaction (smell originating from the perception of odors originating from the mouth).

The aroma of a cigar is appreciated from the billow of cigar smoke that enters the nose directly by orthonasal olfaction. Retronasal olfaction is compounded with gustation. The number of airborne molecules or aroma particles that reach the olfactory bulb via retronasal olfaction is much smaller than the amount via orthonasal olfaction. Channeling the cigar smoke up into and through the nasal passages and expelling the smoke through the nose significantly increases the number of aroma particles that reach the olfactory bulb. This method of "retrohaling" employs both types of olfaction and allows you to experience the complexities and flavors of an exquisite cigar.

Since our taste buds are only sensitive to sweet, salty, bitter, and sour, the notes of spiciness, leather, nuttiness, or fruitiness experienced from a cigar are not detected by taste buds, but are more likely results of retronasal olfaction. For this reason, "retrohaling" intensifies or amplifies certain cigar flavors that may not have been detected by simply holding smoke in the mouth for a moment and subsequently blowing it out. How do you "retrohale"?

  1. Draw some cigar smoke into your mouth.

  2. Close your mouth and hold your breath.

  3. Open your throat and force the smoke out through your nose by using your diaphragm muscle to help direct the air through your nasal passage (much like you would do underwater to let air out of your lungs).

Consider blowing out about 75% of the smoke through your mouth first, then "retrohale" the remaining smoke until you get the hang of it. Depending on the cigar, I've found that "retrohaling" all of the smoke at once may be slightly irritating; however, I've been able to unlock some serious flavors by blowing out most of the smoke through the mouth first, then "retrohaling" the rest. I generally "retrohale" every 3rd or 4th puff - try it out first , then establish your own smoking pattern. does that cigar REALLY taste? Well, try "retrohaling" to experience the variety of flavors that the cigar has to offer and maximize your pleasure!

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