Below is some great advice from the Q & A column of Cigar.com's weekly newsletter, August 18, 2003 issue (newsletter to which I subscribe and receive via e-mail). I chose not to include this in the Friday Smokeasy Q & A posts, as this was not a question that has ever been asked of me. However, the question asked is a very good one, and I believe the response is excellent and worth posting here at Smokeasy.
As some cigar descriptions include "recommended for a refined palate", the question posed to Cigar.com was "How do I refine my palate". The response is as follows:
First, refining your palate takes a lot of time. It isn't something that just happens in one day. Your first steps should be to burn through an incredibly wide variety of cigars, even cigars you know you don't enjoy or cigars you think you won't enjoy based on preconceived notions. As you puff on your cigars, thoroughly focus on the experience and draw them slowly and deliberately. Don't just draw the smoke into your palate and exhale, but hold the smoke in your mouth, swirl it around, chew it, and pay attention to how it affects your tongue, not what it tastes like. Don't worry about tasting "hints of cocoa, espresso, or earth." Focus on noticing if the smoke seems sweet, salty, or acidic. Does it burn or tickle your throat? Is the smoke thick or light? Does it make your eyes water when cycling through your nostrils? Is it spicy? How would you imagine it tastes after years of proper aging? If you think about those sorts of questions, then finding the "flavors" described in reviews you read will come with ease as your brain will associate those sweet, acidic, salty nuances with foods you're familiar with. Believe it or not, when a "cigar offers hints of cocoa," it doesn't really taste like cocoa. That's an association your brain makes.
In between puffs, drink some seltzer water, lemon water, or eat a sliver of ginger to cleanse your palate so you can really understand how the cigar changes as the blend burns. Practice these methods with each and every cigar you burn, and over time, you'll find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with cigar reviews and their reviewers, rather than just listening to what is being said. You'll find yourself no longer just looking at a cigar's wrapper and making a preconceived judgment, and you'll realize no one can properly review a cigar after just one inch of burning. And finally, the day you read a respected cigar review, then automatically think to yourself, "Well, I'm going to try this cigar and make my own assessment" ... that's the day you'll know you refined your palate.
Again, excellent advice by Cigar.com! I've been smoking cigars for over 20 years now - I firmly believe I've developed quite a palate for cigars over that time, but I STILL have a long way to go and the development and refinement of my palate continues to be a work in progress. Remember, to distinguish most flavors, the brain needs information about both smell and taste, which are communicated to the brain from the nose and mouth - which is why retrohaling will help refine the palate (check How Does That Cigar REALLY Taste? posted October 2012).
I'm having a fantastic time refining my palate in attempts to take my cigar experiences to the next level - and of course, share them with you!