“The mouth should not serve gossip, but taste the sweetness of life”, the Persian poet Rumi once said so aptly. For passionals, these words ring particularly true, as good conversation and the deliciously sweet enjoyment of a premium cigar often go hand in hand. Finding a cigar that “ tastes good” to us is praised as a goal worth striving for. Yes “taste” cannot be universally defined: it is the very differentiation of perceptions that provides for discussion.
The fact is that the gustatory perception of humans, meaning what we taste, offers a very limited palette: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. The colourful variety of description, full of floral associations and splendid analogies to tropical woods or pepper blossoms, originates merely from olfactory perception – sometimes even from fantasy. Finally, both impressions are almost inseparable, and are woven together by our brain to form an overall sensory impression.
The analysis and enjoyment of an exquisite cigar, however, requires a sensibility for detecting subtle impressions. The deceptive misinterpretation of aroma or taste can lead to cross contamination, which can pre influence or confuse us. Especially with taste, the fuzziness of the cosmos of descriptive vocabulary becomes apparent. Sweet, sour peppery – all common characteristics when describing a cigar. Yet sweet does not have to be sweet at all. Just as pepper in retrohale is entirely different from just a note of spice on the palate.
A simple example; If we pick up fine citrus scents, this immediately tempts us to look for a sour sensation on the palate as well. However, these two impressions are fundamentally different in their appeal, and do not necessarily have to occur together or be mutually dependent.
On the contrary, a cigar can offer aromas of grapefruit or orange, but at the same time taste sweet and mineral salty without any acidity. The critical observation of sensory impressions presents us with the constant challenge of forming a tonal impression from the delicate nuances of the smoke. Scent and taste are two separate instruments, although they are part of the overall sensory orchestra.
For many , the nesting becomes most obvious when it comes to sweets. Vanilla , gingerbread spice, cinnamon or chocolate are deeply anchored in our memory and sensory database. For the most part, they are experienced as positive – they have a sweet connotation and consequently evoke these very associations when we encounter the scent again.
The volatile molecules that trigger an olfactory stimulus occur independently of the corresponding sugar, amino acid or alcohol particles, which are interpreted as sweet by the taste buds.
To make a clear distinction and better differentiate these two channels of perception, we recommend this simple exercise: hold your nose. If the aroma fades, the naked picture of the gustatory system is revealed. Often, one is even surprised at how little taste suddenly remains: the well known but little loved accompaniment of a cold.
Another fallacy presents itself with peppery scents. They all too often collide with a falsely assumed spiciness of the tongue. A cigar does not have to smell spicy because it has pepper aromas, just as it does not have to smell like chilli ginger or allspice to be spicy or hot on the palate. Underlying this is an additional sensory dimension, that of tactile, or trigeminal, stimuli. Tingling pungency, cooling ethereality, dry leaf astringency these are all irritative properties based on chemical stimuli chiselled by the trigeminal nerve.
Together with aromas and flavours, they are essential components of the holistic perception we identify as the cigar experience. Creamy buttery mouthfeel need not be accompanied by caramel, milky cream aromas; equally a flattering cappuccino aroma does not mean that the cigar plays softly, smoothly or round on the palate. Being alert and able to discriminate between these sensory perceptions is as exciting a learning process as it is a useful tool in the analytical consideration of a wide variety of cigar moments.
In the interplay of scent, taste and trigeminal perception lies the greatest whole, which we all too often and carelessly abbreviate as ‘tasty’ or ‘not tasty’. But Rumi already knew that the mouth should not serve mere chatter, but the tasting of the sweet secrets of life.