The concept of taste is one that has perplexed scientists and consumers alike for many years. It’s a moving target, if you will, that is hard to isolate in order to experiment with controlled variables. Each taster is a person that brings a unique set of criteria to every situation that must be tasted.
When it comes to cigars, we’ve found that there’s a significant correlation to these factors when it comes to fully tasting and enjoying the different cigar flavors: climate, environment, mood, diet, and your body. Each of these factors greatly impact how a cigar tastes in the moment and it’s important to understand how each of these may affect you and your cigar.
Of course, each of these below assume that you consistently cut and light your cigar properly and avoid some of the classic mistakes. To aid in your quest of discovering what affects the taste of a cigar, we're linking several previous articles for you to digest throughout this post.
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In the U.S., we’re privileged to have a wide range of climates to choose from. From the humidity in the south to the dry heat of the west, our cigars will smoke differently according to climate we’re in.
Too dry or too humid climates increase the perception of bitterness in a cigar in different ways. In a dry part of the world, your cigar may burn a little hotter and faster than usual. One tip to overcome this is to smoke at a slower pace if you’re in a dryer climate. Another is to pay attention to your humidity: whereas more humid areas prefer a lower humidity percentage for storage, dryer areas may prefer to keep their humidors a few points higher.
In a humid area, cigars take on more moisture and can become bitter and/or hard to keep lit. In both cases, it’s easy to assume that the cigar is to blame when, in fact, it’s an uncooperative climate. For humid areas, it’s recommended to store your cigars at a lower percentage. Broadleaf may require additional dry boxing, as it’s a thicker leaf and holds more moisture.
The ability to taste also suffers when we’re not comfortable. If we’re too cold, too hot, or too sweaty it impacts our mood and has a tendency to change our perception of cigar flavors.
Let’s face it: the busier we are, the less we’re able to concentrate on the things we enjoy. Cigars are no different, and our ability to fully taste something and enjoy it depends on how much of our attention we’re able to devote to the experience.
A cigar that you enjoy on your backporch may not deliver the same experience in your favorite lounge. Conversation always trumps quiet speculation, and the human body can only focus on so many things at once. Likewise, smoking with or around other people makes it harder to discern specific cigar flavors while their smoke clouds (pun intended) your senses.
And the smells coming from your environment will also change the perception of your cigar. Popular Science did a study in 2014 that noted participants who described a particular scotch as grassy when tasted while in a grassy environment while describing it as woodsy or sweet in different environments.
Did you know that mood considerably affects your likes and dislikes? Smoking with friends and celebrating are two of the most gratifying ways to enjoy a cigar. It’s also one of the easiest identifiers to explain why a cigar that was previously superb is now only mediocre.
Imagine that you’re celebrating marrying the woman of your dreams, smoking with Kyle Gellis while touring TABSA, or sending a buddy off to the military with one last smoke session in the back yard. Cigars are meant to celebrate those situations, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a cigar that doesn’t enhance the memory. That same cigar, however, may not meet your high expectations again when you get a fiver in the mail without those endorphins.
To illustrate just how much mood can affect your tastes, Oxford University found that participants consistently tasted different things when sampling wines in red rooms, green rooms, etc. And, even colorblind participants in this study experienced different flavors with the same wines when paired with different music.
Most reviewers are encouraged to review a cigar before consuming any food or beverages because our taste buds become duller after meals. FONA International, an organization that leads the flavoring industry, says that we’re desensitized for up to four hours afterward. Conversely, hunger tends to make things taste both sweeter and saltier.
Additionally, those that consume sweeter foods in general may have less ability to detect sweeter tasting notes in general than those that abstain from sweets more often. And reduction of other foods causes similar sensitivies: lots of people have reported that abstaining from wheat makes them uncomfortable when walking past the bread aisle at the grocery store. The smell of wheat products may become very strong when it’s no longer part of your diet.
Dieting? Expect your sense of smell and taste to be different from what you’re used to. It’s neither good nor bad, but something to be aware of when reflecting on your cigar tastes. Food affects our pH balance, and our specific pH balance changes how we perceive cigar flavors as well as foods in general.
And if you've eaten pine nuts within the last 12-48 hours, you may experience Pine Mouth: a residual metallic taste with many things that you taste. Similarly, other foods can change your perception of taste for shorter or longer periods of time.
Much like how what you eat affects your tasting experience, your physical body plays a large role as well. Obese individuals, older generations, and diseased people all report decreased sensitivity to certain foods. Or, it may be something as minor as your sinuses behaving differently during temperature or humidity changes in your climate.
In dryer climates, our sinuses can become inflamed and reduce our ability to taste as well as our sense of smell. One way to overcome this challenge is to use a Neti Pot to rinse the sinuses thereby reducing inflammation and flushing out the nasal pathways. A nasal rinse in a can can also be a quick solution in most situations.
Sinuses and our sense of smell is a large part of how we perceive flavors because taste is a cooperative venture between our tongue and our nose. For instance, the next time you eat a meal, pinch your nose together and see how well you can taste a known food.
And it's true that none of these factors exist in a vacuum: climate may affect your environment which may impact your mood and alter your diet which can ultimately change your body. The interplay of these dynamics is what makes cigars and people so fascinating, and also what makes it hard to pinpoint when a cigar just doesn't taste right.
Cigars are often revisited over months or years and our bodies, diet, mood, environment, and climate change over time. If you notice a particularly unusual experience with a cigar that you usually enjoy, it’s possible that one or more of these factors have changed. We encourage you to give that cigar another chance in the future so that you don’t rule out a cigar that you might otherwise enjoy regularly because of a one-time experience.