Many Cubans asked what an aged cigar tastes like will respond “sabe a tabaco” (it tastes like tobacco). It seems hard for them to relate to Aficionados making more out of a cigar and sometimes they smile when they see, what process we go thru in cutting and lighting the darn sticks. In short, many people who cultivate and produce Habanos have a very down to earth relation to the product and find things strange or amusing when it comes to the enthusiast enjoying a good cigar.
While I must say that this approach really strikes me as straight forward and honest I do share the enthusiasts view that there is more about a Cuban Cigar than just tobacco itself. When it comes to “tasting” a cigar I like to refer myself to tastes described in a so called tasting wheel because I can relate easily to many of them. Plus it makes it easier to express myself and to be understood by fellow smokers when I rave about a good cigar. I am sure you have heard expressions like “almond”, “toasted bread”, “leather”, “pepper” and so on used for describing a cigar. Smoking a cigar while having the tasting wheel in mind somehow “whires and connects” my taste perception and helps me to find more subtle nuances that are difficult to spot or get my finger on them.
I find it remarkable as well that taste perception varies depending on cultural or geographical areas. The best example for me is Umami coming from Japan. Western culture is not so familiar with this taste even though it is one of the five basic tastes. When I was made aware of it and learned what it could be related to in smoking a cigar I was able to pick this Umami taste up. Today I feel that this taste in particular is somehow one of the “taste pillars” that is typical for Cuban cigars. In no other cigar outside of Cuba was I able to pick this up so clearly.
Supposedly it depends on the background each and every one has. While I say the Saint Luis Rey Double Coronas has hints of ginger bread others can be more precise by tasting nutmeg, star anis and dried ginger. While tasting can be trained or learned over the years I do believe in the theory of super taster and that certain people have the ability to store and remember tastes similar as to having a photographic memory. But no matter how good your experience or given skills are, I am always amazed on how odors and tastes bring back memories related to it in a blink of an eye. It’s like a direct high speed connection between the nose and the stored memory in our brain. I remember as well German author Hermann Hesse writing about this in “Das Glasperlenspiel” or was it “Narzis und Goldmund”? Sometimes I take a puff and I am reminded of that Romeo y Julietta Tubo No. 3, that my brother was smoking back than in his apartment. He was letting me try it from time to time and after experimenting with a few cigars from all over the world, this was the night I knew I would not want to smoke something else than Habanos.
Of course there is the aspect of aging cigars, resp. how that affects the taste of cigar. I read in Davidoffs cigar brevet that he once had three gentlemen in his shop and while they smoked cigars they would call out Vegas from where the tobacco in the cigar was. He was most impressed and I was not believing that this would be possible back than when I read this excellent cigar book. Over the years one picks up things and I participated in blind tastings as well. While many time I miserably failed at this task I believe that it is possible to call out things in a cigar and determine (more or less) its age. Not only does the Cuban Cigar develop during is smoking time the aging is yet another dimension that makes this product so terribly interesting. Let alone that a proper Cuban Cigar develops thru its smoking time
Another thing that has a strong influence in the taste is the beverage or even food that is enjoyed. While I am not the biggest fan of accompanying food with cigars (and who really is?) a mouse au Chocolat with a H. Upmann Magnum 50 Edicion Limitada from 2005 is a little piece of paradise. More so the beverage is important. It took me a long time before I realized that water was not the best company for a smoke. Sure, it really lets you focus on the cigar itself, but with the ability of alcohol to “release” tastes out of the smoke, it gives the whole thing a much wider perspective. And by today I do like my coffee with a good cigar as well. While I believe that there should be no rules in this area when asked what beverage matches best, I leave it entirely up to personal taste. BTW – in Spanish you call the mixture of a smoke and a drink “maridaje” – part of a good sommelier competitions as well
Last but not least the native people that smoked tobacco believed it is a way to get in touch with spirits. Was it because of something tobacco contains (and tastes like) or just because smoking can be relaxing by the simple fact you take your time and enjoy life?