In part one, I explained my theory on cigar and beverage pairings and used some examples to illustrate. In this entry, I’m going to address using beverages to enhance a cigar tasting.
When you’re doing a cigar sampling at a store event, during a herf, or otherwise, the most important thing is to make sure that you can detect the flavor of the cigar cleanly. Using my theory for pairings, however, won’t work very well, as the method I developed is meant to enhance the flavors of both the drink and the smoke. If we do that during a tasting, however, the taste will be distorted enough to become inaccurate, and will give a poor indication of what to expect when you’re just planning on enjoying a stogie.
If you’re intent is to be able to investigate all the gustatory nuances of a cigar, the most important thing is to cleanse the palate between puffs so you can get the true flavor. It’s also a good idea to keep your nose and sinuses clear, as smell is a big part of taste.
Water is the first thought for most people, and it will definitely work, but it isn’t particularly effective. So what would be a good choice to clear the palate? One of my favorite things to drink while I’m doing a review is tea, preferably a simple tea without added flavors (for example, avoid Earl Grey). Plain green tea is one of the best. Avoid adding anything, if you can. Sweeteners will distort the flavors and milk or cream will coat the palate with fats, which will dull the senses.
The reason tea works well is that most are fairly mild in flavor and contain acids and tannins which act as an astringent that will clean the film away from the mucus membranes, allowing your taste buds to be exposed to the smoke. Coffee and soda have acids and/or tannins as well, but the heavier flavors tend to obscure the ability to discern details in the cigar.
Some people like to drink club soda or seltzer for this purpose as well, as the carbonation will also help to cleanse the tongue and mouth. It works quite well, but not for everyone. If you tend to smoke fast or hot, you’ll probably want to avoid carbonation as it will cause a burning sensation on the tongue.
Avoid excessively hot or cold drinks as temperature can change your taste perceptions. Water crackers or saltines can also help to “reset” your taste buds, but always follow up with something to drink to get the salt off your palate.
Finally, to keep your sense of smell more acute, coffee is the answer- not to drink but to inhale. Smelling coffee grounds is the best way to keep your sinuses clear. The best method is to breathe in and out through the nose.
If you approach tasting using these tips, you should always get a good clean impression of the real flavor of a cigar.