It’s a Matter of Taste

We frequently get calls from our customers inquiring as to whether a particular blend has been changed because, to that person, it doesn’t taste right anymore. This may have happened to you, so let’s look at that phenomenon.

First of all, sometimes blends do change. The manufacturer may not be able to get the same leaf that they previously used, or they may have to buy the flavoring from a different maker. This doesn’t happen often, but it can. More likely, if the blend has really changed it’s because of crop differences from one year to the next, and the fewer tobaccos used in a blend, the more likely you are to notice it. If I had one of the tobaccos in Stogie change a bit, it would be hard to tell because there are seven different components, but if McClelland had a crop variance when making 5100, which uses red Virginia, the change would be apparent. The point is that you could be right. Then again…

Most tobaccos are pretty consistent, and the manufacturers are very good at what they do. They can make minute adjustments in a blend to cover crop changes, and they tend to buy from the same sources year after year. If that’s the case, why do tobaccos seem to taste different? There are a number of causes which you might not even think of.

Illness- Any number of maladies can throw your taste off, especially if they affect your sinuses. Since your sense of smell is a good portion of taste, sinus issues will change they way everything tastes. But there’s another way illness can affect your palate, because you may have to take…

Medicines- Certain medications can severely affect your ability to taste. Antibiotics and medicines containing minerals, as well as vitamins and supplements can alter tastes and aromas. Sometimes after a few days of taking them you’ll adapt and everything goes back to normal, but some can change your palate until you stop taking them.

Food and Drink- There are certain foods and beverages that will throw off your tastebuds. Sometimes it’s because the flavors are so strong or pungent that they linger, and vapors will get into your sinuses. Until they dissipate, your sense will be off. Others will work by isolating your tongue from the source of flavor. Foods that have a high fat or oil content can coat your tongue which will dull your ability to detect flavors. Milk, ice cream, cheese, certain fishes and meats (like bacon, unfortunately) can cause this problem.

The Environment- If there are scents in the air while you’re smoking, they will cause your tastes to change. Even the moisture content of the air will affect your taste.

Time- It’s inevitable that your own tastes will change. When you were a kid, you may have been an absolute fiend for peanut butter, but you may not crave it anymore. Why? Who knows? When I first started smoking pipes and cigars, I preferred mild aromatics and Cameroon-wrapped cigars. Now I generally enjoy blends that are more Orientals-forward and spicy, heavy-duty Nicaraguan cigars. Maybe the tastebuds become dulled by exposure to the same flavors all the time, or there might be body chemistry changes. In any case, it happens, so it may be time to move on to something new.

Heat- Nothing will alter the flavor of tobacco quite as much as smoking too hot. It can cause the flavor to become bitter and/or ashy, and the heat can affect your tongue for quite a while after you’ve finished a bowl.

Pipe Maintenance- Actually, it’s the lack of maintenance that causes this problem. If you don’t clean your pipes regularly, they’ll sometimes sour to the point where tobaccos don’t taste right. Also, smoking a strongly flavored blend other than your regular choice can “ghost” a pipe, changing the flavor of the pipe for a number of bowls afterward. You may need to ream back the cake or even do a salt & alcohol cleaning if this happens.

I hope you found this useful.

About Russ

Russ Ouellette is the blender/creator of the Hearth & Home series of tobaccos for in Bethlehem, PA. He has been a pipe smoker and blender for over 30 years, and enjoys feedback from the pipe smoking public. You can reach Russ at or by calling 1-800-494-9144.