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Taste and Flavor

Each country's cigar production has its own taste and character. Cigars are made all over the world, with tobacco grown in different soils, cured by different processes, and rolled with different techniques, each element contributing to the taste and flavor of individual brands and types. The various tastes and flavors in cigars are not found by any objective measurement derived from a careful analysis of the cigar. Instead, taste and flavor vary from person to person and, in fact, may even be different between two of the same cigar. You may find that Mexican cigars are too sweet and spicy, or the Jamaican too mild, you might love the complexities of the Nicaraguan or the good old medium strength Connecticut variety. Itís your palate, only you can decide what you like! Just because I found a cigar to have a wood flavor doesn't necessarily mean that you should as well. The flavor of some cigars can be a bit difficult to describe while others have a taste that everyone will recognize.
According to some, there are only four basic tastes that the mouth is able to discern: sweet, sour, salty and bitter, and that every other taste is merely a combination of these four.

Talking about the taste of cigars requires that you sit down with a great cigar and smoke it from beginning to end. This method because they have all learned by experience, by doing and by smoking. And to them, there is more to it than putting a cigar in your mouth-taste means using all of your senses. Sight, touch, smell, taste and, yes, even hearing play a role in cigar smoking. Cigar should be listened to as you roll it between your fingers to determine the moisture content of the wrapper.

On a more serious note, you should know that there are a few factors about a cigar that contribute to its taste and flavor

The Wrapper - The appearance and feel of the cigar wrapper tell a story about taste. And while wrapper alone cannot make or break a cigar, even before you light up, seeing and feeling a wrapper with nice silky oil-indicative of proper humidification-and without visual blemishes can give you certain expectations, though wrapper appearance will vary depending upon where the leaf was grown. The best wrappers from Cuba are indeed like silk, with exceedingly close cell structure; they don't feel like vegetable matter because their surface is so smooth. They also possess an elasticity and strength often lacking in wrapper leaves from other countries. By contrast, Cameroon wrapper shows oil in its bumpy surface, called tooth in the tobacco industry. These bumps are a good sign that great taste and aroma will follow, even if the texture of the leaf isn't silky. Wrappers from Connecticut and Ecuador are somewhat close in surface texture, though not in color. Better Ecuadorian leaf has fewer teeth, is smooth to the touch and has a matte-like appearance. Connecticut wrapper shows more color depth, a bit more tooth and a nice shine.
Despite the differences in the way oil appears, oil in wrapper leaf indicates that the cigar has been well humidified (oil secretes from tobacco at 70 to 72 percent humidity) and that the smoke should be relatively cool. A cool smoke is a tastier one, because your nose and mouth can pick up more nuance than just hot, carbonized tobacco flavor. If you don't see any cracks or ripples in the surface of the wrapper leaf, you also know that the cigar wasn't exposed to cycles of over-humidification and excessive dryness. This, too, is important. If the cigar is forced through rapid cycles of expansion and contraction, the internal construction is destroyed. A cigar with internal damage will smoke unevenly, or "plug," drawing unevenly. This may still occur due to faulty construction, but your chances are better with a perfect wrapper than with a broken one.

The Filler - The cigar filler is arguably the most complex component of the cigar. It can be blended with other types of tobacco to create different flavors and strengths, or can be entirely made from one kind of tobacco (like many Mexican cigars). Mexican tobacco leaf itself is quite light, but when coupled with the dark Maduro wrapper leaf it will actually be quite a spicy smoke.
If you are after a milder smoke the Jamaican might just be for you. The tobacco that Jamaica produces is lighter than other regions and the cigars are excellent if you are just beginning, or have a more delicate palate. But perhaps the most sought after is a leaf grown in a volcanic region of Cuba called Vuelta Abajo. It is strong, sweet and smooth by degrees; it makes for a very nice filler and is truly an excellent smoke.

The Ash - After lighting your cigar, you can make additional visual evaluations. First, look at the ash. According to most cigar experts, a white ash is better than a gray one. This is not merely an aesthetic issue, either. He says that certain manipulations of soil can be made through fertilization, but if too much magnesium (a key ingredient in producing white ash) is added to the mix, the ash will flake, and nobody wants a messy cigar, even if the ash is white. Of course, ash is not something you taste or smell, but a gray ash indicates that the soil was lacking certain key nutrients, leaving the cigar with insubstantial body, or perhaps little complexity-resulting in a lesser smoke.

Burn Rate - A final visual cue is the burn rate. You can taste a cigar that is burning improperly because an uneven burn distorts the flavor of the blend. Simply put, a cigar is designed to burn evenly. A cigar is constructed to burn different tobaccos throughout the length of the smoke. A cigar may start off mild, grow stronger, or change in some other way, and these changes are attributable to the location of different tobaccos in the cigar structure. An uneven burn sets these intended taste changes on edge. Perhaps a "tunneling" effect will occur, with one side of the cigar burning while the other stagnates. If this occurs the draw will be uneven, the smoke may become very strong, and the taste in your mouth becomes overwrought with a single signature-and a one-dimensional taste is far less interesting than a multifaceted one.

Flavors by Region - The origin of your cigar may well affect the body and strength of the smoke you experience. Cigars from Cuba (illegal in the USA), Nicaragua and Mexico have a strong, full-bodied flavor and will mostly be dark in appearance. Nicaraguan cigars will be milder than that, giving a medium strength smoke, though you will find that the mildest cigars generally come from Jamaica. The majority of the tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic has been from Cuban seed. You will find cigars from this area to be full-bodied with complex flavors. Ecuadorian Cigars are milder, but also of high quality. They use a mixture of tobacco grown from seed found in Connecticut and Sumatra. Like the Cuban, Nicaraguan cigars are full-bodied and spicy. Mexican cigars are famous for being sun-grown and often have a very dark wrapper, like the maduro. You will find that the filler is often wholly made from home-grown San Andreas tobacco. The USA produces some excellent leaf-wrap. It is grown in Connecticut, the home of the American cigar. These cigars have a medium level smoke and are recognizable from their brownish yellow appearance. Cameroon produce a neutrally flavored leaf; an excellent match when couple with fuller flavored fillers.

Epilogue - Taste and smell are almost inseparable sensations. While some people may have more highly developed perceptions of taste or smell, nearly everyone agrees that clogged sinuses hamper their ability to taste. Basically, when you can't smell, half of your "taste buds" are missing, especially in cigar smoking, because you're not eating the smoke, but smelling it. To sum up, the flavor and taste of a cigar come from the quality of the wrapper, ash color, burn rate, and the overall complexity of what you taste from the smoke itself. How you describe the flavors, though, is entirely up to you.
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