Have you ever had your favorite cigar and enjoyed the nuanced tasting notes only to have it taste completely different or even bland the next time you try it? Perhaps the aroma has changed and something seems off about your smoke. You may be the victim of palate or olfactory fatigue! To get the fullest flavor out of your premium hand rolled cigar, cleanse your palate so the flavors of the smoke roll over your taste buds and waft through your nose. What you eat, drink, and smell from the environment you’re smoking in can affect the nuances of your cigar to some degree.
The Science About Taste and Smell
The human tongue is made out of receptors we call taste buds which look like small bumps. These bumps contain papillae that are specifically shaped to receive only certain structures. Think of them as shaped containers that can only contain one shape. If a container can only hold a square object, then a circular object will not fit in. When the papillae acclimate to a specific structure they send a signal to your brain telling it something is sweet, sour, salty, bitter, or savory (or umami). With all of these combined, we receive the signal of what the brain perceives as flavor.
In addition to that, when you chew food or, in our case, smoke a cigar, these structures also travel their way up to your olfactory sensors in the uppermost part of your nose. These sensors also send signals to your brain and when mixed with the signals from your taste buds they tell the brain what flavor you’re experiencing.
So whether you get cocoa notes while smoking a maduro or sweet cream notes from a Connecticut your taste buds and olfactory sensors are receiving certain structures and telling your brain the closest thing akin with which you’re most familiar.
Taste, Smell and Smoking Cigars
If you’re smoking the same cigar day after day or even different cigars one after another your sense of taste and smell can become overloaded. Tasting similar things over and over again may cause your brain to become dull to the signals your tongue or nose are sending.
For example: if you burn toast you will smell it immediately and your brain will tell you something is burning. After throwing the toast in the trash, the smell will linger but after a while your brain will forget or block out the signals that say something is burning. If you leave the room and come back, the smell of bad cooking will be fresh in your mind.
Thankfully, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you freshen your palate and experience your favorite cigars as if you were experiencing them for the first time.
Cleanse Your Palate and Taste Buds
Room temperature water helps hydrate and refresh your taste buds. If you drink cold water, it will shrink your receptors and impede the papillae from grabbing on to flavor particulates. The more they can grab, the more intense the flavor.
Not only does sparkling water help to hydrate your mouth, the carbonation can stimulate the tongue, allowing your taste buds to get ready to receive more flavors.
The acidity in coffee helps cut through flavors lingering in the mouth. Black coffee is best as cream or milk can coat the tongue in fats that can mess with what you’re tasting in your smoke. The bitterness in coffee can also help contrast certain flavor notes. Sometimes a brew can overlap with the coffee notes in cigars and highlight other flavors like cocoa or caramel. The aroma of coffee can also clear out your olfactory senses. You will often find coffee beans in a jar at cologne stores to help freshen your sense of smell.
Much like tobacco, tea leaves are grown in similar conditions and left to dry and age like cigars. It’s the same with coffee. The acidity improves your ability to taste cigars. Try pairing the color of your tea with the color of your cigar wrapper. The two complement each other’s taste. If you’re smoking a bold maduro, go for some black tea. A fun combination to try is light green tea with candelas. Again, the smell of tea can freshen the old sniffer right up.
Similar to coffee and tea, drinks with lemon or lime help freshen your taste buds. Citrus preps your taste buds to take in more flavors. You can also add a slice of lemon or lime to your water, sparkling water, or tea. This improves the palate cleansing power.
That pile of pink pickled ginger on your sushi plate isn’t just for show. Eating pickled ginger in between bites of your nigiri washes the palate. It prepares your tongue to taste the subtleties of the fish you’re eating. If eating pickled anything sounds gross while smoking, try ginger ale or ginger beer instead. The spiciness can complement the pepper notes in a Habano wrapped cigar.
Apparently, mixing espresso or coffee with sparkling mineral water is a thing. Is it a good thing? That’s subjective. However, it makes for an interesting experience when puffing on a good cigar. The fizzy acidity works wonders on the taste buds. Again, the aroma of coffee helps with the ol’ olfactory sensors. Speaking of which…
Cleanse Your Palate and Olfactory Senses
Eighty percent of taste is mostly what we smell. Something that comes to mind is retrohaling. Retrohaling is when you take a puff and let it roll around your mouth for about 10 seconds. Then, you blow it out through your nose. When you retrohale, you find different aromas that aren’t as pronounced on the tongue. Here are two sure fire ways to cleanse your nostrils of stagnant smoke that aren’t already mentioned above.
Cleanse Your Palate with Fresh air
If you’re in a lounge or a smoking den, no matter how well ventilated it is, the scent of cigars will still linger in the air. This can be especially true with flavored or infused cigars. Remember when you burnt your toast earlier? It’s the same idea. Simply get up and get a little breather outside. Getting some fresh air resets your brain from the constant stimulation it’s getting when sitting in a room.
Cleanse Your Palate with Your Own Skin
Another easy way to refresh your olfactory sensors is to smell your own skin, but only if you’re not wearing cologne. If you’re in a lounge or smoking in a room you shouldn’t smell of cologne anyway as the scents can horribly affect your cigar experience as well as others who are present. Don’t be “that guy”. This is another good way to ruin your cigar experience. If you’re not that guy, smelling the crook of your elbow or the skin on your arm provides your brain with what it’s already familiar with: your own scent.
Cleansing Your Palate When All Else Fails…
If you’ve tried everything and your cigars taste bland, then your palate may be burnt out. To help repair your senses, eat bland tasting foods for a week or two. Unsalted water crackers are good for this and, for this reason, many often pair them with cheese and wine. Plain oatmeal or whole grain bread also helps your taste buds refresh. Plus, you should be eating these anyway as they’re good for you and heart healthy.
If your sticks are starting to taste samey samey, these tips and tricks will help out. Your tongue and nose will thank you and those cigars will taste better with a cleansed palate. Try some of these methods before smoking your after-dinner cigar! Protip: if you ate something fatty, like a good steak, try to order a lemon sorbet if you can. It’s a good dessert as well as a good palate cleanser.
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