We’ve talked fairly extensively in the past about how you can develop your palate to better enjoy the cigar smoking experience. But because taste is such a complicated sensory experience, we feel that deserves even further attention. So today, we’ll take a deeper dive into how your taste as it pertains to cigars can change over time.
In my job, I do a lot of matchmaking. What I mean by that is that I spend a lot of time helping people find the right cigar for their unique taste profile. This may sound like a thankless job, but in truth it’s one of my favorite parts about it. Probably what makes it so rewarding is the fact that it’s also challenging, especially considering that taste profiles don’t last forever—and what I recommend to someone today is more than likely to change as time goes by. Tastes change, and sometimes dramatically. Guiding people to finding something new that they can enjoy is important and vital.
Let’s break this down a little…
Taste is mostly experienced in the mouth, but it’s actually the result of your taste buds, your sensory systems, and your nose working together to communicate to your brain whether you like a certain taste or not. There are three key factors that determine this: age, experience, and diet.
The average person is born with about ten thousand taste buds. These taste buds die off and grow back every few weeks, like many cells in your body. But by the time you hit forty years of age, your taste buds begin to grow back at a slower pace. When it comes to cigars, the more time passes, the more you may start to enjoy more bland flavors. At the same time, other people may begin to demand bolder flavors. Our bodies are highly intelligent. You probably remember being a kid and appreciating sweet, creamy, and salty foods over vegetables. There are two main reasons for this. First, when we’re kids, our bodies are attempting to protect us from toxins while building up our developing immune systems. That’s why green veggies taste extra bitter. On the other hand, fruit sweetness tells the body the food is likely high in nutrients and will provide you with the necessary energy for development. This is the reason why adults thrive on more protein and veggies versus the copious amounts of sugar we desire as kids. As we grow, so does our body’s needs, and our taste buds evolve to match those needs. Your body has a natural waiting period when new tastes are introduced. Before your body will accept a new taste, it first tries to assess whether you have an intolerance for what you’re ingesting, like weeding out toxins or things you may be allergic to. As you get older and experience new foods and tastes, your body starts to recognize those tastes and is more willing to accept them. With age, your body has simply experienced more tastes and retained them in your olfactory memory.
When you first start smoking, you’re often recommended mild cigars. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as a must, most smokers do start out on the milder end. At some point, someone may give you a stronger cigar, and you experience that earthshattering “wow” moment. Now you’re really tasting what you’re smoking. Often, people stay in that phase for a while. But as they learn more about varieties and types of tobaccos, they start valuing nuances over a single distinct flavor. While these layers of flavors can be found in cigars of all strength levels, they’re most commonly found in medium-strength cigars that take a more balanced approach to the primings of tobacco used. The more you learn about tobacco, the more your appreciation for fine tobacco grows. Your tolerance for under-fermented tobacco decreases, and your appreciation for well-aged tobacco increases. Additionally, you start developing an appreciation for a blender’s individual personality or style. While most new smokers know only that they do or don’t like certain flavors, seasoned smokers understand the “why.” You may even begin to understand the blender’s vision and start being able to identify a style you like over another.
Don’t worry, we’re not going to tell you what to eat! When we use the word diet, we’re talking about the things you regularly eat, both in a geographical and cultural sense. For the most part, people eat certain foods because they like them and because they’re readily available. This is why the diets and eating traditions can differ so widely from one country to another, and from one culture to another. Depending on where you live and what you’re used to eating, your taste buds adapt, and certain flavors become associated with pleasure and normalcy. But as we mentioned before, taste evolves, and as a result you find yourself trying new things—some of which you like and some of which you don’t. For example, if you begin to gravitate toward spicier foods, you might discover that your preference in cigars also mirrors that change, leading you to the appreciation of spicier tobaccos. As the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. Few things are as true as this. It’s up to each of us to make the most of it by experiencing a multitude of different tastes and expanding our palates—whether that in the food we eat, the drinks we sip, or the cigars that we enjoy.