There are certain people whose jobs seem more enviable than others. Professional restaurant critics. Wine tasters. Book reviewers.
And, for people who love premium cigars, no job could be more enjoyable than that of a professional cigar reviewer for a popular cigar publication. The ratings systems used by such types of magazines are complex, and force smokers to identify and articulate what is most enjoyable about a particular smoke. For example, the system used by Cigar Aficionado gives fifteen points for the cigar's appearance and/or construction, twenty-five for flavor (especially aftertaste), twenty-five more for a catchall category called "smoking characteristics" (how evenly it burns, how consistent is the draw, etc.), and another thirty-five points for "overall impression."
Unfortunately, these kinds of jobs are hard to come by. Usually these types of reviews are done in-house, and the specialty-magazine industry can be one that's hard to land a job in. Still, you can have the same fun sampling and enjoying a variety of premium cigars - even if you can't enjoy the paycheck.
One of the first steps is in realizing that though pleasure is instinctive, appreciation comes with practice - and it requires thought. Annie Dillard writes in her classic book Pilgrim At Tinker Creek that "Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes I won't see it." The same could be said of hearing, smell - even, and perhaps especially, taste. That's why people who love nature often carry guidebooks - by knowing what names to call things, they are literally more able to see them, to notice them. It's also why cognitive researchers have found expert wine tasters to be more consistently able to blind-taste-test a particular wine - the practice of constantly putting their experiences of different wines into words has strengthened their memories and sharpened their sensations. The senses must be supported by the verbalizing mind.
When you sample a new cigar, make a point of picking out as many distinct tastes as possible and specifically naming or describing them, in your mind or even on a piece of paper: chocolate, spice, pepper; acrid, sweet, heavy, light. Make a point of describing your experiences smoking particular cigars, even if only to yourself. The more you verbalize, the more you'll notice. Get as specific as you can. Some writers even recommend keeping a "cigar journal," which is not a completely crazy idea. After all, runners often keep running logs ("10 miles today. Pleasant breezes. Construction on Highway Nine"), and passionate travelers keep detailed notebooks. If something matters to you, why not keep a record?
Obviously, don't smoke fast if you intend to retain clear and sharp memories of a particular cigar. Make it last as long as possible.
One helpful trick is to smoke very different kinds of cigars one after the other - an extremely light-wrapper followed by an oscuro, for example - so that the contrasting tastes bring each other out more. The same effect can be reached by tasting food along with the cigar, as long as the foods are those with simple, clear and distinct tastes of their own. Cheeses make a good pairing. Complicated dishes, probably not. (And sugar tends to overwhelm the palate and are not recommended for that reason, though a hard dark chocolate might work.) Contrasts make for clarity: you can recognize a certain taste better by tasting something very different soon before or after.
Finally, writer Rob Gray (who has much of interest to say on this topic, and from whom some of the above points were drawn) suggests something called "retro-haling" - directing the cigar smoke up toward your nose as you exhale, so that your nose can assist in tasting. It's not a bad idea (as long as you don't inhale too quickly and overwhelm your nasal sensors) - the nose plays a massive role in tasting, to the point where some researchers have suggested that people who sip a strong red wine while their noses are stopped up are literally unable to taste anything. They feel like they're drinking water.
It is understood that to truly distinguish the taste of a cigar one needs to draw a full breath of smoke into ones mouth and exhale 95% of it through the mouth; then close the lips and raise ones tongue to the roof of the mouth while exhaling through the nose the remaining 5%...Thus giving the smoker the subtle taste profiles of that cigar.
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