Five Pros Teach: Top Tricks to Cleanse Your Palate Between Cigars
How to smoke cigars all day, and keep your taste buds begging for more…
By John Pullo
For those of us up north, it’s (finally) high cigar season: that means smoking two or three cigars in an afternoon by the pool, or a double-header while you’re feet-up at the fire pit. But have you noticed that your second or third smoke doesn’t burst with its usual flavors? Mellow, or even medium-bodied cigars don’t seem as tasty; and you’re probably sensing more of a cigar’s strength, than the complexity it should have. And that’s why giving your taste buds a refresher between cigars is a must for your daylong smoking regimen.
There’s a distinction between pairing a drink with a cigar, as opposed to a drink for cleansing your palate. A drink pairing serves to contrast or balance the flavor of a cigar; a palate cleanser washed away the traces of the cigar’s flavor. You’ll likely want to partake of both if you’re going to a cigar tasting event, where you know you’ll be smoking – and enjoying – more than one cigar that night.
There is a bit of actual science to why certain beverages help to cleanse your palate: fats, oils and polar protic solvents (read this, if you really want to go down the rabbit hole). But to make it an easy comparison, think of a palate cleansing as simply neutralizing the tastes leftover from the previous cigar you smoked, so you don’t confuse the flavors from one cigar to the next. Like resetting or zeroing out your tasting sensors.
Cigar makers have a similar challenge, because they could be testing a dozen blends in a day. And if they’ve fried their taste buds to a crisp, it’s harder to know if they’ve hit on a winning recipe. So I asked these five cigar pros to teach us a trick they use in the blending process for scraping the grease off the griddle, so to speak – how to cleanse your palate between cigars, and get as much enjoyment out of the last one as you do the first.
Nick Perdomo: Coffee with Cream
Palate cleansers come in many shapes and forms; it’s somewhat evident that heartier Nicaraguan cigars demand something more heavy-duty to do the job. So I went to Nick Perdomo to find out his trick for how it’s done, and how he rejuvenates his taste buds when he’s past his first cigar of the day.
John: What do you use to cleanse your palate?
Nick: I drink coffee with cream, because cream is an alkali…I used to drink whole milk, but it makes you fat as shit – so I stopped doing that. That’s the truth. That’s what we do. You could drink tea without sugar, but I can’t drink it. That’s another one that they use. We do a thing on the [Tabacalera Perdomo Factory] tour where we show everybody how we do it, and basically just take black coffee with cream or milk – which is an alkali – and that cleanses the palate. You can either sweeten it, or you can use unsweetened. Or you can use unsweetened tea, but I just don’t like unsweetened tea. Or you can use whole milk – drink a glass of whole milk in between.
Rocky Patel: Tea (but sometimes espresso)
When Rocky guested on our Cigar Advisor Facebook Live in May 2018, he dropped hints about some new blends that would be coming out in the summer. Of course, blend-testing is a rigorous process on the palate – and his weapon of choice to wipe the slate clean is tea.
John: Tea or espresso…what’s special about those?
Rocky: Well, I think when you drink alcohol – and a lot of people say pair alcohol with things – I think the alcohol content is too high. That really affects your taste buds, especially cognacs, and whiskies and single malts. That’s why if I’m really, really enjoying a great cigar, I like a good wine, to tell you the truth – because the alcohol content is lower. But I think with tea, tea is very subtle on your palate; it’s very clean, it helps get rid of a lot of the acid that might be present. And espresso, you know, it just keeps me awake. Also, I think it kind of caramelizes your palate a little bit, cleans it up. I think the best thing is to have a little bread and cheese to go along with it. That helps to cleanse your palate a lot.
Yuri Guillen: Water
If Yuri is up for relaxing with a good smoke and a drink, he cuts right to the heart of the matter: “Bourbon.” But when he’s blending for La Gloria Cubana, he’ll smoke 5, 6 or 7 cigars a day at the factory – and Yuri prefers to keep it as clean (and clear) as possible.
John: Any tips or tricks up your sleeve that are good to cleanse your palate and keeping the taste buds fresh?
Yuri: Because I’m a very active guy, and I normally do some jogging during the morning – I drink a lot of water during the day. So I prefer in order to clean my palate, to drink water. At the company, you can’t drink on the job – so I prefer to drink water. That makes me feel like I’m starting to smoke a new one. Every time I drink a glass of water, I’m cleaning up my palate and I’m back again on track. It’s natural – so you taste just the cigar.
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo: Tomato Juice
Some guys swear by coffee with a cigar; but when we interviewed him for 5 Cigars That Made My Career, EPC had what was, quite possibly, one of the most surprising tricks for cleansing his palate between blends. It’s a tip he picked up from the former head of General Cigar, and it blew our minds. Here’s part of the transcript from the video:
John: You a coffee guy at all?
Ernesto: Coffee I drink, yeah. Once in a while…
J: Does it go well with a cigar? Or not your favorite combo?
E: Not really my favorite combo, no. I do drink coffee if I’m trying different blends; if I want to clean my palate, I do. But not necessarily. One thing that works great and I learned this from Mr. Edgar Cullman, may he rest in peace, is tomato juice.
E: Yeah, yeah, it’s incredible. Because it has some of that acidity, so it cleans the palate up completely.
G: I gotta try that. I like tomato juice.
J: Just straight tomato juice?
E: Yes, that’s it.
Rafael Nodal: Coca-Cola or Sparkling Water
Here’s a guy that’s got a lot on his plate: in addition to his Aging Room cigars, Rafael is testing blends for Romeo, H. Upmann and Montecristo. It’s a big portfolio – and with so many top tier cigar brands under his watchful eye, he’s evaluating the flavor and aroma of as many as two dozen cigars a day.
Rafael: When you’re smoking that many cigars, you get used to it – and your brain starts to compensate for it. But it’s something we do on a routine basis. Cuban coffee…especially espresso with a lot of sugar – not the best for everyone, but the sugar clears it really well. But what really works, when I’m smoking 20-30 cigars, is Coca Cola or sparkling water. It all makes a difference when you’re trying strong tobaccos. Cuban coffee works best when I’m smoking strong blends. Sparkling water, club soda or Pellegrino – I’ll choose those when I’m smoking mellower blends.
Try these pro cigar tips to cleanse your palate, and hopefully you’ll eke out some more flavor from your cigars this summer. Got another drink for us to try? Comment below…