Cigars and taste buds
First, to give props where due: This post was inspired by an article my Famous cohort Hayward found at StogieFresh.com, "The Science of Cigar-Drink Pairings" by Rob Gray, Ph.D. It's a very good article, well worth reading if you enjoy libations alongside your cigars.
Dr. Gray writes: "Just like any color can be created by some combination of the 3 primary colors - red, yellow and blue - any taste is some combination of the 4 primary tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. While it was once believed that the taste buds for these different primary tastes were located on different parts of the tongue (sweet taste buds on the tip of the tongue, for example), it has since been shown that we have sweet, sour, bitter, and salty taste buds all over our tongue and the inside of our mouth."
Dr. Gray's point is confirmed in this Wikipedia entry on Taste Buds:
Contrary to popular understanding that different tastes map to different areas of the tongue, taste qualities are found in all areas of the tongue. The original 'tongue map' was based on a mistranslation by Harvard psychologist Edwin G. Boring of a German paper that was written in 1901. Sensitivity to all tastes occurs across the whole tongue and indeed to other regions of the mouth where there are taste buds (epiglottis, soft palate).I've debated with many an experienced cigar smoker whether they taste certain flavors in cigars, and some contend that they never taste anything like "leather," or "berries," "coffee bean," or other flavors as often described in the reviews of a certain cigar publication. I've even done polls on it. Whatever the case, the average human tongue has about 10,000 taste buds and the brain remembers what we taste, so the flavors you taste in your cigars are either there or not. It's completely subjective, which is why Hayward and I often compare notes when we sample new cigars.
I often taste some of these flavors. Nutmeg is particularly prevalent in some Puros Indios cigars (now Reyes Family Cigars). I've also tasted the coffee and cocoa bean flavors associated with Padron cigars, as well as woody flavors like aged-oak and sweet cedar in cigars by Arturo Fuente and Davidoff.
On the cigar evaluation sheet I received with a sampler from Kinky Friedman cigars, they have a list of "Common" flavors, which include field grass, hay/straw, oak, birch, cedar, coffee, tea, roasted nuts, and green peppercorn, etc., against "Rare" flavors like eucalyptus, olive, fern, celery, pine wood, cinnamon, blackberry, fennel, whiskey, and far too many more in either category to list here. I've never seen an evaluation sheet so comprehensive. And let's not forget that the olfactory senses have a lot of bearing on what you taste as well.
So, whatever you taste in your cigar, remember, it's not just coming from any particular part of your palate, but from your palate as a whole.