Tobacconist University
Taste College

Taste College: The Human Senses


There is a lot to say about touch. First, it is the physical sensation of feeling. The way a cigar or pipe feels in the hand is paramount. With our hands we can sense whether a cigar or pipe tobacco is at the proper humidity. We can even use our fingers to determine the silkiness of a cigar wrapper as well as the firmness, construction, and much more. But the key to understanding touch, is realizing that it is not limited to the hands:

We feel with our mouth, tongue, and nose as well.

As Tobacconists, we often hear: "What size should I smoke?" or "How do I pick a size?" and the answer to that question is different for everyone, but the same principle applies:

Pick a size and shape based on what FEELS comfortable in your hand and mouth.

The Feel of a Pipe

To say that pipes are heavily scrutinized by their potential owners would be an understatement. While a visual inspection is necessary, the most important feature of a pipe is the way it feels in the hand and mouth.

A pipe must be perfect to the touch: pipes must be scrutinized for size, weight, length, balance, mouth-feel, bit size, construction, finish, grain, and bowl size.


The most important and powerful aspect of touch, as it relates to tobacco, is spice: also known as pica or picante in Spanish. The Chinese and other Asian cultures consider spice a component of taste, but in the case of tobacco, spice is not relegated to the tongue. Spice triggers a physical sensation that varies from tingling to stinging on the mouth, back of the throat, palate, throughout our nasal passages and nose. The intensity and variety of spice will contribute immensely to the flavor (taste + smell) of cigars and pipe tobaccos. Ultimately, the balance of spice can determine whether a particular tobacco is smokeable, or not.

Tobacco Spice Scale


Heat is the sensation we feel in our mouth when a cigar or pipe bowl is nearing its end, or burning too "hot". If a cigar is smoking too hot or producing unpleasant heat, it may indicate a defect in construction or quality. In a pipe, premature heat may indicate poor bowl packing or construction issues with the pipe. Pipes and pipe tobaccos are prized for their construction and quality when they deliver a cool smoke.


Nicotine is a naturally occurring organic compound in the same family of substances (alkaloids) as caffeine. Nicotine is found in tobacco plants, and to a lesser degree in tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, and eggplant*. The general effects of nicotine are biphasic: initially it is mentally invigorating, and then it leads to a relaxing effect.

Like alcohol and caffeine, nicotine can be addictive and its effects will vary depending on the user and delivery method. Cigarette smokers are typically the most dependent users of nicotine. By design, cigarette smoke is acidic and meant to be inhaled into the lungs where it is easily absorbed in large amounts. Alternately, cigar and pipe tobacco smoke is alkaline and is not meant to be inhaled into the lungs. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of pipe and cigar smokers do not exhibit nicotine addiction because they do not inhale and ingest significantly less nicotine than cigarette smokers.

* The fact that nicotine is found in vegetables is simple proof that 'the dose makes the poison' and not all methods of consuming nicotine are addictive (i.e. cigars and pipes).

Nicotine Strength

Traditionally, we do not think of nicotine as something we touch, but it is definitely something we feel. As with caffeine and alcohol, every person has a different tolerance level to nicotine: too much nicotine can induce nausea and light headedness. Consequently, cigars and pipes should be smoked on a full stomach, when the body is properly fortified. The effects or quantity of nicotine are what determines the strength of a cigar or pipe tobacco. It can be said that a particular tobacco has strong spice or strong body, but these are, more accurately, flavor descriptions. Ultimately, the “true” strength of a balanced cigar or pipe tobacco comes from the nicotine, not the flavor.

Certified R&D Tobacconists: United States

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Zachary Mumbauer, CRTGeorgetown Tobacco
Washington, DC - United States
(202) 338-5100

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James Herndon, CRTThe Man Cave Cigar and Tobacco Lounge
League City, TX - United States
(281) 549-6761

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Ronald Andrews, CRTHavana Tranquility
Punta Gorda, FL - United States
(941) 347-8177

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