A Good Cigar & a Cup of Tea

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Chado, Japan’s ancient tea ceremony is a ritualized journey – from conceiving a cup of tea to savoring that last sip. After years of study, the great practitioners experience utter relaxation as the senses heighten into sharp focus.

Kodo is a complementary practice, a ritual takes not 15, but 30 years to master.  Kodo is the art of using incense to open up all the senses because the first and most primal sense of all is smell. Kodo is often performed before Chado because smell complements and enhances taste.

There is another form of Kodo which may appeal to the refined tea drinker (and does not demand decades of apprenticeship). Pairing an epicure cigar with an artisanal tea makes the experience of each all the more vivid and related. Perhaps it is because both are derived from brown leaves grown in the hot sun, but a great tea enhances and emboldens a cigar better than coffee, champagne, or scotch.

Start with the cigar. The best cigars are at least two years old to allow time for residual ammonia to dissipate. What brings pleasure in the experience is not the taste of what is drawn into the mouth; it is the aroma emanating from the fired end. Enjoyment arises from the smoke that rises through the nostrils, excites the cilia, and intensifies the sensitivity of smell and of taste. It is time for tea!

Prepare two different teas for pairing. Hold a well-lit cigar a few inches under the chin and enjoy the cigar aroma. Slurp a sip of the first tea and dance it inside the mouth to get all the flavors. Once again inhale the cigar, perhaps taking another draw to fire the aroma end and to pull some of that smoke through the nose. How has the cigar’s taste changed? Is it more acute, more intense, more forest, more truffle? Or is everything softened like a cloud? Now, try the tea once more. Has it changed? Does it hold up to the competition or does it disappear? A great tea will not only hold, but blossoms against a connoisseur cigar. Try both one more time because not only is three the charm, but three times helps the mind to settle and isolate the plethora of varied tastes and smells.

Of course, once finished with the first tea, it’s time to turn to the second tea and repeat the process. It will be possible to notice the pronounced and subtle differences between each tea and the cigar. Here’s where pairing really becomes about comparing.

Pairing a cigar with tea enhances both, but the cigar quickly, easily, and accurately lays bare the quality of a tea. And tea can do the same for cigar. Curiously, whichever is the higher quality will dominate – integrity always shines through.  The practice of pairing may seem like a balancing act, but the scale always tips in one direction or the other, and that’s half the fun. Like any focused exercise, it’s a challenging practice but worth every moment.

The right tea and cigar will move like a sensual tango, pushing each other to and fro, but always in sync. When a pairing falls short, it’s like someone learning to dance for the first time – reaching, touching, but never quite calibrating into a unified foxtrot. Or, in some cases, either the tea, or the cigar, simply falls away, like a dance partner who takes a chair as the star performs the flamenco.

On a more practical level, when considering an assortment of artisanal teas it’s always a good idea to use the cigar method to pick wisely. The intensified sense of taste provided by a connoisseur cigar is a terrific way to efficiently and effectively test for the best quality. The seller may wax eloquent about the tea’s (or the cigar’s) provenance, but people can fib; cigars paired with teas never lie.

PAIRING 101

Color – The lighter the tea, the lighter the cigar. Match the color of the brew to the color of the wrapper. A green Phoenix Dancing oolong pairs well with the Claro wrapper of a similar vintage from Connecticut, Dominican Republic, or Cuba.

Size – Bigger is not better. In connoisseur cigars, the thinner the gauge, the more concentrated the flavor and complexity (e.g. a Lonsdale).

Age – Matching the vintages is preferable when pairing tea with cigars. It’s much like fashion. If your partner is wearing a Brioni three piece cashmere, a vintage red Halston will never be out of style.

 


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