Bitterness is a key component in the taste of many foods and beverages–coffee, beer, olives, even some kinds of chocolate. As such, a touch of bitterness can be okay, and even expected, as it’s what gives certain foods and beverages their distinctive character.
When you smoke a cigar with coffee or chocolate characteristics, there might be a little touch of bitterness there as well. But bitter isn’t a taste that cigar makers blend for, so you won’t come across it often, and it shouldn’t ever be more than a faint hint if you do happen upon it. If it’s more than just a slight touch, it’s usually an indication of a problem with the cigar more than anything else.
There’s no one cause of bitterness, but there is a small band of culprits. At the top of the list is faulty construction. A cigar that’s not built right, either rolled too loose or too tight, can result in a bad draw. One that’s rolled too loosely will burn fast. All cigars generate smoke and tar when they burn; these substances are byproducts of the burning process. When a cigar burns too quickly smoke and tar can develop faster than usual. The result can be a bitter taste when you draw on the cigar.
Build-up of the byproducts created by cigar smoke can also happen if a cigar is rolled too tightly. In this case, the poor draw hampers the smoke’s progress through the cigar, which causes tar and other chemicals to accumulate in the head, again delivering a bitter taste.
Cuts other than those made with guillotine cutters, like V-cuts and punch cuts, can also result in a cigar tasting bitter as you smoke it, as they too can cause unwanted build-up of tar and other chemicals. So too can mouthing your cigar too much while you’re smoking it, which can make the head wetter than it should be and create a good trap for tars. Finally, re-lighting a cigar that’s gone out can often result in a bitter draw, especially if you’ve let the cigar sit for a while. A better approach here is to smoke smaller cigars that you can more easily finish in one session.
A less-likely culprit when determining the cause of a bitter-tasting cigar is a young cigar that was shipped while still wet. A cigar in this state is still fermenting, and the byproducts of the fermentation process–ammonia, in particular–can cause a bitter taste. If this is the case, and you have more cigars in the same condition, simply put them away and let them dry out for a month or two.