The panel of smokers is a group of smoking experts that evaluate tobacco and cigars. As in the best restaurants in the world, not only the chef tastes his dishes, but he also gathers his team’s opinions about his food. Likewise, at La Aurora, the opinion of a large group of company members and experts is also gathered.
The panel of smokers, consisting of a wide range of smokers from different departments, meets every morning. A vast majority of members come to this meeting on a daily basis, depending on their availability and work schedule.
The Quality Department determines which cigars will be analyzed each morning. This section of the company has guidelines regarding what will be smoked, and the control of the information collected through the panel of smokers’ activity.
Panelists evaluate pure grade and blends cigars
Sometimes panelists evaluate pure grade cigars, sometimes they taste blend cigars. Typically, cigars are always evaluated without the rings. That is, smoking is blind so that the panelists don’t know what they are smoking. Thus, information about the cigar or tobacco being analyzed doesn’t influence their smoke and their judgment.
In a blend cigar, panelists measure two aspects. The first has to do with all the characteristics related to the cigar’s aesthetics and physical features. The second aspect to consider is all that’s related “to the function the cigar will have for the smoker,” says the brand ambassador of La Aurora, Wascar Aracena.
Characteristics to be analyzed by the panel of smokers
Specifically, the panelists express their views on the following characteristics of the cigar:
- Cigar shape
- Wrapper color
- Cigar uniformity
- Cigar construction
- Wrapper texture
- Overall aesthetic assessment
- Cigar draw (pressure)
- Smoke aroma
- Burn (combustion)
- Body impact
- Balance and equilibrium
- General appraisal of the smoke
- Comments: they add additional ideas or perceptions they wish to express or have detected, and which aren’t covered in the previous sections.
When a pure grade is tasted, the aspects to be evaluated are:
- Combustion (burning)
- Compactness of the ash
- Impact/strength (mouth/nose)
- Strange flavors and scents
Interpretation of the panel information
Regarding the shape, the cigar is analyzed to see if it’s well-made based on the cigar in question: parejo, figurado, and so on. When evaluating the wrapper colors, the rating is based on what the smoker perceives, because the tasting is usually blind.
As for the attributes of the cigar, depending on what each smoker perceives when smoking that cigar, scores are given gradually. Therefore, the panel of smokers always waits for the cigar to progress enough in order to take notes. When a member of the panel detects that a cigar has a characteristic at the beginning and, as the smoke progresses, that characteristic changes, this will be also noted in the comments section.
Processing of panelists’ evaluations
All information contained in the panel of smokers is sent to the Quality Department, in order to be processed. If the cigar analyzed is a pure grade, the evaluation is shared with the relevant departments. For example, with the Tobacco Purchasing Department, in order to approve the purchase of certain types of tobacco.
In cases where the panelists study a tobacco to determine if it can be smoked, the information on this tobacco and batch is shared with the master blender, Manuel Inoa. This way, Manuel Inoa can determine, according to its characteristics, if the tobacco can be used in a cigar blend or not.
When it comes to cigars with a defined blend, and the panel approves such a blend, it sends the profile information perceived to the master blender and to the Operations and Planning Departments. Thus, the latter can determine whether the cigar is behaving according to its standardized design.
If the cigar lives up to the profile sought, it can now be packaged for future delivery. If it doesn’t live up to that profile, it will undergo further reviewing and the panel of smokers will taste it again. In case of the cigar’s certification, this production will be rejected.
“What we are looking for here is to certify or guarantee that the cigar we have in our ‘aging room’ will meet the expectations that people seek in that cigar, and that it will come to meet that profile,” Wascar Aracena summarizes.