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Cigar 101: Waiting to Retrohale

I’m not sure if retrohaling a cigar is as controversial a technique as purging, but it’s definitely an interesting one. I’ve noticed that a lot of people don’t know what retrohaling is—that’s precisely why we do Cigar 101’s.

Retrohaling a cigar is drawing the smoke in through your mouth and slowly exhaling through the nose. This not only looks awesome, but also allows the smoker to recognize a broader spectrum of flavors in a cigar. After all, your tongue can only pick up five tastes—sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and “umami,” which is a borrowed Japanese word that means “pleasant savory taste.” The rest is up to your nose (or your olfactory bulb, technically), which can recognize thousands of different aromas. Retrohaling allows your sense of smell to access to these aromas, thereby bringing out much greater complexity in the cigar smoke.

After trying to teach a few people how to retrohale, some successfully and others not so much, I think I’ve finally figured out a failsafe technique. Take a good sized draw from your cigar, and exhale about 80-90 percent of it. Then, while slowly exhaling through your nose, start to “swallow” the remaining smoke, though not too deeply, as this may irritate the throat or cause accidental inhalation.

It will take a few tries to figure out exactly how much smoke you should retrohale, but the general rule of thumb is to do it very, very slowly, so you don’t overwhelm yourself. Earlier today, I was teaching Paul, one of our graphic designers, how to retrohale with a Rocky Patel Corojo Especiale Robusto (which was pretty tasty, by the way). He did it way too fast the first time and ended up coughing and making a face that I wish I had on camera, because I would definitely put it into this post. If only.

It’s also a good idea to consider the strength of the cigar you’re smoking before you retrohale. I retrohaled a Joya de Nicaragua Antaño 1970 Dark Corojo too fast a few weeks ago and ended up in tears, probably making a face that could’ve rivaled Paul’s. With milder smokes, you can generally retrohale a little more smoke without it being too much, though these can also be deceptive. I can’t stress enough how important it is to retrohale slowly.

So I hope this has been helpful, both to novice and experienced smokers—I, myself, only learned how to retrohale after having smoked cigars for about a year and a half. If you haven’t tried it, give it a go next time you light up—you’ll be surprised at how much better (or worse, but hopefully not) your cigar tastes.