Smoking cigars has been an enjoyable pastime since the 1500’s, when Christopher Columbus and his crew introduced tobacco from the new world to Europe.
This guide will give you all the information you’ll need to enjoy and grow your new hobby.
The Anatomy of a Cigar
A cigar seems like a simple object but, there is actually quite a bit of detail to it. Let’s begin with a discussion on the different parts of a cigar.
Starting from the inside, the filler is a bunched blend of tobacco leaves with various strength and burning characteristics.
The binder surrounds the filler. Binder leaves help to keep a cigar’s shape and is generally a thicker leaf.
The last leaf is called the wrapper. It’s the outer covering that gives a cigar its appearance. Wrapper leaves come in many different colors, from green to almost black. Green wrappers are called candela, the darker wrapper leaves are named maduro while the lighter tan wrappers are called natural. This is a broad overview of wrapper colors. Geographic location, curing and aging techniques all have an effect on a wrapper leaf’s color.
You may have heard that the darker a cigar looks, the stronger it will be. That is not always the case. A cigar’s strength and flavor comes from the sum of all of its components, not just the wrapper leaf.
There are two other parts of a cigar; the sealed head called the cap and the bottom of the cigar, named the foot.
The foot of a cigar is usually open but, sometimes it can be closed.
Cigars come in all different sizes and shapes. The industry term is “vitola”. They are measured by length and diameter (also known as “ring gauge” (rg).) There are two shapes; “parejo” which is a parallel tube shape and “figurado” which are uniquely shaped. In the American market, the standard figurado shapes are:
- Salomon – tapered at the head with a nippled foot.
- Pyramid – Tapers to a point at the head.
- Belicoso – Similar to a pyramid but, with a sharper, shorter taper.
- Torpedo – Taper at the head & foot, with a pointy head.
- Perfecto – Taper at the head & foot, with a rounded head.
- Culebra – Three cigars braided together.
Typical parejo vitolas are:
- Bombome – 3 1/2” x 44 rg
- Petit Robusto – 4” x 50 rg
- Robusto – 5” x 50 rg
- Petit Corona – 4 1/2” x 42 rg
- Corona – 5 1/4” x 44 rg
- Lonsdale – 6 1/2” x 42 rg
- Lancero – 7” x 36 rg
- Churchill – 7” x 48 rg
- Double Corona – 7 1/2” x 50 rg
- Gran Corona (A) 9 1/4” x 47 rg
These parejo shapes can either be round or rectangular (also known as box pressed.)
Where and how to buy a cigar
Now that you know what you’ll be looking at, it’s time to pick up some smokes. The best place to purchase premium cigars are at a local tobacconist. There, you’ll find wide selections and helpful staff to assist in making suggestions and answering any questions you may have.
Your first time in a tobacconist’s humidor can be overwhelming. It would be best to go with a friend that is familiar with cigars or, take advantage of the shop’s staff.
There are some rules of etiquette you will want to know and follow while you are in the humidor:
If you are in a walk-in humidor, make sure the door closes tightly behind you or, if you are looking in enclosed cabinets, make sure you close the door properly to preserve the humidity.
Treat the cigars gently while you are looking at them. Don’t touch every cigar you are looking at. Once you see a cigar you like, you can pick it up. Generally, you want to make sure a cigar has not been damaged. Look for holes or cracks in the wrapper. If a cigar has been mishandled such as being dropped, the foot usually suffers the most damage.
A gentle squeeze of a cigar’s foot will tell you if it has been properly maintained. If the cigar’s foot bounces back to its original shape and you don’t hear loud crunching sounds, the cigar is in good condition.
If you want to check out a cigar’s aroma, please don’t stick the cigar up against your nostrils. You can pick up on scents and aromas from a short distance away from your nose.
Some cigars are wrapped in cellophane, some are not. Please do not remove the cellophane until after the cigar has been purchased.
First time cigar smokers should probably start off with a cigar that is mild to medium in strength. You should also make sure you have had something to eat before you smoke that cigar.
Another plus for visiting your local tobacconist is that they will occasionally hold events where you can meet brand representatives or perhaps the brand owner. These events usually feature special offers for featured cigars.
If there are no local tobacconists close by, you can always order cigars online at various retailers. You’ll have to rely on the website photos and descriptions to help you make your purchase decisions.
How to smoke a cigar
You’ve chosen a fine, premium smoke and perhaps a beverage to pair with it. Now, here are the steps you’ll need to know to smoke a cigar properly.
Take a moment to observe the cigar. Look at its color, see if the wrapper is oily or not and how well the cigar has been hand crafted.
Next, it’s time to cut the cap. There are many cutters available and I will go into some detail later on. Right now,
I suggest using a straight cut. If you are in a shop, they will have a cutter you can borrow. Before cutting, look at the cap. Notice where the curve of that cap just meets the perpendicular sides. You’ll want to cut above that point, exposing about 75% of the cap. You must not cut any further down or you’ll run the risk of having the wrapper leaf unravel as you smoke.
After the cut, take the cigar in one hand and use a lighter to lightly toast the foot of the cigar. The flame should never touch the cigar; you only need to put the tip of the flame about a ¼ inch away. Once you have warmed up the foot, put the cigar in your mouth and puff on it as you rotate the cigar above the flame.
Once the cigar is lit, you should only puff on it about once a minute. This keeps the cigar from burning too hot and unevenly.
Now, it’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy your smoke. After a time, you will need to remove the ash before it falls off into your lap. To do this, gently roll the ash off of the cigar into a nearby ashtray.
After a time, you may decide to start collecting. Here are the accessories you will need to maintain and enjoy your cigars:
Humidor: A wooden box made specifically to maintain a stable environment for cigars. Good humidors will use Spanish Cedar in its interior. Humidors come in various shapes and sizes. A 50 count humidor is a good start.
Hygrometer: This is a device that measures the amount of humidity in your humidor. The goal is to keep your humidor as close to 70% humidity as possible. You’ll also want to keep the temperature around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidification: This device is used to regulate the humidity. The best ones will add or subtract humidity as needed. There are two kinds of humidification devices; permanent and disposable. Permanent humidification will require you to “charge” them with a solution of distilled water and Propylene Glycol as needed. Disposable units are good for a few months and then must be replaced.
Cutter: There are several different types, depending on what type of cut you like. You will find straight cuts, V cuts or punches.
Lighter: These come in single, double, triple and higher flame configurations. They can be small enough for your pocket or a larger desktop model. Always use a lighter made for butane. Other fuels can taint the flavor of your cigar.
This article has covered quite a bit of information. The most important thing to remember is to enjoy the experience of smoking your cigar. Always choose a cigar to match the amount of time you have allotted to smoke it. This is the benefit of having so many vitolas to choose from.