Gear

Cigars 101: A Guide for the Budding Aficionado

On average, 17.4 Million around the world enjoy cigars, and millions more look on with envy. Something about the visual of a person with a Puro in their hand or between their lips is undeniably alluring. To smoke them projects power—it shows the world you have a knowledge of the finer things in life, and have earned the time to enjoy them. It is a well-earned moment for you to decompress and let go of the stresses of daily life, and bestows an air of confidence on those who indulge.

As impressive as it is, that same self-assured aura can make this particular luxury seem daunting to the uninitiated. When entering a cigar lounge or shop for the first time, it can appear that the rituals practiced in the cigar world are complex and countless, and it’s all too easy to just turn around and walk straight back out again. Luckily, things are not as intricate as they seem, and this guide will help you enter the world of cigars with confidence and poise. Once you’re in, the rest of the journey is entirely your choice.

“Smoking a cigar is not a sprint. This is not a quick Marlboro Gold on a 5-minute coffee break. This is an artisanal, gourmet product.”

STEP 1: CHOOSE WISELY

The options for a cigar smoker, regarding what stick to choose, number in the hundreds of thousands—so it pays to choose the right one for your first experience. It’s better to start off with a lighter cigar. Go too strong, too quickly, and you run the risk of ruining the whole experience; suddenly turning green in public is not a great look.

It’s important to remember that size is not automatically related to strength: plenty of strong blends come in small formats, and vice-versa. Ask your vendor for advice, explaining your lack of experience. The cigar community is diverse and friendly, and always happy to help. From Cuba, Hoyo de Monterrey is always a good choice for a first cigar, while the Davidoff Signature range is a light, creamy option from the New World.

STEP 2: THE CUT

To properly cut our cigar, we must know a little about how it’s made. Premium cigars only use whole leaves, each placed in the same direction so all the tips are at the end we light. Filler leaves are bunched together before being wrapped once by a “binder” leaf—used to ensure the combustion happens at the same rate all the way through—then again by a “wrapper” leaf, grown exclusively under muslin shades to be smooth and silky, giving the cigar its luxury look. The foot—the end we light— is usually then trimmed, while the head—the end we draw from—is given a small “cap”, made from the wrapper leaves, to close it. It is this cap we want to cut off, and we can use the visible line where it joins the body of the cigar to measure how much. Align your cutter below this line, and close it firmly. This will snip off enough to offer a perfect flow of smoke without unraveling the wrapper of the cigar.

STEP 3: THE LIGHT

Cigars should be lit with either wooden matches or butane gas. Never use a petrol lighter, as the fumes from the fuel can enter the cigar and ruin the flavor. If using matches, make sure the head has completely burned away and the wooden stick ignited, before you bring the flame to the cigar—for the same reason. Hold the flame steady and bring the foot of the cigar towards it, stopping just short of touching them together. Rotate the cigar slowly until the entire foot is evenly toasted, then take a puff while keeping the flame close. This should be enough to light it perfectly, but don’t be afraid to touch it up afterwards.

STEP 4: SAVOUR AND ENJOY

Smoking a cigar is not a sprint. This is not a quick Marlboro Gold on a 5-minute coffee break. This is an artisanal, gourmet product; the skill to roll it comes from years of practice, and the blend of tobaccos to create the flavors is the culmination of decades of expertise. Sip it, don’t gulp: take small puffs and allow the smoke to roll around your mouth, coating the palate and giving you the full flavor experience. Pay attention to your surroundings—choose somewhere you will be able to relax and focus on the pleasures of your chosen stick. In no time at all, you will be engrossed in the moment, able to meditate on whatever has troubled you lately and emanating that same powerful vibe you so admired in other cigar aficionados to anyone who is lucky enough to set eyes on you.

STEP 5: THE ASH

Believe it or not, the ash at the end of your cigar can actually serve a purpose. As it builds up, it will provide a barrier at the lit end of the cigar, meaning the air drawn through is cooler and allows more of the flavor to come alive. There’s no need to constantly tap the ash away, simply roll it off gently as it naturally becomes too heavy to cling on.

STEP 6: THE END

Your cigar is exactly that—your cigar. It’s finished when you decide you are no longer enjoying it. For most, this will be as the burn line approaches the fingers, making continuing uncomfortable, as well as resulting in the smoke becoming too hot and acrid. Don’t be afraid to remove the cigar’s band as the burn approaches it—the flow of the smoke during the session will have loosened the glue, and it should come apart easily. When you decide you are done, leave the cigar in the ashtray to go out on its own. It has been finely crafted by an expert, and brought you a valuable period of flavor and relaxation. Best to let it die with dignity. 

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