Cigars 101

Cigars 101

Cigars have been a staple of classic Hollywood movies for decades, thanks to actors such as Clint Eastwood, Al Pacino, and even Will Smith. But if you’re new to the whole cigar experience, the overwhelming number of options, etiquette, and even the equipment needed to make the most of your cigar can quickly put you in over your head. That’s why we’ve put together some important things to consider when experiencing cigars.

For anyone who has visited a gas station check-out counter, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the boxes of cigar products being sold. But true cigars are something much greater, much more magnificent, and much more legendary than anything you can purchase at your nearest convenience store.

The Cigar Revolution

According to Time Magazine, cigar smoking was originally founded in the Americas, though the exact location and time remain a bit questionable. The experience was perfected in Cuba, where the island’s fertile soil and warm climate allowed for all three types of tobacco leaves used to make the components of a cigar — the wrapper, filler, and binder — to flourish. It didn’t take long for the rest of the world to discover what Cuba had to offer, and its cigars were soon crossing the globe from Europe to Asia. However, the arrival of Columbus eventually led to a monopoly when the Spanish forbid Cuban tobacco growers from selling to anyone but them. Thankfully for the rest of the world, that level of control ended in 1817. By the early 20th century, everyone who was anyone was enthralled with the industry. Famed writer Mark Twain, rarely seen without a cigar in one hand, was quoted as saying, “If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go.”

Cigar Anatomy

A cigar has three basic parts: the wrapper, the binder, and the filler. The outermost layer, known as the wrapper, holds the other two layers together. The binder sits directly inside the wrapper and keeps the filler, or the innermost cigar contents, in place. In addition to the three layers, a cigar will contain a cap, the portion of wrapper that covers the head of the cigar, or the portion that is placed in your mouth; the foot, the part that you light; and the band, or the label wrapped around the cigar.

Cigar Selection

The future of your relationship with cigars may very well depend on your first few experiences with them. Although it’s easy to walk to the nearest gas station and purchase what is called a cigar, they’re cheap, they’re not stored correctly, and you can do much better. Trust us. While shopping for cigars may seem overwhelming at first, there are a few things that can make all the difference. First, do your research and find a true tobacconist at a brick and mortar cigar or tobacco store. Although online stores are great for experienced buyers and usually offer lower prices, getting the help of an expert face-to-face when discovering cigars can enhance the experience. Second, choose a cigar in the $5-$8 price range for your first time. There are many great cigars within this price point, and if for some reason you decide it’s not for you, it’s only a few dollars down the drain. Third, start off with a mild flavor unless you’re already an experienced smoker.

Cigars come in a wide variety of aromas and flavors, as well as different strengths. The size and shape of the cigar will also impact the flavor, as well as the length of time it takes to smoke the cigar. A tobacconist will be able to help narrow down your options based on your preferences. When choosing a cigar, make sure it has been stored in a humidifier and doesn’t appear dry. In addition, make sure the cigar is properly packed by lightly squeezing along its length. Any gaps in the filling can cause a cigar to fall apart when it’s being smoked. 

Cutting Your Cigar

Aside from choosing the best cigar for you, knowing how to correctly cut a cigar is essential to ensuring a positive smoking experience. Even the best and most expensive cigars can be ruined by a bad cut, so it’s important to select the tool that’s right for the job. A quick note: the right tool will never involve scissors, any type of Swiss Army knife, or most importantly, your teeth. Especially not your teeth.

The easiest style cutter for a beginner is a guillotine cutter, though there are variants and styles ranging from simple and inexpensive to decorative that is more of an investment piece for frequent smokers. When cutting your cigar, begin by removing the cap. Then, place the head of the cigar in the opening of your cutter. Make sure your cut is even and completed in one swift motion. Lighter USA’s website has a great selection for every level of cigar smoker, and the prices are incredibly reasonable.

Lighting Your Cigar

Whereas lighting a candle or a cigarette is easy and can be accomplished rather quickly, lighting a cigar takes more time because you must ensure that all the pieces — the wrapper, binder, and filler — are all evenly lit. This helps blend the flavors together as well as ensures an even burn. Although it’s easy to reach for a simple cigarette lighter, do your best to resist, especially with quality cigars. The fuel from cigarette lighters, candles, oil-fueled lighters, and sulfur matches can distort the flavor of your cigar. It’s best to go with lighters designed specifically for cigars- like this option fueled with butane.

When lighting a cigar, make sure to keep the flame close enough to heat equally, but far enough to keep the flame from touching the cigar. Rotate the cigar steadily until you can see that the edges are beginning to blacken. Raise the cigar to your mouth and lightly take a puff. The end should burn evenly if fully lit but may take a few tries. Also, remember to lightly puff – not inhale. Inhaling the smoke, especially as a beginner, can cause you to be overwhelmed by it and can ruin the experience you’ve worked so hard for.

Smoking Your Cigar

Finally, the moment you’ve been waiting for. Relax and bask in the complex and delightful experience that comes with enjoying your cigar.