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Learning the ABCs of Cigars
Maybe you've dipped your toe into the waters and have already smoked a couple of cigars, or maybe you're curious but don't know where to start. Cigars can seem a little intimidating to beginners. How do you know how to pick the right cigar? How do you store cigars, or make sure that they are fresh? Here are some basic facts about cigars.
How to Pick a Cigar
If you've never smoked before and don't know what you want as far as flavor, most people recommend that you try a medium to mild cigar. It's recommended that you go to a tobacco or cigar shop at first; you can buy them online after you've investigated them yourself and tried a couple of different types and brands. Besides, by going to a shop you can avail yourself to their advice on what cigars to pick, and you can see and smell them firsthand.
In general (but not always) wrappers can indicate how strong of a flavor that the cigar will have, with lighter wrappers usually meaning that the cigar is mild, and darker brown or almost black wrappers meaning that it has a bolder, stronger flavor. People use the comparison to coffee, whether you like it with sugar and cream or like it black. The darker the wrapper, the sweeter and spicier the cigar tends to be.
These are the main colors of cigars, going from lightest to darkest:
- Double Claro/Candela/American Market Selection /Jade
- Colorado Claro/Natural/English Market Select
- Colorado/Rosado /Corojo
- Colorado Maduro
- Oscuro/ Double Maduro
Different cigar sizes have names, but they are not uniform across all brands. A cigar is measured in how many inches long it is, and its ring gauge is how wide the cigar is (by 64ths of an inch). For instance, a common cigar size is a Churchill, which tends to be around 7 inches long and have a 48 ring gauge.
While you are still figuring out what you like, it's recommended that you stick to well-known brand names. Some good quality brands are: Avo, Baccarrat, CAO, Cuesta Rey, Don Diego, Licenciados, Macanudo, Montesino, Olivia, Punch, and Rocky Patel.
If you know people who smoke cigars, ask for recommendations. You can also get a mixed sample pack if you want to explore different tastes.
Look over your cigar to make sure its of quality. If you are looking for discoloration, a damaged wrapper, or looseness. Gently squeeze the cigar. It should be springy, not squishy or brittle. Don't roll it in your fingers; that could damage the wrapper and someone else might want to buy it even if you wind up choosing something else.
How to Start Smoking Your Cigar
You need to cut the head of the cigar. It will have a round or smooth end, the loose end is the foot where you light it. You can just use a knife, but cigar cutters are easy to buy and to use. There also relatively cheap to buy. If you are in a cigar shop, you can ask the tobacconist to open it for you. The main thing is to leave enough of the cap to maintain the shape of the cigar and to rest your lips on.
To light your cigar you will need a cigar lighter, a cigarette lighter, or matches. The benefit of using a cigar lighter is that it will not add any chemicals or taste in the process. If you do use a liquid fuel lighter or paper matches, make sure to do a single gentle outward puff before smoking, to remove any lingering taste. You can also light a match and wait until the sulfur burns away before lighting your cigar.
When you light your cigar, don't actually let the flame touch it. Rotate the cigar over the flame until you see embers. There a couple of different techniques that people use once the cigar has a ring of embers. You can blow on it, or gently puff on the cigar while continuing to rotate your cigar above the flame. At this point, you can do a gentle outward puff if you want to remove the taste of your lighter, if you want.
Enjoy and savor the smoke of your cigar, but do not inhale it. You can keep the plume inside your mouth for a few seconds before puffing it out, or blow it out your nose (called snorking). If you inhale it into your lungs you will cough a lot, or even get sick and throw up if it's a very strong cigar. Sometimes the cigar can go out, simply relight it.
Some smoking etiquette tips
- Since it's harder to light a cigar than a cigarette, it's suggested that you give someone a match or lighter rather than try to light them up yourself
- Once your cigar has warmed up and you've been smoking it for a little while, you can take the label/band off. Some people view leaving the label on as obnoxious, and others view it as fine to leave it on. If you do remove it, make sure that you don't tear the wrapper
- Many people enjoy a drink with their cigars, to complement the flavor. Common drinks are scotch, coffee, rum, beer, port, cognac, or wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon
- If you want to just taste the cigar only, drink water. If you are smoking multiple cigars, drink apple juice between them to cleanse your palate
- You don't need to grind your cigar in the ash tray to put it out, it will go out itself when set down
- Smoke as much or as little of the cigar as you want
A large part of your enjoyment of cigars is flavor and aroma. The smell is actually even more important than the actual taste. Cigars will taste different to different people, it's all a matter of opinion (and your personal palate). Descriptions of the taste of certain cigars have been described as: coffee, spicy, nutty, leathery, honey, molasses, cocoa, chocolate, cedar, white pepper, cinnamon, and all sorts of other spices, woods, or sweet things. You can buy specifically flavored or infused cigars though.
You'll want to stick to the better known brands. Cheaply made flavored cigars are simply tobacco soaked in a cheery or vanilla flavoring before being wrapped in a very sweet sugared leaf. Many people find them to be too sweet and not well made, and swear off all flavored cigars. However, there are quality flavored cigars that use herbs and essential oils, or infuse the tobacco with high end products, and new technologies like reaction flavors.
Some Recommended Flavored Cigars
- CAO Flavours : Many flavors like Gold Honey (made from orange blossom honey), American Slyce (cinnamon, apples, and nutmeg), and Caramelo Joe (espresso, cream, caramel, macchiato)
- Gurkha : Grand Reserve (Imbued with Louis XIII Cognac)
- Carlos Torano : (Reaction Flavors, emits more flavor as the tobacco burns) Rum Rumba, Chocolate Cha Cha, and Virgin Vanilla
- ACID : (infused with natural essential herbs, oils and botanicals) A wide line of different types of flavors like Def Sea (honey water, jasmine, and double cured sugar cane), Toast (black cherry notes), and Cold Infusion Tea (pine and baked peach cobbler).
- La Aurora : Erin Go Bragh (infused with Irish Whisky)
Storing Your Cigars
Without a humidor, cigars can go stale within a week, and many say that even a day or two diminishes flavor. Cigars are best kept in similar conditions to what they were made in. Many people recommend a 70/70 ratio of temperature to humidity (70 degrees to 70% relative humidity). Some prefer slightly different numbers; say with the humidity at 65%. Still, to keep the cigars in tiptop shape, they should be stored in something that controls both the humidity and the temperature, like a humidor.
Humidors come in many shape and sizes, from a small box that can keep a dozen or so cigars fresh, to ones that keep 500 cigars or more. While you can default to the old fashioned wood humidor cases, it is expensive to buy large ones, especially ones that have environmental controls. A popular option has been altering wine coolers into humidors (called wineadors). While you can store your cigars in the fridge or freezer, both those options dry out your cigars. In a wineador, you can maintain your collection almost indefinitely, and is very cost effective compared to nice quality humidors with their own humidity systems. The NewAir CC-121E 250 Count Cigar Cooler is an already modified wine cooler. It can be used as a humidor to hold up to 250 cigars, and has two shelves and one drawer, all made from Spanish cedar.
Depending on your cigars, if you keep them in a good environment they can last many years. Some people say that ten years is about how long a normal cigar should last before it might start losing taste, but many people have good cigars that they age 25 years or more.
Things to Watch Out for When Storing Cigars
- Keep the humidity and temperature right (whether that be 70/70, 65/65, or whatever your personal preference is)
- If you see that your cigars are swelling and breaking their wrappers, that means that they have too much water in them and need to be kept in a lower humidity level
- If your cigars are brittle or fall apart when you smoke them (and have loose wrappers), they are too dry and need to be kept at a higher humidity
- White dust on your cigar is probably "plume", a natural part of aging them, and something that many collectors actually like because it can strengthen the taste of the cigar
- Mold can grow on your cigars. Usually it will be fluffy and greenish/bluish in color
- You can get tobacco beetles. They are no larger than a pinhead, but can destroy your entire collection if left out of hand. If you see small pinholes in a cigar wrapping and investigate and see beetles, put all of your collection into small plastic bags and freeze them for three days, then move it to your refrigerator for a day, and then back to your freshly cleaned humidor. Cold kills the beetles, but you need to be careful when bringing the temperature of your cigars back up to not split your wrappers
- Tobacco beetles need warmth to breed. If you have a system that keeps your humidor at or below 70 degrees at all times, you'll be fine
- Spanish cedar lining or drawer helps repel tobacco beetles, and also adds a nice touch to your humidor. Many people believe that the smell enhances the tastes of their cigars
- Get a thermometer and a hygrometer to check on your temp and humidity levels. You can get a combination device that records both and ones that can alert you if your humidor is getting too hot or too dry