Of the smoke-ables, the cigar is arguably the most luxurious. Over the years, the elegantly rolled stogie has been treated to the same type of status we generally reserve for items like fine wine and truffles. And for good reason, as the best of the bunch tend to reflect nuance and a place of origin, and outfit the smoker with an experience unlike any other.
But that’s not to say it’s the easiest hobby to stroll right into. In fact, cigars — like vintage Champagne, sailing, or cooking a lobster — can be a little intimidating. We’re here to quell that sensation and get you on the right track, cigar in hand.
If anything, the cigar is a more respected figure than ever these days. We’re inundated with all kinds of things to inhale, from e-cigarettes to CBG joints. Meanwhile, the cigar has simply carried on, relying on distinctive tobacco and blends thereof to offer a real, tangible smoking experience without any related high. Really, it’s about the flavor and, while we acknowledge the health concerns, the look. There’s something sexy about a person in custody of a cigar, especially if they know what they’re doing.
Before you start, we highly recommend you check out our comprehensive guide to cigar types. It’ll give you the lowdown on types of cigars you’re likely to encounter, as well as a better idea of what type you might enjoy. On an even more basic level, you can learn more about the difference between mild, medium, and bold cigars.
Essentially, look for a cigar like you might a coveted piece of produce. In most cases, it ought to have integrity (firm throughout) and no blemishes. A great way to get going is talk up the person behind the counter at your local cigar shop. There, you’ll not only be treated to a crash course should you ask for one, but you’ll likely be able to take a few options out of the case and smell for yourself. This is the best way to see what your cigar palate is really after. Here are the main types:
Quite common, the Robusto is the workhorse, burning 30-45 minutes and creating a pretty high level of smoke. This is the most popular cigar on the market.
Short and set up with a spire-like tip, the Belicoso tends to be a bit shorter and more tapered. Torpedo-esque in terms of shape, these cigars tend to offer a bit more concentration in terms of flavor and aromatics.
Another iconic cigar build, the Corona are considered to be some of the most approachable, with good concentration and a length of up to about six inches.
This cigar type tends to burn a bit longer, which is no surprise given that it tends to be a bit longer in makeup. The draw, or act of taking in the cigar while it burns, is believed to be one of the most graceful with the Lonsdale.
Thin and long, the Panetela offers a pronounced element of refinement. Because of the smaller diameter, the flavors tend to revolve a bit more around the wrapper leaf, without overpowering the tobacco.
Named after the cigar-loving statesman, the Churchill is large and in charge. It’s thick and outspoken, much like the man himself, with the most famous being the Romeo y Julieta.
Unless you’re in a bind or camping or the like, there’s no reason to cut a cigar without a proper clipper. You’ll end up with a poor snip that leaves you drawing from an uneven or frayed surface. Like pulling off a Band-aid, quick and direct is the way to go. A fast cut generally produces a clean surface for maximum enjoyment.
Remember to keep your cutter clean. You can do so by simply dunking it in hot water for a spell (about an hour) and giving it a bit of a scrub and towel dry. If in a bind with dulling blades, you can deburr the thing. Roll up a small cylinder of aluminum foil, roughly the size of a cigar. Cut the foil with your cutter in half-inch increments, making multiple cuts. The foil will actually smooth your cutter blades, allowing for a better chop with your next cigar.
Many tools create fire, but the objective here is an even flame that won’t torch the cigar, nor affect its inherent flavors. A torch lighter is the best lighter for the task, a vast improvement over a matchbook or conventional lighter.
Position the cigar above the flame to prime the cigar. Spin it around a bit to burn the end evenly until you’re treated to a nice, fairly uniform orange glow. That’s when you know it’s game time. At this point, the cigar is ready to smoke. Practice does make perfect here, so don’t be upset if you char your first or create some unevenness. Like roasting a marshmallow, you’ll get the hang of it, especially as you further familiarize yourself with the strength of your torch how different types of cigars react to it differently.
You probably already know as much, but you do not inhale a cigar. Your lungs and body at large wouldn’t like you much for that. The key here is a good puff, akin to that delicate (and pretend) first hit of weed you took as a teenager or pulling air through a straw without actually inhaling. Think of the smoke as something you mull over and even chew on more than ingest. Take in enough to fill your mouth and then blow it out. Repeat four or five times (maybe more) until your cigar starts producing thick white smoke.
By now, the cigar is just about on autopilot. Slow your puffs and simply enjoy the fragrance and having the thing in hand. To keep it going, puff every minute or so. Cigars can be pretty intense, so treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. Out-puffing your pal will only make you queasy. And there’s no rule that says you have to smoke the whole thing. Cigars can be paused and relit later on, no problem, but it’s suggested you do so within about two hours as they are somewhat perishable.
Removing the cigar’s label is a matter of personal preference. Some guys prefer to do it right away, and others like to leave it on for the duration of the smoke session. This is up to you, but if you want to remove it, we suggest leaving it on for a few minutes first. The heat of the cigar will loosen the adhesive, and you’ll be less likely to damage the cigar’s wrap when you take it off.
As you smoke, your cigar will begin to develop a head of ash on the tip. You do not need to tap this off like you would with a cigarette. Feel free to leave it there for a while. A big ash is a sign of a quality cigar — but don’t let it get super long either. Too much ash on the end can hinder airflow, which makes to tobacco burn irregularly, and also affects the flavor. Try not to let it get longer than an inch or so, and when you ash it, don’t tap it off as you would with a cigarette — gently roll it on the ashtray until it breaks off.
Read more: How to Remove Cigar Breath
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