Your Cigar Journey Starts Here
First, here is some basic knowledge to help you get to know your cigar better.
Anatomy of a Cigar
To have any kind of discussion with a fellow cigar smoker or tobacconist, you need to know the different parts and names of a cigar.
How-To Videos & GIFs
Now, it’s time to dive into the basic skills and tools associated with cigar smoking. These how-to videos break down what you need to know to get started.
How to Smoke a Cigar
To get you on the road to enjoying your cigars, this video will show you how to keep proper pacing when puffing on a cigar to deliver the best overall experience.
Basic Tools a Cigar Smoker Needs
A cigar cutter and a lighter, for starters. Check out this video that shows key aspects you want to look for in a cutter and lighter as you step into the cigar lifestyle.
To Inhale or Not to Inhale a Cigar?
That is the question. This video digs into that debate, providing explanation to this very common question among new cigar smokers.
How to Cut a Cigar
Using a guillotine cutter, it's a quick motion to close the blades - and easily cut your cigar.
How to Light a Cigar
Without touching the flame to the cigar, ignite the exposed tobaccos - then put the cigar in your mouth, and rotate while you puff to draw the flame onto the foot. Your cigar is ready to smoke when the foot is completely lit.
How to Hold a Cigar
Here are the 3 most common ways to hold a cigar - but the best or right way to is the one that's most comfortable to you.
How Cigars Are Rolled
Making cigars is an art. In fact, there is so much tradition and knowledge that goes into making a great-tasting cigar, even a comprehensive cigar smoking guide like this can't explain it all. These skills come from generations of expertise, alongside years of training and practice. Master blenders understand how seed varieties and growing conditions affect the characteristics of cigars. They understand how to select specific tobacco leaves for the filler, binder and wrapper to achieve particular balance, strength and flavor profiles. Of course, you don’t have to have the knowledge of a master blender, but knowing the basic steps that go into making a premium cigar will help give you a greater appreciation for the cigars you’ll enjoy.
The plants grow from tiny seeds started in trays or pots. About 60 days after planting, the seeds have grown into seedlings and can be transplanted into the field. When the flower forms, it is removed via a process called "topping" that allows the leaves to grow evenly. Tobacco likes well-drained soil and prefers dry, warm growing conditions. Just as terroirs are important to the grape varietals in winemaking, the soil types where the tobaccos are grown also have a significant impact on the tobacco, producing lighter or darker colored leaves. Depending on the seed variety and growing conditions, the tobacco is ready to harvest in approximately two months.
There are two harvesting methods. One method, "stalk cutting," cuts the plant’s stalk close to the ground harvesting the entire plant at once. The other method, known as "cropping" or "priming," allows the upper leaves to reach maturation. Since the leaves mature from the ground up, the workers harvest only the ripe leaves - usually three or four from each plant at a time in one-week intervals.
This process contributes to the smoothness of the tobacco and is necessary to remove moisture while releasing sugar content. The intact tobacco leaves are tied or sewn onto lathes (cujes) and hung in barns or sheds for up to 30 days, or as long as necessary, depending on the type of curing - either air, sun or kiln. During the curing period, the leaves change color from green to yellow to orange, and finally, to brown.
During this stage, ammonia and any other impurities are removed from the leaves. The leaves are carefully removed from the lathes and piled into large heaps called pilons, and packed tightly. The weight and compression causes the internal temperature to rise which helps break down the ammonia and other impurities remaining in the leaves. The internal heat and humidity of the pilon are closely monitored during fermentation, and the pilons are rebuilt a number of times during the process by rotating the tobacco leaves from top to bottom as a new pilon is created. Also, partway through the process, the leaves may be sorted by texture, color, size or their intended purpose (as a binder or a wrapper). Once fermentation is complete, the tobacco is packed into bales weighing approximately 200 pounds. The bales are then stored away to age for a few years, or as long as necessary, before being rolled into cigars.
In the simplest terms, rolling is the process of bunching the filler leaves within the binder leaves then wrapping or rolling them in the wrapper leaf, or capa. The art and craft of cigars, however, goes far beyond those simple steps. The leaves are separated from the bales, sorted (by color, etc.) and cased, or misted with water to make them easy to manipulate. The stems are removed from the leaves, then the filler is made from three or four different leaves bunched or pressed together in a cylinder-like shape. The binder leaves are then wrapped around these leaves to form the "bunch," either by hand or machine and placed in a wooden mold. For the final stage, the wrapper leaf is carefully rolled around the bunch, then the cap is applied to seal the head of the cigar, and the newly-rolled cigars are placed on top of the roller's desk for inspection.
6. Resting or Aging
As tobacco ages, the flavors continue to evolve. Once a cigar has been rolled, it is placed in a cedar-lined aging room for anywhere from 21 days to six months, depending on the manufacturer intentions for that specific cigar blend. This resting time allows the various tobaccos to marry and round-out for balance.
Premium Handmade Cigars
- Made entirely by hand
- Wrapped in whole tobacco leaf
- Contains 100% leaf tobacco binder
- Contains only natural, long-leaf filler tobaccos that are fermented and aged
- Smooth, tight wrapper that is slightly oily to touch
- Even burn
- Generally higher priced
- Made on high-speed rolling machines
- May use a homogenized wrapper, which impacts the taste
- Consists of chopped tobaccos that may include stems and other leaf scraps
- Wrapper is duller in appearance
- Draw and burn quality can be inconsistent
- Generally lower priced
Let’s get you rolling on the path to cigar enlightenment. First, some basic terminology about this fine tradition.
A specific room within a cigar factory where cigars are left to age, also referred to as the ‘Marrying Room’. Typically lined with Spanish cedar, cigars may spend anywhere from 3 months to several years in the aging room before shipping off to market.
A harsh chemical that is naturally found in tobacco plants. Natural fermentation is meant to draw the ammonia out of cigars. Tasting ammonia in your cigar is a sure sign of improper fermentation.
The scent or fragrance your cigar will emit, different from flavor as you’ll be smelling this.
A decorative label placed on each individual cigar. Some cigars will have no bands while others like the Montecristo Espada will have several. At one point it was considered to be ‘in poor taste’ to leave the band on while smoking but this is currently not the case.
The mid-section of the cigar that lies between the foot and cap.
Otherwise known as Lasioderma, the tobacco beetle has been a scourge to cigar smokers everywhere for centuries, infamous for wiping out crops and humidors alike. They typically only present themselves in cigars when the temperature is too high in your humidor.
The binder leaf is placed over the filler tobacco to make a bunch, which ensures a smooth shape and even burn.
The overall mixture of tobaccos used in a cigar. A blender will create a cigar through tasting varieties of tobacco from various countries and several primings to determine the final blend.
Often confused with the strength, the body of a cigar is a combination of the intensity of the flavors and nicotine strength. Cigars can be mild, medium, or full bodied.
The typical presentation of cigars, often made of Spanish cedar or cardboard.
A cigar that has been box-pressed is indicated by its square shape. The process of box-pressing a cigar is done by two traditional methods- Standard and Trunk Press.
A group of filler and binder leaves grouped together before a wrapper is applied.
A packaging for cigars. Bundles are typically sold cheaper than cigars in a box.
A highly refined fuel used for torch lighters.
Also known as flagging, this occurrence is referred to when one side of your cigar is burning faster than the other.
The top-most piece of tobacco added to the cigar after the wrapper is applied and adhered with pectin gum.
A splinter of cedar wood, lit on fire and used to light cigars.
A plastic-like material made entirely out of plant products and used to package individual cigars.
The depth of flavors found in a cigar.
Country of Origin
The country of which a particular cigar was manufactured in.
When a cigar has a filler blend consisting of both long filler and short (chopped) filler leaves.
A tobacco that was grown in a non-Cuban country with seeds originating from Cuba, ex: Cuban-seed Nicaraguan.
A step in the cigar making process that takes place after the tobacco is harvested. The leaves are hung on racks and strung up in 40 ft. tall aerated curing barns where they are left to dry. This process is meant to pull the moisture from the leaves.
A tool to cut the cap of the cigar off. Cutters will vary depending on personal preference such as punch, guillotine, v-cut, scissors, or perfect cut.
The air flow of the cigar; the draw may be easy, too easy (too much smoke or air), or tight (not enough smoke).
A process in the cigar making process meant to draw the ammonia out of the tobacco leaves and diminish the nicotine levels. The tobacco is piled up into stacks called a bulk, or pilon, where they build to high heats of 110 and 115 degrees.
A cigar that has been molded and rolled into a special shape, resulting in the cigar having multiple ring gauges, such as a pyramid, belicoso, or rothchilde.
The core of the cigar- filler tobacco is typically 3-4 whole leaves of long filler. However, a cigar’s filler may consist of short or chopped filler or even a mixture of both mixed and long filler- referred to as a Cuban Sandwich.
The overall tastes and aromatics experienced while smoking. Flavors can vary greatly between cigars and the people smoking them; many use a flavor wheel as a guide.
The end section of the cigar. A ‘closed’ foot is a variation, such as Southern Draw’s Rose of Sharon, where the end tobacco is folded over the end.
Located on the front of a box, the frontmark indicates the shape/size of the cigar.
A natural adhesive made of pectin (a plant-based gum used in preserves). Gum is used in the application of the cap on the cigar.
The top section of the cigar where the cap is applied.
Hecho a mano
Spanish for “Made by Hand”.
A special storage container used specifically for cigars. Humidors are usually lined with Spanish cedar but composed of exotic woods or even special acrylic polymer.
Available in both digital and analog - hygrometers may be used to measure the relative humidity of a humidor while some digital units also measure the temperature inside your humidor.
A device used to light cigars. Cigar lighters come in both soft flame and torch and will exclusively run on high quality butane.
Finished whole tobacco leaves, usually a blend of several primings. A large portion of a cigar's flavor will derive from the filler.
A shade of wrapper, typically found in Broadleaf wrappers, that is typically darker and sometimes features a rustic look. These leaves endure an extra-long fermentation process that contributes to their darker complexion.
Another term for Cuban Sandwich, a combination of both long and short filler leaves in a cigar.
An unwanted aspect of cigar storage. Mold grows when the humidity and temperature are simultaneously too high and will grow in spores. Often confused as plume by novices.
Sometimes confused with mold, plume occurs naturally in well-aged cigars when the cigar’s natural oils crystalize and make a white or light gray powder on the wrapper.
A cigar made entirely of tobacco originating from one country.
A common term used to describe a handmade cigar consisting of 100% tobacco. A machine-made cigar or mass-market cigar is not considered premium.
The various levels of leaves on a tobacco plant. The leaves toward the top, or higher primings, are referred to as Ligero, typically stronger in flavor, while lower primings such as Viso (mid level) and Seco (lower level) are often milder and are added to balance a cigar’s strength.
An organic compound used to maintain the relative humidity of humidors.
The unit of measurement used to determine the diameter of a cigar. This varies between the US and Europe. In the US, a ring is 1/64ths of an inch- therefore a 50 ring is 50/64ths of an inch. In Europe where they use the metric system, a 50 ring will be 19.4 ring.
As opposed to long filler, short filler is chopped up long filler leaves and is typically found in inexpensive cigars.
The section of the cigar where the barrel transitions into the cap.
A particular form of cedar, grown in South America, that is ideal for humidor construction due to its aromatic scent, insect-resistance and rot-resistant characteristics.
A common slang for cigars deriving from an inexpensive cigar enjoyed by settlers moving out west in the early 1800s that resembled the spoke of a Conestoga wagon wheel.
The nicotine strength in a cigar.
A cigar priced significantly higher than the average premium cigar, usually owned by a brand that projects an image of having superior tobacco.
The small bumps or teeth seen on a cigar's wrapper, these bumps are small pockets of the leaves natural oils. Cigars with these wrappers are referred to as toothy.
A torcedor, meaning twister, fulfills the roll of applying the wrapper to the bunch in the cigar making process.
A type of packaging used by various cigar makers. The tubes both serve as protection from humidity changes and protect cigars from physical damage.
A burn issue found when the filler burns faster than the wrapper and binder- producing a tunnel in the barrel.
The outer-most leaf applied to a cigar and the main point of attraction when you looking at a cigar and as well as a large contributor to the flavor you’ll get out of a cigar.
“You should always bring more than one cigar to a wedding.”
TRUTH—Someone will always want to partake and arrive empty-handed. Share your supply and be the hit of the party.
“Don’t even think about showing up to a cigar bar without a tie.”
MYTH—Many people try to look their best, but cigar culture is not just for suits and ties. There can be cool in casual.
“Cigar smokers are snobs.”
MYTH—Cigar smoking is a social activity. Experienced cigar smokers welcome beginners and enjoy helping them.
“The best cigars are always expensive.”
MYTH—Money does not equal the best experience. Just because a cigar is expensive doesn’t mean it’s the right cigar for you.
“Cigars should be stored in the refrigerator.”
MYTH—Cigars need the right temperature and humidity to keep the tobacco from drying out. Refrigerators can actually draw moisture out of a cigar.
“The best cigars are made in Cuba.”
MYTH—At one time they were. But when many Cuban tobacco growers and cigar makers fled to countries like the Dominican Republic and Honduras after the Revolution of 1959, they applied their talents to their new homelands and created cigars that, today, are every bit as good or better in quality and flavor as Cuban cigars.
“Dark cigars are stronger than lighter cigars.”
MYTH—Dark cigars, or "maduros," can look intimidating to new cigar smokers, but they are not necessarily any stronger than cigars with light brown natural wrappers. The secret to a cigar's strength lies in the overall blend, not just the wrapper.
“You should lick your cigar before lighting it.”
MYTH—Dating back to the turn of the 20th century, some cigar smokers would wet their cigars by licking them because sometimes the glue used to roll the cigar was of poor quality causing the cigar to unravel. Today, this is no longer an issue.
“All cigars taste better with age.”
MYTH—Although it is true that many premium cigars will improve with extra aging time in a home humidor, many others do not. In fact, most cigars today are ready to smoke right out of the box.