Cigars 101 and 102: The Complete Series

Updated: Oct 23, 2020



I have been smoking cigars since I was 18 years old, which is about 20 years ago. Throughout my cigar journey, there was extraordinarily little as far as what to do, where to start, who should to talk to. In this series, I will break down all that I have learned in my time in the tobacco business, from the basics to the intricacies of plant growth.


The Beginning:

Choosing the right cigar for beginners is sometimes harder than you think. You will be

surrounded by people who will give you opinions and throw names out of cigars “you have

to try.” The suggestion is to try EVERYTHING, but you still must start somewhere. Here

are some things you should look for when choosing a cigar for the first time. Generally,

when picking a stick, the darker the cigar, the stronger the cigar. To start, you want to look for a cigar that is lighter in color, almost caramel, this is called Connecticut shade. Connecticut shade cigars are lighter in flavor and are less likely to get you sick.


How to pick the Cigar:

Now you know what shade the cigar should be, but how do you pick one? There are many

shapes and sizes when it comes to what you will find in a cigar shop. Yes, size and shape matters, but at this point in the game, its not important. The cigar should be firm with some mild give, it should be smooth with little blemishes and an oily texture. You can smell the cigar, however, do not touch it to your nose or face, especially if you do not buy it. It is gross, do not do it. Lastly, assess the price. There is no reason to start with a $20 cigar when you do not know what you are tasting. Remember, little by little try everything.


Cutting the Cigar:

There are a ton of different ways to cut a cigar. Through my travels I have seen people tear off the cap with their fingernails, biting the tip, hole punch, V Cut, and guillotine cutters. You can cut a cigar any way that you want as long as you don’t cut below the cap line and the opening allows for good airflow and draw.


Lighting the Cigar:

“FLAME ON” Okay just kidding, but did you every think that there would ever be a technique

to lighting a cigar? One thing to always keep in mind is that you’re burning leaves, although more on the humid side, but leaves nonetheless. There are many ways to light a cigar, and you will develop a personal preference. In all honesty, light it which ever way you want as long as you enjoy yourself, but, certain pitfalls do not allow you to get all the flavors out of your cigar thus you will not let the cigar show it’s true potential. There are a few schools of thought, to toast or not to toast. Luckily this is also your personal preference but you will get different flavor notes with each process. When choosing a type of flame, you will have several choices to pick from. Some of the choices include but are not limited to, cedar spills, cedar matches, standard wooden matches, soft flame and torch lighters. Here is the process that i choose to use which involves a torch lighter most of the time.


1. Perform a cold draw – This will give you a preview on how your cigar will taste. It will

change when lit.

2. Toast the foot – Place the lighter far enough away that the flame is not touching the

cigar. You want to use the heated air at the tip of the flame to toast the leaves while

making a twist motion with your fingertips. This will ensure even toasting.

3. Place the cigar in your mouth, still keeping the lighter away to just use the heated air,

light and rotate. Take slow, long puffs and make sure the ember doesn’t get too hot.

4. Most importantly .... Enjoy!


Humidors:

Well, we started our journey into cigars, but you now must figure out how to care for them.

This is when it's time to purchase a humidor. But what is a humidor? Traditionally, a humidor

is a hardwood box exterior with a Spanish cedar inlet. Spanish cedar is used for its ability to absorb moisture and deliver it into its environment, thus keeping cigars fresh. Nowadays, there are a plethora of styles, types and sizes when it comes to humidors. As you go through

your cigar adventure, you will develop a taste for the style, size and functionality of your humidor. Here are my personal preferences for a starter humidor.


1. Beautiful Design

2. 50 Count Minimum

3. Does Not Have A Glass Top


This is my personal preference which I gained from purchasing and using several sizes and

styles over the years.


Now, you have chosen your humidor …. Stop! We must first season it. There are many schools of thought when it comes to this process, and you will come across people who will tell you that their way is the only way. This is not the case, there are many ways to season a humidor and some are better than others.


The old school way is to take a brand-new sponge, dip it in distilled water, squeeze as much

water out as you can, then wipe the interior of the humidor. Close the humidor and repeat in

roughly an hour. You should do this 3 times then dip the sponge again, squeeze out the water, place it on a plastic surface and place in the humidor. Make sure the sponge is NOT sitting directly on the wood.


This would cause the wood to either destroy or warp and ruin your humidor. Leave the sponge in for 48 hours, then check.


The other way to season a humidor is using osmosis. Place a dish of distilled water in the

middle of your humidor, close the box and walk away. With this technique, you will have to

pray that no one bumps into it and spills the water inside.


A safer route it to place an 84% seasoning pack, made by Boveda. Just throw them in and wait. This process will take about two weeks, but some say that it is a more natural process for the wood and less likely to make a mistake. Once you have completed this process, the hygrometer should read 70-75%.


Most humidors come with analog hygrometers (a device to measure humidity), however, most analog hygrometers are unreliable and inaccurate.


My suggestion is to purchase a digital hygrometer and make sure that the device has the ability to be calibrated. I also recommend it having Bluetooth capability. This limits how many times I open the humidor just to check on it. This process will take about 3 days in total but

requires a lot of attention. Below is a photo of the one I use.


Your humidor is now seasoned and ready to take cigars. Here are a few things to consider.

The humidor count is how many it can hold, all the same size. So, if it’s a 50 count, it may

be 50 robustos. If you mix and match, expect for that count to differ. Make sure you fill the

humidor as much as possible, add Bodeva pack (my preference between 69-72%), and let the cigars acclimate to their new environment. This will take a few days, up to a week. Your

patience will be rewarded.


Etiquette:

You have been smoking cigars for a few months now. You have been around friends and cigar lovers alike. You’re stating to notice something, your fellow cigar enthusiasts have certain behaviors that you may find odd. There are a few things to keep in mind when smoking in a lounge, or amongst others.


1. When visiting a cigar shop, do not remove the cellophane unless you are purchasing the item.

2. Do not put the product to your nose, trust me there are less than 3% of us can tell where the tobacco came from just by smell.

3. If you notice unwrapped cigars, don’t put your hands all over the product, we put these products in our mouths, the last thing we want is a person’s grubby hands all over it. Not to mention the store will have to dispose contaminated products.

4. Don’t spit! Yes sometimes we have extra saliva when we first spark up the stick, or will get some tobacco in our teeth. With that said, adapt, figure it out, and be respectful of your area and fellow man.

5. Watch where you dump your ashes – Seems like common sense.

6. If you bring cigars to a party, be prepared to share. Let people pick what they want to don’t be a hoarder. Trust me the dividends will pay off in the long run.

7. Finally, enjoy, invite, share your experiences, gain knowledge but don’t be a know it all. I’ve been in this for 20 years and I have barely scratched the surface!


I hope this quick guide will help you share your love of the leaf!


Nausea:

We are moving along with our cigar knowledge. We are sharing and trading sticks, we’re ordering samplers from cigar sites and we’re writing down what we like and don’t like. A friend invites you to try a cigar you have never had before. You do your ritual, you sit and relax, then you suddenly you realize that you’re nauseous. The room starts to spin, you begin to sweat slightly, your heart beats a little faster and your lips become numb…


This illness is quite common, and it is also a mild form of nicotine poisoning. No, you’re not going to die, but .... here is a list of a few things in no particular one can do to avoid or relieve this illness.


1. Eat prior to smoking a cigar

2. Small amount of sugar will take it away (be careful if you’re diabetic)

3. Stay away from large amounts of alcohol without following #1

4. DO NOT INHALE

5. Don’t chew on your cigar

6. Stay away from very strong cigars – If you see Maduro, Oscuro , Doble Oscuro, or Ligero (that is the strongest leaf off the plant) these will put you down. (Personally I love these!)

7. Drink plenty of water

8. Put the cigar down, take a rest

9. Don’t over puff the cigar, not only will you introduce nicotine into your mouth through the smoke, but the hot ember will make the stick bitter.


Follow these tips and you’ll relieve or avoid this illness all together.


Temperature, Humidity and Airflow:

We are coming to the end out our Journey in our beginner stage of cigar knowledge. It has been an honor to share what I have learned as a newbie. In this section, we will discuss a little science on the holy trinity of cigar care. Temperature, Humidity and Airflow. But, why should we care about these attributes of nature? Well, we want to replicate the environment in which the plant grew in the first place. We need conditions in which it will allow for the cigars to remain fresh, develop flavors, prohibit the growth of cigar beetles, and expel what

remaining toxins are left in the leaf. (we’ll discuss fermentation in Cigars 102)


How do we accomplish this? Well, we need to apply the 70/70 rule. We will need to try to get our humidor to 70 degrees F and 70 % relative humidity. We season our humidors and add humidification devices and place the box in a area where temperature can be regulated. How do we manage airflow? (we’ll talk about wineadors at a later date) When you add sticks to the humidor, don’t pile as many as you can fit while still closing the lid!! Fill the box, but

loosely. Allow the cigars to breathe and not be overcrowded. One question I get asked a lot is “why 70% humidity”? There is a very simple answer, cigars are made from tobaccos from all over the world, all from varying environments.


Some leaves require 65% while other may need 72% or higher. This is a happy medium

to ensure each type of tobacco gets what it needs to stay fresh and delicious.


Intermediate Level Cigars:

Welcome! In this section, we will dive deeper into the world of cigars, accessories, and skills. Let's talk about bitterness. Bitterness in cigars can mean several things from the fermentation of the tobacco and ammonia levels to smoking the cigar too fast. How can you tell the difference, and how can we fix it?


Let's talk about science for a minute. During the fermentation process, ammonia is expelled from the tobacco as the cells degenerate and create heat as byproducts. If the tobacco isn't fermented long enough, a large amount of ammonia can remain. One way to know if the cigars have high amounts of ammonia is to light it and blow through it. While you blow, the foot of the cigar will remain in flames. Once you've expelled the ammonia, the flame will go out. I recently purchased a box, does this mean it will all have ammonia? The answer is if the cigar came from the same batch and lot, then yes. There is something you can do to help, place the box in the humidor, and allow the cigars to rest. This will complete the fermentation process and allow the ammonia to escape, thus helping with the bitterness.

Now we talk about speed smoking. C'mon, guys, this isn't a race, cigars are meant to slow you down and relax. When you puff on a cigar too much or too fast, you will heat up the ember too hot. Tar and particulates will gather at the head of the cigar, burn, and become bitter. To solve this issue, you’ll need first to SLOW DOWN. Relax Frankie…. Then, take the cigar, place your lighter at the foot, light, rotate, and blow. This will blow out excess carbon build-up and help freshen the cigar. I hope this cigar knowledge finds you well, take it and share it. Spread the culture and create BOTL/SOTL everywhere.


Troubleshooting The Humidor:

Uh oh!! We have trouble!! We got a great humidor, took our time, and seasoned it well. We put our most exceptional premium sticks in, and the box will not settle. What does this mean???


As mentioned in our previous series, tobacco is happiest in a similar environment as in which it was grown. As the temperature in your home goes up and down, so does the RH % in the box. This is the reason why it is recommended to place this humidor in a well climate-controlled area. As you add cigars to the humidor, a state of homeostasis is developing. Each cigar, with tobaccos from all over the world, want an environment just like home. This will cause fluctuations in humidity and, in some cases, temperature changes. The temperature changes are most prevalent when the cigars are not fermented fully or, like Cuban cigars, are not aged or rested before sent to market for sale. Another reason is because of the human element. We check our boxes, open and close, add humidification, and take it away. We like to play with our toys when we just need to leave it alone.


Now that we have gone over the most common issues let’s go over our troubleshooting methods. Please keep in mind; these are not the only way to fix these issues. These are the best way from my experiences over the years.


Step 1:

LEAVE IT ALONE! Be patient, watch the numbers, but most of all, watch the cigars. Feel them; they will tell you if the environment is too wet. Are they too soft? Do you notice the signs of mold? Is your hygrometer calibrated?


Step 2:

Remove all humidification delivery systems.

Pro Tip: Keep a high-quality cigar box handy; if your cigar is too wet, place it in the cigar box, in the environment, the cigar will be smoked in, for a few hours. This will help with the additional humidity and will limit the “relight.”

Step 3:

Every few days, open the humidor for a few minutes. The time will differ depending on how high the humidity is, how large the humidor is, and how may cigars are present.

(Note: Make sure the temperature in the humidor is similar to that of the room; if not, this can shock the cigars and cause the wrapper to split.)


Step 4:

If all else fails, you might have to start again. This happens on a rare occasion, but keep in mind the steps, as stated above, take time and patience. Remove all cigars from the humidor, Place them in an airtight container or plastic bag, with the preferred Boveda pack inside, this will absorb additional humidity.

(follow manufacture recommendations of packs per cigars)

Open the humidor and allow it to dry completely. Repeat the seasoning process.

(Note: You must know, if you’ve reached this step, you will have to leave the cigars in

the containers until the desired humidity is achieved. This step is the longest of all and requires the most attention)


Be patient, watch and feel the cigars!! Sometimes it will take several days to weeks for a humidor to settle. For further assistance, visit your local brick and mortar shop or stay tuned for more educational content!


Damaged Cigars:

In this section, we will discuss damage to cigars that occur due to environmental changes and manufacturer issues. We will touch on damage occurring during shipping with a quick and simple answer, notify the shipper immediately, take lots of photos, and document for replacement. Most online shops will replace them very quickly.


Now that we got that out of the way, let’s ask the questions. What causes my cigars to split? Why does the wrapper flake off when I touch it? Why is the wrapper unraveling? How do I prevent or fix this? Most of the answers are very simple. Let’s Begin!!


Splitting:

Splitting can occur when the tobacco is exposed to a sudden change in temperature and humidity; I like to call this “Cigar Shock.”. Here is an example, taking a cigar from an environment where we have low temps and high humidity. We’ll give it a value of 65 degrees F and 75% RH, we will take that cigar into an environment of 80 degrees F with 50% RH, and we light! The membrane and cell structure will expand with the rise in temperature, add that with a tight wrapper, and we will see it tear. Can we fix this? The answer is yes, but it will depend on the location and length of the tear. Using either honey or cigar glue, which is a natural pectin, can repair the issue. Keep in mind; you will have to allow the product to dry before smoking. Prevention is best, first, try to get the temperature of the humidor as close to optimal as possible, I like 70-75 degrees in the summer, and 67-70 degrees in the winter, (northeast). Next, place the cigar in a high-quality cigar box, and place the box in the environment in which you will be enjoying the cigar. I like to smoke in my living room, I

age my cigars at 72% RH, but I like to smoke them at 65%, I’ll place the cigar in the box in the morning, and by the afternoon, my cigar will be ready to smoke! I have just tempered the cigar, no tearing or splitting!


Wrapper Flakes:

Sounds like a bowl of cereal to me!! But what does this mean? When a wrapper flakes off, this usually means the cigar is too dry. Ever take a handful of dried leaves and crushed them in your hands? They crumble and flake, well it’s the same process. Can you fix this? You can try and rehydrate the cigar, but you really can’t replace the damaged wrapper, and you can’t regain the precious oils that were lost. The best is to prevent this in the first place. Make sure your humidor is set for the best environment for the cigars.

Prevention…. See a pattern yet??


And Finally, the unraveling:

Yes, very must like a horror movie; this is when the wrapper unravels from the binder. There are two common causes for this, one is cutting the cigar improperly, as in below the cap. The

other is a mistake by the manufacturer. Either way, they both suck and are a pain when you’re trying to enjoy a premium stick. As stated above, this can be rectified using either honey or cigar glue, but be warned, use it sparingly and allow the product to dry before smoking. There are a lot of products out there that can help repair cigars, but prevention is key. At least for those issues we have control over.


Cigar Beetles:

I get home from a long day at work, I open up my humidor, and I notice a few of my sticks have small holes. At first, I didn’t pay any mind to it, but a few days later, I noticed small insects in my box. THEY’RE EATING MY CIGARS!!!! What the hell is this $#@%!! The Cigar beetle has invaded. This is a naturally occurring phenomenon in the tobacco fields. The small insect eats and lays its eggs in the plants, the tobacco is harvested, and the eggs carried off with it. It can survive in an unhatched/dormant state all through the processes of cigar making, from fermentation to rolling. Believe it or not, almost all cigars can contain these little creatures. But how can we avoid this issue? There are a few things you’ll need to know, like where did your cigars come from? Does the manufacturer take steps to get rid of the eggs? For example, PERDOMO Cigars freezes their tobacco during the cigar making process to kill the beetle eggs. Let’s say my brand doesn’t do this. Can I freeze cigars? The answer is yes, but there is a process. After freezing for seven days, place the cigars in the refrigerator for an additional seven days. Take them out and allow the cigars to come to room temperature before placing them in the humidor. What if I don’t want to freeze them? Maybe I’m afraid the freezing process may damage my cigars! That’s okay too!! Another way to avoid them is to watch the temperature and humidity of your humidor. High humidity and warm temperatures are a perfect environment for the cigar beetle. As seen in other sections of this series, this is another reason for the 70/70 rule. Okay, but what happens if you couldn’t avoid them? How do you save the humidor full of premium sticks? We like to pay attention to our babies. Assess them, rotate them, inspect the wrappers, and if we find anything odd or suspicious, remove the infected stick, and keep it in a plastic bag until you’re sure of the issue. We hope this article helps you, the fellow cigar lover to enjoy and protect those precious sticks! For additional information, here is the scientific classification for further research. Higher classification: Lasioderma Scientific name: Lasioderma serricorne Phylum: Arthropoda Order: Beetles Rank: Species Family: Ptinidae


Mold vs. Plume:

Okay fans; get your hate mail ready….


There is a long standing fable of a magical white substance (plume) that appears on perfectly aged cigars. Some say it is the crystallization of oils and sugars that come to the surface during the aging process. But how is this possible? Let’s talk science, ever mix oil with anything? Ever notice that unless you use an emulsifier, the oils will not mix with other substances. Also, sugars are water soluble, thus remaining in the water molecule in the

leaves as they stay humidified. Oils will evaporate and become sticky, the sugars may come to the surface but if there are any spores in the humidor, it will grow mold!! Recently, cigars were sent to a biotech lab in Australia to determine the difference between mold and plume, and sadly it was discovered that it’s all mold. Different spores at different growth increments. Yes I know, it’s hard to imagine, centuries of folklore debunked by science. Please understand, I’m not a biologist or a scientist, I have a tobacconist and emergency medicine

background. I personally wouldn’t smoke a cigar with anything coming out if it, regardless of “plume” or mold.


Cigar Tasting and Notes:

“I taste bitter almonds with a hint of barnyard, seaweed, and the tears of a virgin.” Well, this may be true for you, but what about everyone else?


Time for SCIENCE!!! A little lesson in anatomy and physiology. The tongue is an organ full of sensors. It collects information and sends it to the brain to be interpreted as salty, sweet, bitter, sour, and umami. There are several substances that we have tasted in our lives that have been filed away in our memory—things we like, and that are unpleasant. When we taste the notes of the cigar, our brain is looking for something that it can compare to—a particular combination of flavors that remind us of coffee, chocolate, cedar, leather, etc.


Does this mean if I do not taste those notes, I am wrong in what I am tasting? The answer is no; each person’s brain is wired slightly different, thus making flavor interpretation all our own. Can you train your taste buds? Yes, you can, this is why it is best to try everything. Teach your pallet; learn what makes the cigar a premium cigar.


But what is the process? The great thing is that this part is easy; you just have to do it slowly, relax, and use your senses. Taste the pre-draw, suck the air from the unlit cigar. Light the cigar, but do this slowly with deep and long puffs to note the changes in flavor as the tobacco burns. Let the cigar settle, take your time, fill your mouth with smoke, and taste the air. As you blow the smoke out, push the last little bit through your nose, this is called the retro-hale. You will activate nerves in the sinus and nasal cavities that will enhance the ability to taste. Drink something, cleanse your pallet. Maybe a smooth spirit or liquor. But nothing too strong because then you will lose the ability to detect subtle notes. Sit back, and enjoy.


“As always, remember to live the life of the leaf, and there’s never a bad time for a great cigar!”

Cigar Ratings and Reviews:

Ever wonder what those cigar ratings mean? Or how reviews are done? Well, here is a brief look into the world of BCCR.  When it comes to Cigar ratings, none are more famous than those established by Cigar Aficionado.


This point system utilizes the 100 – point scale to determine the best, most high-quality cigar.

The ratings are collected as the following:


95-100 = Classic

90-94 = Outstanding

80-89 = Very Good to Excellent

70-79 = Average to Good

Commercial Quality; and 0-69 = Don’t bother. 


*Appearance and construction (15 points)

*Flavor (25 points)

*Smoking characteristics (25 points)

*Overall impression (35 points)


Since cigar tasting is subjective and varies from person to person, a blind panel is used to determine the rating.


They remove all bands, and all cigars come from the same box or batch. What most people don’t see is the cigars are continually being reviewed over and over again. Meaning, cigars can have several ratings throughout their lifetime. Reviews, at least without a score, are done in a slightly different manner. I look for a lot of different things, starting with the cigar’s origin, how it is constructed, the overall pre-light aroma, the oiliness, and mouthfeel. I see how the cap comes off while I cut, are there any flakes of tobacco that come out when cut,

how is the airflow, the taste of the pre-light draw. I look and watch how the wrapper tightens over the foot when toasted. Once lit, how does it feel, is the smoke thick and cool, is it full of rich flavors? I look for varying notes and changes throughout the smoke. How does it burn? Is it even? Does it get bitter? Finally, do I get lost in the cigar? Does it take my senses to places I’ve never been to?


Once I figure out all of these answers, I’ll take them and explain what I experienced. Remember that tastes are subjective, so even if you see a bad review, my suggestion is to go ahead and try it. Discover new flavors for yourself. Remember to share your knowledge and a stick with a stranger, you may make a friend.


Aging Cigars:

We have now crossed into a world where time and patience mean everything. Cigar aging is a technique utilized to develop flavors in premium sticks further. What typically is done, you lower the temperature and slightly raise the humidity for an extended period to bring out smoother flavors. This doesn’t mean you can throw any old stick in and turn it into gold. There are processes and logic that one would have to use before you get started. 1. Use premium tobacco products 2. Stay away from aging Connecticut shades – you can age away the flavors completely. 3. Age the Cigars in the proper humidity per their place of origin. Keep “like” cigars together: i.e., Dominican with Dominican, Nicaraguan with Nicaraguan.

4. Know the proper percentage of humidity, if you smoke your cigars at 65%RH, age them at 69-72%. The percentage may vary depending on your preference for RH. a. Example: I smoke my cigars between 65-69% RH at 70 Degrees F., but I age them at 72- 75% RH at 65 Degrees F. I age them all in the same humidor but, I keep similar cigars together.

5. Monitor closely via Bluetooth hygrometer, however, physically inspect the cigars every few weeks to ensure there is no mold growing. Also, rotate the cigars every six months, this will mean in position in the humidor along with orientation. a. Example: If you have cigars on the bottom shelf, switch them from left to right, and rotate 180 degrees. The next rotation moves from the bottom shelf to the top again, rotating 180 degrees.

6. Store in a cool, dark place. This is where a tupperdor in a basement would do great! This will help with “young” cigars or those who were not fermented entirely. This time will help remove the remaining ammonia content and smooth out the cigar. You can modify these methods to suit the amount of time your cigars will be aged. The process above is for six months or higher. We hope you’ve enjoyed this series – Coming soon, and we will put out another edition, “From Seed to Cigar.” An extended and in-depth journey through the history of cigars and plant varietals.

As always, “Live the life of the leaf, and there’s never a bad time for a great cigar.”

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