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.
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!
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.
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!
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. If you enjoyed this series, stay tuned. Cigars 102 – Fermentation, Cigar beetles, “The Farm” Field-Plant-