A Guide to Proper Cigar Smoking October 15, 2015 01:10


You’ve arrived. Deciding to get into a hobby that requires an acquired taste and know-how can be daunting. From flavor profiles to the final selection process, we’ve outlined what you need to know before stepping into the storied and smoky world of cigars.


Guy smoking cigar
Original photo by: Daniel Zedda


Where to begin


For starters, we recommend doing your research, so the fact that you’re reading this speaks quite highly of you. For the best guidance, pay a visit to your local cigar shop. The shop owner and staff will be able to introduce you to a well cared for and vast selection of cigars. They will also be able to answer your distinct questions. For our research we paid a visit to the warm and impeccably maintained Cigar Exchange in downtown Wilmington.  


The Breakdown


Cigar anatomy
Original artwork by A. Babaian, original photo by Robert Couse-Baker


The inner anatomy of a cigar is comprised of the wrapper, binder, and filler. After the cigar is rolled, the key features are the cap, shoulder, and foot.


Handmade vs. Machine-made vs. Hand Rolled

Handmade - When the filler, binder, and wrapper are manually combined to create a cigar. The innermost tobacco leaves, known as the filer, are usually the same length as the finished cigar.


Machine-made - Typically a machine-made cigar is constructed out of short tobacco for the filler and the binder and wrapper are made from enhanced tobacco product to withstand the machine rolling process.


Hand Rolled - This is a combination of handmade and machine-made. In this process a machine bunches and binds the long filler tobacco leaves while a person hand applies the outer wrapper.



Humidor Etiquette


Always handle a cigar by the band (also known as the ring). When lifting it out of the box gently hold the cigar by the band, never by the shoulder. The oils in your skin can bruise and alter the state of the cigar wrapper. Taking note of the cigar’s scent is recommended, but never touch the cigar to your nose. The worst thing you could do in a humidor or in a social setting for that matter is lick a cigar, avoid looking like ‘the new guy’ or as Arnold says “an amatur.”  


Cigar band
Original photo by: IIizard



At first glance


When selecting your next cigar keep a keen eye out for the wrapper. A wrapper that’s oily in appearance is a good indication of quality tobacco and great handling by the manufacturer or shop keeper. Avoid a wrapper that is cracked or broken, those conditions often reveal poor craftsmanship or less than ideal storage practices.


Cigar humidor
Inside the humidor at The Cigar Exchange, photo by A. Babaian



Size Matters


It’s not what you think. First timers often spring for smaller cigars or the more expensive options. However, smaller cigars aren’t always the best option for the novice cigar smoker. Smaller sticks generally contain a much more concentrated amount of tobacco so the results can be potent. If you’re starting out, opt for a medium bodied cigar with a mild flavor profile. While width does not always correspond with intensity, these cigars tend to produce the most mild smoke.



A note on price


Similar to wine and whiskey, in the world of cigars you get what you pay for. However, we suggest refraining from an expensive cigar right off the bat. Purchasing several individual cigars at a lower price point will allow you to try more flavor profiles to reveal your personal preference. Once you know your favorite profile, making a higher investment per stick will be less of a gamble and more of a fun learning experience.
Pro Tip: Learn the lingo. Cigars are measured on a 64th of an inch scale. A 64 ring cigar will measure one inch in width, while a 32 ring label would describe a cigar with a half an inch width.


Types of Cigars
Cigar Ratings, photo by Alexis Babaian
Cigars are also rated on a system judged by Cigar Aficionado, a respected magazine in the cigar world. Each year cigars are judged on their appearance/construction, smoking characteristics, flavor, and overall impression.




Talking Brands with the Shop Owner


Asking a shop attendant or shop owner is the best way to begin navigating the cigar world, so we asked Lior Ben-Ami, the owner of The Cigar Exchange for his tips and top picks for newer smokers.

“A mild cigar would be a great and natural choice for a novice. From there, the individual should decide if they prefer a flavored cigar or a traditional cigar. If they’re going the traditional route, some great brands to research include Ashton, A. Fuente, Avo, and Romeo y Julieta.” Similar to the wine world, cigars are identified by the method used to produce them, their region of origin, and whether they are flavored or traditional. Flavored cigars may have additives or have been blended with essential oils to give a certain flavor in contrast to traditional cigars which are enjoyed for their inherent natural flavors.


Cigar boxes
 Original photo by: Stephan Ridgway



Lighting is Important


Wooden matches or a butane lighter only please. This is crucial for your smoking experience. There are chemicals in fluid lighters and paper matches that do not play nice with the binders and natural state of cigar tobacco leaves. Using a fluid lighter or paper match can add unpleasant flavors to your smoke and may also affect how intensely the tobacco burns.


Hope this cigar smoking guide helped you on your journey. For more tips about cigar smoking etiquette and How To’s, check out part two coming at ya next week. 

Do you have any tips to add?