How To Smoke A Cigar
A cigar is a beautiful collaboration between man and earth that culminates in the fusing of science and artistry into the delectable creations we are able to enjoy every day. Over the course of a cigars journey from seed to your humidor is a process that can take many years. It may only take 5 to 6 months to grow and harvest tobacco, yet the fermentation; curing and aging process is a time-consuming endeavor that requires great care and patience. Once the tobaccos are assembled into cigars and further aged, then the grading of cigars by size, color and shape begins. Each cigar of a group must then be deemed worthy to continue, cigar bands and cellophane are applied and then the sticks are boxed. Then, and only then, are the cigars shipped to tobacconists like CigarsCity.com.
The adventure is not complete however until the cigars find their way into your hands. And so it is that better understanding of the inner workings of a cigar will go a long way to assist in the cigar selection process and the seemingly endless task of finding that perfect smoke. Although there are many finer details to a cigar’s make-up, these are just a few of the basics that will help you on your search.
Parts of a Cigar
“Cut off the head, caress the body and set the feet on fire!”
The three basic parts to a cigar:
The FOOT is the open end which will receive the flame upon lighting.
The BODY is what makes up the bulk of the cigar.
The HEAD is the end that will be cut and used to draw through.
These are merely guides we use for selecting, cutting and lighting of the cigar, yet there is more to it than that. Much more in fact, so we will delve deeper into the inner workings of the magical creations that are cigars!
The Guts of the Matter
The process of creating cigars involves three steps, each making up a vital part to a cigar.
FILLER:The “filler” is the bulk or actual guts of the cigar. Contrary to popular myths, the filler tobacco leaves are not generally rolled yet pinched together in a “bunch”. This allows for greater control in the formation of a quality draw and makes blending of different tobaccos much easier and precise. Most all premium handmade cigars utilize long fillers. Long fillers are simply whole tobacco leaves that are bunched into place. Short fillers are leaves that have been cut in smaller pieces and are often found in hand-rolled or machine-made cigars.
BINDER: Surrounding the filler is the binder. A binder is usually a leaf or sometimes multiple leaves that bound the filler tobaccos together, helping to hold their shape and keep the draw intact. 100% Handmade cigars will always utilize all natural tobacco leaves, however many machine-made or mass-produced cigars use other materials such as homogenized tobacco leaf or reconstituted tobacco that has been pressed into a paper-like consistency.
WRAPPER: The wrapper is a leaf that surrounds the filler and binder to complete the cigar. The wrapper leaf is not simply an ascetic adornment, but an integral part to the cigar’s chemistry and can leave clues as to the experience a cigar might deliver. Understanding the various types of wrapper leaves used can save a lot of time and unwelcomed surprises. There are many sub-categories of wrappers these days, but the three main categories are:
Natural: Once commonly referred to as English Market Selection or EMS, this is the widest-ranging category that encompasses many leaves from the lighter Claro or Connecticut Shade to the deeper-textured Colorado leaf. The broad spectrum of colors and flavors are achieved through different stages of the curing process. Usually, but not always the case, the longer or more intense the fermentation, the darker the leaves will become. Take a look at this Perdomo Lot 23 toro cigar as an example of a natural cigar.
Candela: The Double-Claro or American Market Selection (AMS) was once the most sought after of wrappers in the United States, yet has tragically been pushed aside in recent years in lieu of bolder wrapper tobaccos. The leaf’s distinctive green color comes about through the lack of fermentation, leaving green chlorophyll trapped in the tobacco. Usually imparting a light green tea, sweet grass or earthy flavor, the green Candela wrapper will often bring a gently sweet undertone to a cigar’s overall profile.
Maduro: The darkest of wrapper leaves, the Maduro can range from medium-dark and leathery leaves to almost pure black Double Maduro or Oscuro. A Maduro leaf is created through the process of fermentation. As with all leaves except for Candela, Maduro tobaccos are created by the forming of pilones, or piles of damp tobacco leaves. The temperature increases and through the chemical breakdown of ammonias ferments the tobaccos. The pilones are flipped and the process is repeated until the desired leaf is achieved. Most tobaccos are fermented between 140 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit to achieve the classic characteristics of a Maduro wrapper. Arturo Fuente's Breva Royale Maduro is just one of many examples of this type of cigar.
To Sun or not to Sun
You may have encountered on your cigar-finding quests two distinct cigar wrapper designations: Sun Grown and Shade Grown. These are literal terms that simply mean the tobaccos were either grown in unimpeded sunlight or were grown through a process of diffusing the sunlight. Shade grown tobaccos, most famously Connecticut Shade, are tobacco plants that are shielded from the Sun by a light cheese cloth tent that allows for softer sunlight and a more delicately refined tobacco growth. Sun Grown tobaccos, on the other hand, receive direct sunlight and tend to be thicker with a much heartier character.
Speaking of the tobacco plant
Knowing the parts of a cigar and how they are assembled is helpful indeed, yet knowing the parts of a tobacco plant will go a long way to understanding how a cigar’s texture and body are achieved. The tobacco plant and its leaves are broken down into top, middle and bottom sections, each imparting a unique aspect to a cigars body and flavor. Each of these distinctive sections are harvested or “primed” at different times. The first “priming” will provide the youngest most delicate tobaccos while successive primings deliver thicker leaves with more pronounced textures and taste.
Volado tobacco leaves are the very bottom of the plant and are generally the first priming before all other leaves. Volado leaves are literally leaves that have been harvested “quickly” making for lighter tobaccos that do not receive as many nutrients and therefore are delicate in texture and taste.
The middle leaves are made up of the lower middle Seco and the upper middle Viso. Making up the bulk of the tobacco plant and numerous primings, these tobaccos are the most commonly used tobacco leaves and impart a wide-range of character and flavors with deeply complex texture.
Finally the leaves towards the top, Ligero, are the last primings having been left on the plant longer and thereby absorb more oils and nutrients imparting a more full-bodied nature. Ligero tobaccos have become more and more a major component of modern-day cigars, delivering that extra kick to spicier cigars.
Geography, Soil and Climate
No matter the type of tobacco or what part of the plant, tobacco shares an important relationship with regional soil and climate, much like the “terroir” so famously connected to the growing of wine grapes. The same tobaccos from different areas react differently to climates and soils, imparting uniquely different characteristics to each experience. Tobacco is grown all around the World and the following is a short-list of the major tobacco growing regions most recognized for cigar-quality tobacco.
- Caribbean: Dominican Republic, Cuba
- North America: United States, Mexico
- Central America: Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica
- South America: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru
- Africa: Cameroon, South Africa
- Indonesia: Java, Sumatra
A nifty way of deciding which cigar is right for your mood is simply going by the color of the leaf. Generally speaking (there are always exceptions!), the lighter the wrapper the mellower the smoke and conversely the darker it is the more robust the smoke will be. This is not always the case, but most of the time you will be able to give yourself a good ballpark estimation as to the body of the cigar by following this general rule.
What is the difference between Handmade, Hand-rolled and Machine-made?
From the Netherlands to the Philippines, from the USA to the Canary Islands, cigars will generally fall into three categories, each lending its own character to the cigar smoking experience.
HANDMADE: Handmade cigars are made entirely by hand from start to finish, using only 100% long leaf tobaccos.
HAND-ROLLED: Hand-rolled cigars generally have machine-bunched fillers and binders, while the wrapper is “rolled” by hand.
MACHINE-MADE:Machine-made cigars are simply cigars that have been made entirely by use of machines from the bunching of the filler to the applying of the wrapper.
And now it is time to spark up that cigar and savor one of the greatest of guilty pleasures. Or as King Edward VII ceremoniously stated upon his ascension to the English thrown after the death of the tobacco-loathing Queen Victoria: “Gentleman, you may smoke!”
Other Cigar Resources
Check out this article for tips on how to cut a cigar to get the most from the cigar experience.
Take a look here for details on how to properly light a cigar to avoid overheating your stick.