A lot of cigar literature makes mention of so-called myths. This article wants to go deeper into the why and from where some of these myths come. This helped me a lot to stop making fun of anyone who mentions them, hopefully this helps you too. Every myth has some origin, and maybe even a grain of wisdom behind it…
Image of Cuban artist Jose Fuster’s work, via Matteo Speranza
The most romantic legend we hear about is probably the one about the virgin thighs. In the past, the selection of wrapper leaves was not made in a standing position. The ladies working in the factory were seated when they extracted the leaves from the bale for their allocation according to type, size and quality. The leaves were piled up on their thighs and pressed with a hand movement.
The wetting the cigar before smoking is a practice originated before the existence of humidors. In the 30’s, gentlemen in the English clubs used soak the head of their cigars in cognac or other spirits because the sticks were dry. Only after having left the cigars in the drink for a little while, they could proceed with the cutting. Today there are connoisseurs experimenting with the wetting of the wrapper with water as this is said to slow down the drying of the filler and to provide improved organoleptic qualities in the cigar. So for some this practice might be a legend, for other smokers not.
As to warming up the cigar body before lighting it, here is the story. In ‘800, in Spain, cigars were wrapped using a bitter glue, very different from the ones used today (which are flavorless). The bitter, heavier glue dissolved with warmth, so smokers used to move a flame along the body of the cigar multiple times to melt the glue. Some people today, especially in high-end venues, still observe this as a ceremony, they believe the cigar will be better so. Sometimes of course the wrapper can burn and that is not better for sure.
Another myth – the strength of a cigar is indicated by its color. Until the 60’s, Cuban brands were in fact mirroring the wrapper color to the strength of the ligada. Brand characteristics were represented through the different wrapper colors and customers even just asked for a claro or a maduro and they used to get the brand and strength of their like.
Now, Zino Davidoff wrote his “The Connoisseur’s Book of The Cigar” in 1967, therefore his statement in page 36, “The strength of a cigar is indicated by its color“, followed by “a good smoker should be able to judge the strength of a cigar by the relatively dark or light color of its wrapping” needs to be read with the historical context in mind.
Since the 70’s, Cubatabaco started to respond to demand for a much wider variety of blends and the color of the wrapper no longer appeared stamped on the cigar boxes.
What is also interesting is that Davidoff further states, in page 37: “It is not true that a dark cigar has more nicotine than a light cigar (in fact, I believe the opposite is true. The inside of a green cigar is darker in order to make up for what the wrapper loses in body due to lack of aging and fermentation).” Reading this in the same chapter where he declared “The darker the cigar, the stronger the taste” or “Light smokers look askance at the heavy-bodied cigars: they find they (…) carry too much nicotine“, I personally believe that strength, taste and body might have been used in interchangeable way in the book or in its translation (unfortunately I have not yet been able to find the original French version) . This might have confused some readers. I might be right or wrong, however, in order to avoid any of such confusion, Cigar Sense does not adopt the term “body” in its cigar evaluation taxonomy.
You are very welcome to add any other legend of which you know the origin..
– La Nicotiana Tabacum, Claudio Sgroi (Mombacho Cigars), article published on Sigari! (Italian Cigar Club Association) issue 10-2012
– The Connoisseur’s Book of The Cigar, Zino Davidoff, 1967, 2nd English translation 1984, McGraw-Hill Book Company
– Avana nel Corazon, Gianfranco Plenizio, 1998, Mursia
– The Tobacconist Handbook, Jorge L. Armenteros, Tobacconist University