If you want to avoid smoking according to other people’s tastes and motives, but rather choose your next perfect cigar by yourself, this article is dedicated to you. There is a lot to learn, but you should not be overwhelmed. Little by little, you can gain more knowledge and, guess what? Knowledge makes us love our dear cigars even more, because it helps us appreciate them more and differently.
The ultimate goal is pleasure. This is the only thing you need to focus on. How do you achieve it? By paying attention to a few things and not paying attention to a number of other things…
Let’s face it: your taste is the best. Nobody has a better taste than you have. Also, nobody should judge you for your taste, or even tell you that you should try a cigar because they love it. You just need to become aware of what you like and only you can do it.
Many people say you need to choose your cigars based on the moment, the mood, the company, the food you had, the drink you had and want to have with your cigar. All of this is good advice. However, this choice is not the very first one you need to make. The very first choices you need to make are in terms of general preferences, so you make sure that you buy a range of cigars that you know will be great for you. Starting from that selection, you can then take from your little inventory the cigars that suit the very moment you are approaching.
There are a few tactical tips that we’d like to give you to help you in that.
Being a beginner is fun
Hearing people talking about what they believe are important technicalities can be fun. Don’t pay too much attention to them, unless you want to show off the latest cutter or lighter or more tools for cigars. You can learn all about the different types of cutters and lighters as you practice and experiment more. A few things are more important when determining your first overall choices. Let’s start.
You may not know what it means to your body to smoke a light or a strong cigar. What you want to do is have a cigar that does stimulate, but not overstimulate, your sensitive buds and you don’t want to have too much buzz. Nicotine is a component of premium cigars which, however, should not be consumed just because of nicotine. If you are a cigarette smoker, try to make the distinction between what you are looking for in a cigarette and what you are looking for in a cigar. Cigars are not a substitute of any other tobacco product, they are there to give you pleasure in their own way. Such pleasure can have less to do with nicotine reward, much more with many sensory perceptions that natural cigars can offer you. You might even forget about their nicotine content.
Many people who might have tried to recommend you cigars for beginners use a boiler plate according to which beginners should start with light cigars (also referred to with the term “light bodied cigars”, but this may mean different things, so don’t get confused!). The logic is also not necessarily valid for beginners. If you like spicy food and you plan to have your cigar after a meal, and with spirits, you might be disappointed by a light strength cigar, as it will be overpowered by the other products that have affected your taste and nasal receptors before you even lit the cigar.
If you are used to cigarettes, do you want to smoke cigars because you want something stronger than your cigarettes? Or do you want something healthier than cigarettes? What idea do you have of cigars? Do they need to be conveying power? Or do you want to make selfies (hence you will pay more attention to the label)?
If you are not sure, but definitely do not want to have the cigar with water a few hours after meals, ask for a medium strength cigar and read our further paragraph on retro-hale and that stuff.
The ring-gauge is the diameter of the cigar. It is measured in 64th of an inch or in cm. The choice of the ring gauge has not so much to do with the perfect gauge for you as a beginner, more with what you feel comfortable with and with some challenges in smoking certain ring gauges.
If you are a woman and feel comfortable with a 60+ ring gauge, great. When planning to light a cigar while being busy doing something else or talking, definitely a larger ring gauge cigar might be easier. Cigars with a narrow gauge can deliver sensory ecstasy but are in general somewhat more demanding in terms of attention. In fact, their smoke travels at higher speed and the combustion temperature rises faster. If you are not careful, certain organoleptic properties will be lost.
If you don’t know what to choose, start with a robusto (48-50 ring gauge) and experiment from there.
This is something that only you can decide on. Please don’t listen to those people who say that beginners’ cigars should be cheap. You can buy good cigars for a reasonable price.
Once you have set your budget, what counts is what you want to get out of a cigar. Do you want the best experience, or do you want to buy as many as you can at the lowest price? Or can you cope with maybe smoking a little less frequently and have great pleasure from each of your cigars? Also, try to find the right balance between what you want to experience today and what you believe you could learn to appreciate even more of premium cigars tomorrow. If I don’t know about champagnes, there is maybe little satisfaction in giving me a vintage Dom Perignon, but there may be with a lot of other great and less expensive champagnes that I can discover in the meantime, so I’ll be able to compare with and appreciate a Dom Perignon in a while. Every experience adds to our cultural background and this is what invites us to discover more and better every time.
Wrapper and other leaves
Scientifically, it’s not possible to predict the sensory experience of a cigar based on the sensory descriptors of each individual leaf. Master blenders work extremely hard to create harmony based on the tobacco they blend and in order to continue to provide production consistency. Cigars. When we learn from them how a specific leaf tastes in a specific blend, we are only talking about that blend. In no way it’s possible to say “I loved that wrapper type, so I will love all cigars with that wrapper type”. In fact, in real life, you are not very likely to consistently find the same sensations based on certain leaves in a cigar. Every brand or line, although containing that particular leaf, is made of a different blend of leaves interacting with each other. If it was that easy to predict your liking just based on the wrapper leaf, we could do without master blenders and buy our cigars “à la carte”, just like we do with the features of a washing machine. But we won’t, a cigar is more than the sum of the leaves that compose it. This is due to different factors, among which the farming and manufacturing processes of the tobacco leaves.
So, let’s not judge a book by its cover…
The color of the wrapper depends mainly on the tobacco varietal, on the plant priming, on the tobacco curing and fermentation. Today, there is no way can you predict the nicotine strength of a cigar just based on its wrapper color. You can have very strong Connecticut shade wrapped cigars and very mild maduro wrapped cigars.
Yet, many people still advise beginners to buy Connecticut shade cigars – without specifying which brand and line – and this is simply based on misconceptions such as Connecticut shade wrapped cigars are mild in nicotine strength and beginners should smoke light strength cigars. Don’t follow such advice.
If you want sensory pleasure from your cigars, this is the most intriguing and fascinating part in the discovery of new cigars.
We are obviously talking about the natural flavor that non infused leaves offer us, we are not talking about artificially added flavors here. If you wish to discover more about where the flavors of a cigar come from and how to taste your cigars so that enjoy every flavor they gift us with, I can recommend you “A Cigar Tasting Course”.
If you’re unsure about the flavors you would enjoy most in a cigar, just start with a sampler of different cigars and let your buds start to talk to you.
Or, if you have identified a solo reviewer that you believe has a similar taste as you have, you could start with some cigars reviewed by such individual. Just bear in mind that it is very unlikely that you will find the same flavors described by another individual, simply because we are human and our perception of the cigar reality is different for each of us.
Cigar Sense applies more objective methods when advising cigars for this very reason. In such case, you can reliably know what to expect from another sample of the same cigar.
How to choose your cigar based on flavor
If you have time and patience, you can start your own journal and write down every aroma, taste, etc that you find in a cigar. Next to these, you should note how much you like each sensation or not. This is how I started my frustrating trial and error process, which led to the creation of Cigar Sense, the service that helps other cigar lovers find the best cigars for them based on their unique tastes.
The process can be long if you don’t know how to identify aromas and tastes in a cigar and you may need to learn how to develop that ability first.
If you are already good at understanding what you like and don’t like, maybe based on food and drinks, this might not be too difficult for you. After all, premium cigars share many of the molecules that you can also find in wine, cheese, whisky and other fine products.
The challenge is then in talking the same language as your tobacconist. This may happen, depending on country. Bear in mind that many people, especially in the United States, tend to describe a cigar using the term “body”, which means many different things and may not help you in identifying the right cigar for you based on flavors.
We recommend you rather tell your tobacconist: “I liked this one or I did not like that one” and ask for cigars similar to the ones that have the flavors you liked.
An easy shortcut is offered by our free membership. If you have already tried at least 3 cigars that you liked, your trial and error can be avoided by getting personalized recommendations for new cigars to try in a quick 3-step process. You can then easily submit feedback so your initial recommendations list improves as you explore new cigars and new tastes.
Once you have identified some cigars that you know you will like based on your first preferences, a few other factors will help you choose your best cigar in function of the moment in which you want to smoke it:
Based on the leisure time you can set aside to enjoy your cigar, choose a cigar of a length that will allow you to slowly puff until the end of it. For instance, if you have up to one hour, choose a corona (5-6 inches long) or a short robusto. If you have 2 hours or more you can choose a churchill or a double corona.
A cigar of the same line but of different shape and size will be different and you’ll find it amazing to discover this.
Time of day
Among the best cigars you have selected, you might also want to further choose them based on when in the day you want to enjoy them. Most cigar lovers don’t only want one level of nicotine strength for this reason. For instance, my ideal selection of cigars is of med-light to medium strength or even med-strong strength level.
If you want to (try and) enjoy a cigar in a morning, your sensory system will be more sensitive. Therefore, you may want to choose one of the cigars in your lower nicotine level range. On the contrary, after a meal and with a spirit, you may want to choose one of your cigars in your higher nicotine level range.
As mentioned before, out of your selection of cigars you have set aside based on your generic preferences, you will want to choose your cigar based on the context in which you are: are you doing something (playing golf, working, …)? Are you in company of other people and are you going to be actively focus on them and talk to them? Any of these are very pleasant while smoking a cigar. The point is that you don’t want a demanding size, such as a thin ring gauge cigar, because such cigar will ask more of your attention. You may want to rather choose a larger ring-gauge cigar, which generally requires less attention from you.
Retro-haling is one technique that allows the gaseous odorous molecules to reach the olfactory receptors. This is one way to sense an additional quality and intensity in the aromas of the cigar. You retro-hale by forcing air from the longs to push the smoke from within your mouth out through the nose. In fact, you exhale through the nose without inhaling the smoke in your longs.
Don’t rush this process. Focus on puffing slowly on your cigar. Enjoy the sensations in your mouth and in the smell that your cigar delivers in the air around you:
- from the lit foot
- from the smoke that you exhale through the mouth
Etiquette in the cigar store
In some countries, and in non Covid times, it’s normal that a tobacconist opens a box of cigars in front of the customer and lets the customer touch and smell one or two cigars to confirm they are of satisfaction. In the United States this is not appreciated by tobacconists. Also, many non Cuban cigars are wrapped in cellophane, which discourages the operation.
Either way, it’s not a big problem, because:
- a good tobacconist knows how to store cigars, therefore, testing the texture of the cigar to asses the level of humidity should not even be something that the consumer should worry about. Our responsibility, rather than in testing the humidity of the cigar, should rather be in the choice of a good tobacconist
- the smell of a raw cigar is not a reliable predictor of the aromas you will find in a lit cigar. In the raw cigar analysis a more expert cigar lover can detect potential issues with the tobacco or with the cigar’s quality. The raw cigar analysis requires to cut the cigar head and to put the cigar in one’s mouth, and, needless to say, we’ll never find a tobacconist allowing us to do this, regardless of the country in which we are.
In this men dominated world, we may find our hobby at times tough and at times fascinating. Our need of information before buying a cigar is different from that of men. We tend to be more sensitive to details, to seek more interaction during the buying decision, but we also often considered as beginners by default. When I visited tobacconists that did not know me, I was often quickly recommended a flavored (there are some great ones, but they are completely different from natural cigars) or a Connecticut shade wrapped cigar rather than offered time to talk with me about the various available choices based on my personal preferences.
Building a good relationship with a competent tobacconist is rewarding. Let’s not feel intimidated. Let’s consider that:
- our taste buds are more numerous than in men and degenerate less quickly with age
- we are able to identify more sensory differences among cigars, as our nose is more sensitive
Based on this, we are biologically even better equipped than men to open up to the fantastic sensory world of premium cigars. We should allow ourselves to take our pleasure!
Frame of mind, and of tastebuds…
As we often repeat, generally cigars are a means of pleasure. Depending on how you want to focus on them while you smoke them, you might want to pay attention to what allows you to either just relax or/and being more aware of what you are sensing.
Understanding cigars from their sensory expressions is the best gift you could give to yourself. In fact, in order not to be just smoking according to other people’s tastes and motives, you need to build a conscious knowledge of what you like and don’t like.
If you opt for the latter, your free Cigar Sense membership is the easiest way to start. There is also a lot of materials available on this website. The first we would encourage you to look at is a seminar from our sensory scientist, Constantin Heitkamp:
We hope this short guide has been helpful to you. Let us know if you have any questions and how you progress. In the meantime, relax and enjoy!
On nicotine harm, there are consistent findings in scientific studies that differentiate heavy cigar smokers (5 or more cigars per day) from moderate cigar smokers. “According to The New England Journal of Medicine, the heavy cigar smokers suffer substantial increases in risk for cardiac diseases, a near doubling risk for all smoking-related cancers, and a tripling risk for lung cancer. In contrast, of all the diseases studied in the moderate smoker groups, only coronary heart disease showed a statistically significant increase, with a risk 1.2 times greater than that of non-smokers. Other diseases suggested small increases in risk, but not at statistically significant levels.” – Jacob Grier, The Rediscovery of Tobacco, 2019, p. 69-70
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medecine are another source to understand where science stands with respect to the premium cigar.