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 can be true. 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 torture 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 smoke a light or a strong cigar. What you want to do is avoid having the impression that you are not tasting anything, or that you are having 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 has 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. This is not necessarily true. If you like spicy food and you plan to have your cigar after a meal, or 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 buds and nasal receptors before you even lit the cigar. If you are not sure, but definitely do not want to have the cigar with water a few hours after meals (which we doubt you would), go for a medium strength cigar and read our further paragraph on retro-hale and that stuff.
This 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, go ahead and do as you please. When planning to light a cigar while being busy doing something else or talking, definitely a larger ring gauge cigar might be easier. If you can’t focus on the cigar, you’d best not choose a lonsdale. Such format can deliver sensory ecstasy but is somewhat more demanding in terms of attention. In fact, in a narrow gauge cigar, the smoke travels at higher speed and the combustion temperature rises. 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. Price is just one parameter which cannot be playing the only role when you choose your cigar.
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? The latter might not be an indicator of a good start into such a rewarding hobby. Try to find the right balance between what you want to experience today and what you believe you could learn to appreciate more of the premium cigars. Every experience adds to your cultural baggage and this is what drives you 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. Some master blenders teach us how a specific leaf tastes in a specific blend. However, in real life, you are not very likely to consistently find the same sensations based on certain leaves in a cigar, because every cigar – of a different brand or line, although containing that particular leaf – is part of a very 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. But we won’t, it’s a too important role. Simply put, a cigar is more than the sum of the leaves that compose it. This is due to the terroir, the different farming, processing and manufacturing processes of the tobacco leaves.
Another myth about wrappers is about how shiny a wrapper leaf is. Some people believe that the shinier or oilier a wrapper is, the better the cigar quality is. This is not true. It’s sufficient to look at Padron’s cigars to tell that the faded wrappers can deliver great quality. On the contrary, there are dyed wrappers that appear very shiny and oily but the cigar quality overall may be questionable. Therefore, you should just try different wrapper colors and note where your preference goes.
The color of the wrapper depends mainly on the tobacco, on the plant priming, on the fermentation time. Until the 60’s, Cuban cigar boxes used to be classified based on wrapper color. Such indication on the boxes corresponded to a certain level of nicotine strength. This is no longer the case> 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.
In spite of this, a lot of people in the industry still think that beginner cigars should be Connecticut shade wrapped cigars. They believe these are mild. Do not fall into that trap!
This is the most intriguing and fascinating part in the discovery of new cigars.
Let us say it straight: if you don’t care for the flavor of a natural cigar, you might miss a lot. But we understand that not everybody appreciates this. If you’re unsure about the flavors you enjoy, just go by brand or by origin country, or even by highly rated cigars. You can use these criteria in addition to the ones above.
If, on the contrary, you want to experience as much as possible of what a premium cigar can give you, the following paragraphs are for you.
Flavor is what more than 80% of cigar lovers consider as most important when choosing a new cigar to try. Yet, there aren’t many sources that can reliably advise on what new cigars they can buy based on flavor. Many subjective cigar reviews do not provide reliable information on the flavors that you can find again in a cigar. We believe in more objective methods for this reason. In fact, the reader needs to be able to reliably know what to expect from another sample of the same cigar. The reviewer influence may play a role but, as consumers get more educated, such influence will no longer be as effective.
Even the language used at most cigar shops might not be of great help here. For example, often people use the term body, which means at least 8 different things, depending on whom you are talking with. In summary, there isn’t much sensory education in the cigar world yet. But this is not a reason to despair. There are a few ways to tackle this.
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. This service 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. In fact, you might want to first develop your nose and palate. Stay tuned for more from me on how to do this.
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.
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 recommendations for new cigars to try in a quick 3-step process. Feedback is critical, but very easy to submit, to refine your recommended cigars’ list.
Infused cigars may be interesting if you really cannot find what flavors you should start with. However, when you will approach natural premium cigars, you will find there is a whole very different amazing world opening to you.
Once you have identified some cigars that you know you will like based on your first preferences, a few other things 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.
You will experience that the length of a cigar, together with its shape and ring gauge, will deliver special sensations. 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.
Retro-haling is one technique that allows the gasous 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.
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. It’s rather in the raw cigar analysis that a more expert cigar lover can detect issues with a cigar’s quality. The raw cigar analysis requires to cut the cigar head and to put the cigar in one’s mouth, and it’s not legitimate to ask a tobacconist to allow us to do this, regardless of the country in which we are.
In this men dominated world, we may find it at times tough and at times amusing. 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 and to be considered as beginners by default. When I visited tobacconists that did not know me, I was often quickly recommended a flavored cigar rather than offered time to talk with me about the various available choices based on my 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 products, as our nose is more sensitive
Based on this, we are biologically even better equipped than men to open up to the fascinating sensory world of premium cigars. We should allow ourselves to take our pleasure!
Frame of mind, and of tastebuds…
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 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 is 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 in risk for all smoking-related cancers, and a tripling of 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