Of Cigar Tasting - The Raw Cigar


Appreciating the raw cigar during a cigar tasting means exploring it before we light it. There are also some common beliefs and we will present some data – and there is some science too – that debunk them.

When it comes to approaching a cigar and starting our journey with it, we might get a bit anthropomorphic and think just like we need to get to know who we are dealing with before getting any further in the relationship.

Zino Davidoff used to ask his customers seeking advice at the shop : “What sort of man are you, sir?”. As you know, we at Cigar Sense deeply believe it is necessary to consider all possible parameters that someone finds important when choosing a new cigar to buy. For a moment, however, let’s reverse the situation and let’s ask the cigar what it has to offer to us. This implies taking some time to observe it, rather than spoiling our pleasure by lighting it on reflex.

The Shape and the Size

There have probably been more than 1000 different unique formats produced over the centuries. The high number is due to the precision with which formats are cataloged in Cuba. This has been optimized in 2002, but classification is still rather precise, and there have been more and more additional vitolas released since then.

Of Cigar Tasting - The Raw Cigar

International shapes are an approximated grouping of the Cuban vitolas. In fact, outside of Cuba there is no standard classification. There are formats, more or less recognized, and ranges that group the most recurring formats based on their sizes and shapes.

How shapes and sizes impact the organoleptic performance will be discussed in a further article.

The Wrapper

Although there is an enormous number of color shades, the most recurring wrapper colors are about 7.

Of Cigar Tasting - The Raw Cigar
source : Cigar Journal

To these we could add a hybrid group that includes barber poles and other creative looks.

The wrapper appearance brings us further into the observation of the cigar’s dress. Bright, faded, uniform,…  Whether it feels silky, velvety or rough or oily, can have more philosophical importance than we think. Some people are set off by faded or rough wrappers with evident veins. The impact of these factors on the cigar enjoyment is personal. I know some catadores who are not very forgiving in their overall assessment with regards to the aspect of a Caribbean cigar, even if the rest of the tasting is excellent.

The Construction

Looking at the foot of the cigar depicts the art of construction, the way the leaves have been rolled together.  And it also depicts the different colors of the filler leaves.

If you gently press along the cigar body, you can also feel if it is uniformly compact and elastic. Or there may be some areas that seem emptier and others excessively filled. If the cigar filling is rather loose, this invites you to even more consciously smoke slowly.

The Raw Cigar Aromas

… or scents. What is meant here are the scents perceived, through direct olfaction, on the wrapper and foot of the cigar. Some cigars may have very intense scents, some almost imperceptible.

If you sense something that reminds you of ammonia, don’t smoke the cigar and place it back to rest more.

The Raw Draw

Many articles have already been written on how to properly cut a cigar, therefore I will not be redundant here. One article I find very good is this one.

The raw draw is also called pre-light draw or cold draw and, as you certainly know or grasp, is the act of puffing on the cigar when it is not yet lit.

The Prelude

The scents and aromas in a raw cigar – and here I mean the wrapper, the foot and the raw draw aromas – are to a certain extent a prelude to the lit cigar experience, they can inspire us and create a great imagination of the overall enjoyment of the cigar.

However, this phase does not necessarily give us a reliable prediction of the actual aromas we will encounter after we light the Caribbean cigar (this can be different for fire-cured tobacco cigars).

For example, when you take a raw draw before lighting your cigar, the fact you may perceive a strong hay aroma  is not a predictor of the fact your cigar will produce herbal aromas when lit.

As the chart below indicates, we have correlated aroma perceptions in Raw observations to those perceived after the cigar is Lit. The chart clearly shows that the lit aroma perceptions almost never match the raw aroma perceptions. The data relates to over 3000 samples of cigars from all over the world, tasted blind by our panel.

Of Cigar Tasting - The Raw Cigar

This is why we believe that the aromas we perceive before lighting a cigar do not predict those we will find in the lit cigar Share on X

Combustion is an important factor that affects the tasting experience and it’s  therefore not always possible for the lit cigar to keep its raw aromas’ promise.

What we can say is that connoisseurs do evaluate the production quality or characteristics of a cigar through its raw scents and that the raw draw can provide a prediction of the aromas quality, of the nicotine strength and of the draw performance of the cigar.

Back to you!



Comparetto Franca, Of Cigar Aging, cigarsense.com
Davidoff Zino, The Connoisseur’s Book of The Cigar, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1967
Ferri Luigi, La Storia del Sigaro, Odoya, 2014
Rittler Irene, Cigar Trivia: Wrapper Colors, Cigar Journal
Widmayer Reinhold, Cut, Punch, Bite, Rip – The Many Ways To Open a Cigar, Cigar Journal
cigarsense.com database

featured image : Matteo Speranza


Next steps

If you wish to learn more about cigar tasting, how to fairly evaluate a cigar and how to break down a cigar review, A Cigar Tasting Course might be for you.

You can also log-in or sign-up for free to find the best cigars that suit your unique tastes and learn more about what you like and dislike in a cigar. You will be able to download your copy of our e-book “Cigar Tasting. Beyond the casual, social experience” upon completion of your registration.

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