This article on buying cigars is really meant for either the casual cigar smoker or the newbie but, those of you who are experienced at puffing the tasty leaf, you will want to read this as well in order to help educate those very same beginners that you happen to personally know. This piece can help YOU to help THEM in learning how to enjoy the smoky pastime that we all love.
QUESTION 1: WHAT ARE THE BEST CIGARS FOR BEGINNERS TO START WITH?
It is the most important first inquisition that a beginner should ask and the answer is always the same. It is not the brand that one should be directed to, but the blend of tobacco and the outer wrapper leaf. MILD bodied cigars – THAT is what the newbie should begin their smoky quest with.
Light brown or golden yellow wrappers are generally woven around milder, creamier, slightly sweeter cigars. They are clean tasting and easy on the palate. Much like a new wine drinker starts with lighter, fruitier offerings as opposed to heavy and peppery Cabs and Shiraz, the new cigar smoker has to start out light and train his untrained palate before he can move onward and upward.
QUESTION 2: WHAT SIZES ARE BEST FOR A BEGINNER TO START OUT WITH?
A robusto or a corona. At 5 inches, the robusto is a nice short size, but has a 50RG which allows an ample amount of air to pass through, making the cigar a cooler smoke for the mouth to enjoy. As for the corona, it is a slender size at around 5 ½ by 42 and it is the size that many of the blenders and cigar makers utilise to test new blends that they are creating.
For some reason they feel they get the most flavour and true attributes and characteristics of the tobacco with that size, and unknowingly a newbie should experience that particular cigar at its best.
QUESTION 3: I’VE SMOKED THIS CERTAIN BRAND BEFORE AND I LIKED IT. WHAT DO YOU RECOMMEND THAT IS SIMILAR?
Let the customer service know that you are kind of new to the game and mention what you have smoked and liked. You should be directed to that cigar or given suggestions about other sticks with similar tobaccos, body and flavour profiles. Trying out different cigars will expand your palate and help you discover what tasty tobacco treats are the best for you.
QUESTION 4: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NATURAL AND MADURO WRAPPERS?
Most cigar newbies are frightened to death by the sight of dark and oily Maduro wrapped cigars. They automatically assume that they are going to be overly strong and harsh. But for those of us who dig the Maduro, we are well aware that they often display a naturally sweet taste with flavour profiles of coffee beans and chocolate.
Do your research and find out how Maduro leaf is cured before buying cigars. Also, spend a little time reading through online reviews to find the flavour profile that you might want to try.
QUESTION 5: WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO STORE MY CIGARS AFTER I LEAVE THE SHOP?
How to keep your precious sticks fresh (at the right temperature and humidity) is an important question because someone who really knows his cigars can help you out (depending how long before you smoke the cigars you purchase). If it is a day or two, you can leave them in the cello (if it’s dry heat in the winter, a day max). If it is a few days to a week you can keep them in a zip lock bag or get yourself a small travel humidor or small desktop-type humidor. If you are really going to start enjoying them on a regular basis, ask the customer service to give you the run-down on what type of humidors are out there and what is best for you!
If you play golf or poker regularly you will want the perfect travel case. If you plan on becoming a successful business tycoon, a standing display shelf case will make you the envy of all who know you. Do your research, ask those who know and you will be all set.
And why they go together so well…
A whiff of fresh-brewed coffee. The scent of an open humidor, or the hint of a thick, oily Maduro-wrapped cigar being toasted. Your Pavlovian response is triggered as soon as you walk into the room, with their alluring aromas washing over your senses. Coffee and cigars hit you in many of the same ways; but that is not all this duo has in common.
They go great together. And with all the brew and blend variations, the possible coffee/cigar combos are nearly endless.
Both have been enjoyed for centuries. Sometimes each is part of our everyday ritual, or savoured in small doses, like after dinner. Both coffee and premium cigars start with a very hands-on harvesting process: much in the same way tobacco stalks are primed every couple of days, coffee pickers harvest only the ripest cherries from the tree – by hand – once every week to ten days. Tobacco leaves and coffee beans are both fermented, too. And just like cigars, coffee quality can run from the cheap, to a concoction of epicurean proportions that goes on your mental “best-ever” list.
There is also a similarity between coffee and cigars in how we talk about consuming them; for that, we use a flavour wheel. The words on the wheel give us a shared vocabulary we can use to communicate with other cigar lovers, so they understand the flavours and sensations we are trying to describe when we smoke. Beer brewers actually got that idea started in the 1970s, then wine aficionados followed. Now, a lot of things have a flavour wheel: beef, chocolate, bread, even dog food (really). You will see that a good cup of coffee can have a lot of the same tasting notes as cigars, just like wine and whisky do – and that is why pairing them together is such a big payoff. A coffee and a premium smoke naturally complement one another, and we are going to set out here to explain a few reasons why.
1. How coffee and cigars are made is just as important as where they are made.
If we were to generalize, you could probably call the typical Puerto Rican coffee blend very strong and powerful; Colombian blends are often more balanced, creamy and bright. Nicaraguan and Honduran blends are also found to have “bright” flavours, meaning some mild acidity and tart-like fruitiness – others will show some subtle hints of cacao. These coffees may have a big finish, too. But more often than not, the flavours in a coffee really depend on the conditions under which the beans are prepped and roasted.
Same goes for cigar tobacco, where the curing and fermenting conditions have a huge impact on the outcome of the cigar’s flavour profile. Some Nicaraguans – like Padrons – have a strong coffee-like flavour, while some have a big, peppery bite from using Esteli-grown Ligero in the blend. Others can be smoother, like cigars with a more generous amount of leaf from Ometepe (earthy, sweet) or Jalapa (sweet, aromatic). And depending on how long and how heavily they are fermented, these very similar leaves can take on very different tastes once they are ready to be rolled.
So just like we cannot describe all Nicaraguan cigars as fierce pepper bombs, not all Nicaraguan coffees are tart, rich eye-openers; where the crop is grown and how the raw materials are prepared makes the difference in the flavour “pop” in both our coffee and our cigars.
2. There is an ideal place for growing coffee beans and cigar tobacco.
For coffee people, it is called the “bean belt”: the area between the Tropic of Cancer (23.5˚ North of the Equator) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23.5˚ South of the Equator). Of course, all rules have exceptions, resulting in a few outliers – like Hawaii.
The Coffee Belt – aka the “Bean Belt” – encompasses the same regions and countries where tobacco is grown for cigars: Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Cameroon, Indonesia and more. (Image via seasia.co)
For us cigar folk, the ideal cigar tobacco growing region is located…between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Same as the bean belt. And all the big tobacco players are in there: Cuba, the DR, Nicaragua, Honduras, Brazil, Cameroon, Indonesia, etc. etc. Yes, tobacco can be found growing as far north as Connecticut, Massachusetts and parts of Canada, and as far south as New Zealand; but those extremes are the outliers, like Hawaii.
Geographically, coffee beans and tobacco are kindred crops – which is why coffee and cigars go so well together. The soil is right, the weather is right, everything is just…right.
3. “Dark” doesn’t mean “stronger.”
It is cigar myth #1 – that just because a cigar has a dark wrapper, it is going to be a punishing smoke that dresses you down with gobs of nicotine and raw, brutal intensity. Ok, maybe some do. But many Maduros do not, whereas some cigars with lighter coloured wrappers are way more aggressive by comparison – evidenced by the last Camacho Corojo I smoked. A lot of Habano wrappers can pull it off, too.
And here is where the potency in coffee and cigars are alike: caffeine holds up pretty well throughout the roasting process, so many dark roasts (like Maduros) can be pretty heavy-handed. But then there are some lighter Arabica beans that can produce a hell of a kick, depending on the species of tree and how long they have been roasted. And if you are measuring out the grounds into your Mr. Coffee by the scoop (as opposed to by weight), some lighter roasts are the ones more likely to give you the jitters.
So just as not all Maduro cigars are stronger, neither are all dark roast coffees.
4. Coffee and cigars were both associated with the Devil.
Both coffee and cigars have been met with Old World controversy, as each has – at various times – been linked to the Devil. And it is more than just because that Fuente Hemingway or those Liga 9’s are sinfully delicious.
Upon their return to Europe, two of Christopher Columbus’ shipmates were jailed for their tobacco smoking, called “sinful and infernal habits” because the Christian locals believed a man’s “power to exhale smoke from his mouth” could only come from Satan. They served 7 years in prison, all while tobacco smoking came into broad acceptance.
Pope Clement VIII helped speed coffee’s acceptance across Europe. (Image via npr.org)
Similarly, legend has it that advisers to Pope Clement VIII pressed him to denounce coffee in the late 1500’s, calling it a “bitter invention of Satan” because of coffee’s popularity throughout the Ottoman Empire. But the Pope found this hot new drink too delicious to disallow, and reportedly said, “We should cheat the devil by baptizing it.”
It spread across Europe like wildfire, with coffee houses becoming an important place for people to meet and exchange ideas and information. They were often called “Schools of the Wise.” Which sounds a lot like a cigar lounge, actually.
5. Coffee and tobacco both act as a natural insect repellent.
This is more than your cigar’s smoke keeping the bugs away, this is science: caffeine and nicotine are both alkaloids, organic compounds found in plants that “have pronounced physiological actions on humans.” When (most) bugs eat coffee or tobacco plants, they get jittery, too. The difference between us and the bugs is that we have a “reward system” in the chemical makeup of our brain that gives us a dopamine-riddled feeling of satisfaction when we smoke or sip coffee.
“Insects don’t find these drugs addictive or pleasurable, they just find them repulsive,” says Northumbria University researcher Dr. David Kennedy.
Translation: bugs do not have the capability of having a dopamine rush; so while the pleasure of a caffeine jolt or a nicotine buzz (or euphoric coke rush) keeps us coming back for more, insects who ingest these alkaloids just twitch – without the feel-good part – and that is a good enough reason for them to stay away.
So there you have it – five reasons why your cigars go so well with a cup of coffee, and why you are so rewarded with flavour when you team them up. Got any pairings you would like to recommend? Drop us a comment below.
What can you do to make sure you will enjoy your cigars to their fullest potential?
“if you are going to truly enjoy smoking a cigar, it is worth your time to light it slowly, and light it properly.” Turns out the same wisdom goes when actually smoking it, too.
Enjoying cigars is relaxing way to spend some solid “me” time, in addition to being my line of work. But pacing myself has paid unexpected dividends when it comes to truly enjoying them: just as I do not gulp scotch, I don’t rush my cigar; so I recommend you take your time and savour it. I bet you will find that many cigars you thought were not as good and do not live up to the hype, actually take on a whole new flavour-rich life of their own.
There are two ways that tearing through a premium cigar is doing you and your palate more harm than good…first, it is about smoking time. Maybe you find that you can blast your way through a robusto in under 30 minutes, or worse, many of your most-recently smoked cigars have had a bitter taste. Either could be a sign that you are puffing too hard, too fast. If that is happening to you, slow down. When considering how often to puff a cigar, a good rule of thumb is to be patient and hit on the cigar roughly once a minute or so. It lets the cigar burn a little cooler, and allows for your senses to pick up the flavours and aromas the cigar maker blended. Bonus: taking fewer puffs can also help make full-bodied cigars that much more manageable.
Smoking a cigar too fast can prematurely char the filler tobacco, and cause an ashy or bitter taste. And when you make it down to the nub in a more reasonable amount of time, the heat will not ruin your smoke – or your taste buds.
In addition to being mindful about how often to puff a cigar, try rotating your cigar as you smoke it too; smoking with the same side always up can cause an uneven burn. By rotating your smoke, the heat is more evenly distributed throughout the surface area of the cigar – creating a better burn, and a noticeable improvement in flavour.
While there is nothing wrong with smoking more than one cigar at a sitting, it is worth it to give your palate a break – so be just as mindful about how quickly you are ready to light your next smoke, as you are about how often to puff a cigar. Another good rule of thumb: like that old tale about swimming after eating (even though it has been debunked), it applies here; it is not a bad idea to wait at least 30 minutes before prepping for your next cigar. Take the time to order a drink. Cleanse your palate with something cool and fresh, like fruit or a light snack. Any of these will help keep you from burning out your taste buds. Because while that first cigar may taste great, firing up smoke number two without even as much as a breather can make that next cigar taste “off.”
Even the pros take a break between cigars. When testing new blends, it is not uncommon or unreasonable for cigar makers to smoke cigars by the dozen, and more than one at a time. But even the blenders know the senses need a time-out – and will take a few minutes away between cigars to cleanse the palate with a drink, so their taste buds do not go down in flames.
You wanted an unexpected benefit to smoking more slowly? Listen to your wallet. If you smoke 5 cigars in an afternoon at $25 a piece, that is a lot of premium cigars up in smoke. Slow it down – pace yourself, and try getting 90 minutes out of that Churchill. Now you are down to 3 cigars in an afternoon – and you might actually taste them all. You will still get the most out of each smoke, but now you are buying a box of cigar a little less frequently, saving some coin and consistently enjoying your daily cigars.
Choose the right sized cigar to get the job done. Short on time? Go for a smaller RG or shorter cigar rather than powering your way through a 6×60. Got an evening with time to kill? Skip that tin of cigarillos and go big, but smoke slow – no one wins in a race to the nub.
Pacing yourself while smoking a cigar makes a difference – a huge difference. You can have yourself a rich, robust and flavourful cigar experience, or a “meh” experience…and I think you certainly deserve the former. Instead of laying down a smokescreen the next time you light up, try to enjoy all of the flavours that cigar is meant to have. Relax – slow down. There will be more cigars to smoke and enjoy.
As any cigar aficionado will tell you, cigars are a hobby, not a habit. And like any hobby, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Whether you're a beginner or an expert, keep reading to see the seven worst mistakes that you can make while lighting up.
Mistake No. 1: Expecting two cigars to smoke the same.
Premium cigars are a handmade product created from an agricultural crop. Since so much variation can occur with the blends used, types of tobacco, and how the cigars were made, it's next to impossible to predict how a cigar will smoke with 100% certainty. Real cigar aficionados know this and embrace these small variations. You should too.
Mistake No. 2: Thinking that cigar flavours change from year to year, like wines.
Cigars are a non-vintage industry, which means cigar manufacturers try to ensure their cigar offerings taste the same from year to year. They add to and tinker with their tobacco blends, always trying to make sure the blend maintains the same taste while accounting for natural variation.
Over time, the taste of the cigar model will change, but very slowly. The difference is negligible in the short term.
Mistake No. 3: Holding the cigar in your mouth.
A cigar isn't something to "clench between your teeth and cheek and suck on. It should be held in your hand and brought up to your mouth to puff, then brought back down to hang out between your fingers.
This also helps the cigar burn cooler, so you don't waste any precious tobacco.
Mistake No. 4: Dipping the cigar in alcohol.
The flavour of the liquor can ruin the taste of the cigar and make it different from what the cigar manufacturer intended.
Mistake No. 5: Limiting your cigar smoking to only one brand or type.
You can have your preferred brand, sure. But don't let some mistaken sense of duty or loyalty to a particular brand keep you from sampling several varieties of cigars.
Having a repertoire of 10 to 12 go-to cigars that are all different types and brands is a great goal for any serious cigar smoker.
Mistake No. 6: Smoking what everyone else is smoking.
Don't just smoke the same cigar that the someone important you're meeting with is smoking. You're far better off asking the experts around you what you might enjoy instead of hacking up a lung and wasting a cigar.
This is especially good advice for beginners who aren't as comfortable smoking cigars just yet.
Mistake No. 7: Inhaling the cigar smoke.
You should never inhale while smoking a cigar. They're not cigarettes, and the tobacco is often much stronger.
Instead, merely take a puff and let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds while you taste it. Then simply blow it out. Puff and rotate your cigar every 30 seconds to one minute, and enjoy it with a strong alcoholic beverage.
“For cigar lovers, the artistic genius lies in the touch of hands”
An artist's genius flows from an intricate web of creative sources, yet one always dominates. It may be a photographer's eye, a painter's vision, a writer's mind, a musician's ear or a dancer's lithe muscles. The genesis of creation, however, is often invisible, the connoisseur experiencing only the culmination of the artist's long years of dedication and effort. A cigar, like many masterpieces, apparently epitomizes simplicity—a bunch of tobacco leaves rolled together to be lit and smoked. A cigar's seemingly simple origin reduces the act of smoking to an almost thoughtless pastime, the smoker maintaining an innocence about the complex combination of artistry and skill that produces it. Yet a cigar is much more than a skilled labourer’s mundane assembly of the parts; it is the gift of craftsmen who rely on their hands to forge a solid elixir of simple pleasure. For cigar lovers, the artistic genius lies in the touch of hands.
The magic of cigar making actually begins in the fields and the curing barns. The mystery involves the choice of soil, the type of seed and the timing of the harvest to bring the leaves to the barns in optimum condition, if nature has cooperated. Weather aside, man plays a role in each of those choices. His expert touch is essential in the fields, especially at harvest time when wrapper leaves are treated like pieces of fine crystal, the tiniest blemish affecting the value of the leaf. The length of drying, the stacking of leaves into bales for fermentation, the duration and intensity of the fermentation are all critical elements, choices made by master tobacco men who are artists in their own right. Even in the barns, it's not uncommon to see tobacco men ignore the thermometers and thrust their arms into the steaming stacks of leaves.
Once cured and fermented, the tobacco must be aged. The bales, either wrapped in burlap or stored in huge boxes, sit in vast, temperature-controlled warehouses for up to two years, and sometimes longer. Once primed and ready, the transformation of the tobacco from a pile of leaves to a cigar depends almost totally on the touch and feel of human hands. The leaves are broken out of the bales and "cased," a technique that moistens the leaves so they become supple and ready for manipulation. Some factories use a technique in which the leaves are bathed in a fine mist of water; others use huge rooms with extremely high humidity. The leaves are usually prepared a day in advance
After they are cased, the leaves are deveined, either with the aid of machines or simply by workers delicately pulling the stem down the middle of the leaf. The leaves are separated by strength or tobacco type. A supervisor, or blender, will prepare the exact proportion of leaves to be used in a cigar, usually arranging the leaves into different boxes that are then placed on the rollers' desks. The rollers receive instructions on how much of each leaf to press into the cigars they are making that day. Depending upon the factory, some cigars are made from beginning to end by the same person; a good roller in this setup can make 100 to 150 cigars a day. In other factories, two bunchers (workers who create the filler/ binder unit) are teamed with a roller, who places the outer wrapper on the cigar; in that setup, a team may make 250 to 300 cigars a day, or even more in smaller sizes.
The bunch is created by the cigar maker taking the three or four different leaves in the blend and pressing them together in his or her hands, folding the leaves over on themselves to form cylinders, leaving a narrow passage through the centre of the cigar that will ensure that the cigar draws properly; in some factories, the maker places the filler leaves in a roller's aid called a Temsco machine, a cigarette-style rolling device. The binder is then applied, either in the machine or by hand-rolling it around the filler leaves. The entire package is placed in a wooden mould, a form with slots that approximate the size and diameter of the cigar being made. After a mould is filled, the top half of the form is placed over it and the mould is taken to a manual hydraulic press. The bunches are usually pressed for 30 to 45 minutes, with the mould given a quarter turn at intervals to prevent tobacco ridges from forming where the mould halves meet. At this point, some factories also put the cigars on a special machine to suck air through the cigar and check the draw.
The mould then goes to the roller, and the outer wrapper leaf is rolled around the bunch. At each step, the cigar makers are checking the bunch with their hands for hard or loose spots and uniformity of the leaves. Any defects bring swift rejection. When the cigar is almost complete, a cap is applied to the head, or smoking end, of the cigar. The cap is usually a piece of tobacco sliced off the leaf before the cigar is rolled. In another technique, the roller fashions a cap from the protruding end of the wrapper leaf, called the flap or flag. Once the cigar is finished, the maker places it on top of his rolling desk and a supervisor inspects the cigar by hand, rejecting any cigar that he suspects of being improperly rolled or filled. In some factories, bunches of 50 cigars are weighed together; if the weight varies by a predetermined amount, usually a couple of grams, all 50 cigars are returned to the roller to be redone.
After they're rolled, the cigars are placed in an aging room where they remain for a minimum of 21 days. This permits the tobaccos to "marry," or blend, and acquire balance. Some companies age their cigars for up to six months or more before shipping.
Once the aging is finished, the cigars are spread onto tables. They are sorted by hand into groups of 25 that will go into the same box. The process requires a keen eye for colour, as there may be as many as 20 slight colour variations. A sorter may also reject cigars if they have any visible flaws, such as cracks or blemishes. The cigars are then nestled into boxes made of cardboard or Spanish cedar (depending on the packaging style, some cigars are wrapped in cellophane), sealed and shipped.
The next hand to caress the cigar's wrapper should be the smoker's, the final gentle touch in a cigar's life.