“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.
In no particular order, here are answers to 10 of the most commonly asked questions about cigar smoking. If you're new to cigars, you will find this section invaluable, and if you've been smoking for years, you may learn some things you had not previously considered.
My cigars are over humidified. What can I do to restore the humidor to optimal conditions? Can the cigars be saved?
In most cases, the cigars can be saved. Over humidification is a problem, especially prevalent during summer or in warmer, more sultry climates. But there are ways to combat it, and to ensure that your humidor stays in top shape year-round.
Adding cedar strips to the humidor—you'll find these in many cigar boxes—will help maintain optimum moisture levels. Put a strip or two on the bottom of the humidor, a strip in the middle, and another on top, and you'll watch the humidity reading drop as the cedar absorbs the humidor's extra moisture. Just keep an eye on the cigars, and add or remove cedar until you've reached the desired humidification.
The one thing you should not do is simply leave the lid of the humidor open—this can lead to wild fluctuations in humidity, and turn cigars that are too moist into dried-out cigars in a short time. Another thing to consider is the number of cigars in your humidor; if you have a very large box containing few cigars, the smokes may absorb more than their proper share of humidity.
Although I generally use guillotine cutters, I was recently given a stylish wedge cutter. What's the difference, and will I damage my cigar?
Wedge cutters were conceived decades ago, when the average cigar was much thinner than it is today. They were designed to open up a larger opening to channel the smoke, which is a consideration for lonsdales and coronas but generally not an issue for thicker cigars such as robustos. As a general rule, we prefer guillotines, as cigars cut with wedge cutters can accumulate tars that do not build up when using a straight cut. Also, wedge cutters tend to be imprecise in comparison with straight cutters, and you run the risk of damaging the cigar.
The third type of cutter that has become popular is the bullet, or lance, cutter. This type of cutter makes a circular hole in the head of the cigar, and it, too, has its drawbacks. First, it is easy to pierce the cigar too deeply, creating a tunnel near the head that makes the cigar burn hot. Also, as with a wedge cutter, the bullet hole left in the cigar's head allows tars to build up near the mouth of the smoker, frequently altering or souring the cigar's taste.
I've noticed a powdery substance on several of my cigars. What is this, and need I be concerned?
If the substance has a whitish colour and can be easily dusted off the cigars without leaving residue, fear not. What you have in this case is "plume" (also called bloom), a natural occurrence caused by the cigars' sweating off some of the oils that are inherent to tobacco. Just dust off the cigars prior to smoking them.
If, however, the residue is more of a bluish colour and leaves a stain on the wrapper when you dust it off, the cigars are the victims of mould. Mould is frequently caused by high temperature and humidity levels, so keeping your humidor near the optimal 70 degree/70 percent humidity mark will help avoid this problem. Also, mould can be caused by not using distilled water in your humidification device, so know what sort of water you are using.
Occasionally some of my cigars will develop holes, and I've seen some small bugs crawling around my humidor. What should I do?
Beetles cause one of the most devastating problems found in humidors because they can quickly decimate a cigar supply and are difficult to combat. Beetle larvae are microscopic and occur naturally in tobacco, and, despite the quality control efforts of manufacturers, are frequently in cigars that make it to market. Once the temperature reaches 72 degrees, the beetles can hatch; they crawl through the cigars, creating those small round holes that essentially destroy a once-good smoke. But they can be combated by keeping a vigilant watch on your humidor's temperature, and perhaps by installing a beetle trap in your humidor. In addition, beetle larvae can be killed by freezing the cigars. Just put them in your freezer for three days, then move them into the fridge for one day. After you've frozen the cigars, though, take care to slowly acclimate them to re-humidification, lest the wrappers on the cigars crack
Other bugs you may occasionally run into are wood mites—small, white insects that are often the result of opening a fresh wooden box of cigars. The good news is that these mites won't harm the cigars, and they don't live long enough to seriously damage your humidor.
My tobacconist sells many box-pressed cigars. Why do manufacturers do this? Is there an advantage to box-pressed smokes over round cigars?
Box pressing is a stylistic decision, and it neither makes a cigar better nor worse than a round cigar. Lots of people favour the feel of a box-pressed smoke, and some manufacturers feel box pressing can correct potential construction flaws. But it is an aesthetic decision as to whether you prefer this style of cigar. Box pressing says nothing about the quality of the cigar, nor of the person who smokes it.
What is the best way for me to age my cigars?
Many collectors choose to age their cigars in boxes, keeping like cigars together. Also, it's a good idea to age cigars at a slightly lower temperature and humidity level than normal, and then to move the aged smokes to a desktop humidor when you're ready to begin smoking them.
Many cigar brands, especially Cuban brands, are available in cabinet presentation, where the cigars are banded together with a ribbon in a format that makes them ideal for aging and long-term storage. While aging boxed cigars is certainly acceptable, these cabinet-packed smokes make even more attractive aging candidates, and therefore frequently command higher prices at auction.
Many cigars are sold in individual cellophane overwraps. Should I remove the cellophane prior to placing the cigars in my humidor? What about tubes and bands? Are cigars best stored "naked"?
Cellophane serves several purposes on a cigar—in states that require each cigar to have a warning label, it makes this notification much easier to accomplish, and it prevents damage to the cigars from excessive handling in cigar shops. But once you've bought the cigar and are placing it in your humidor, we recommend you remove the cellophane. Cellophane will prevent humidity from reaching the cigar, and you'll find the cigars will respond to humidification better if the overwrap has been removed. The same holds true for cigar tubes, whether glass or aluminium; these tubes will completely close off a cigar to humidification if left on. However, if you intend to transport your cigars (such as in a coat pocket), it may be a good idea to keep a few tubes or cellophane overwraps handy to protect the cigars during transport.
As far as bands are concerned, it's a matter of personal preference. Some people like to remove them, but when possible, we generally choose to keep the bands on (outside of our tasting procedures, of course). First, it makes identifying the cigars much easier, and it also prevents inadvertent damage to the cigar's wrapper that can occur while removing the band.
Can I use my Zippo lighter to light a cigar?
It's probably not your best option. We suggest using wooden matches or, better yet, strips of cedar called spills. These will light your cigar without imparting to it the taste or odour of the oil found in lighter fluid. If you wish to use a lighter for your cigars, we recommend one that uses butane as its fuel, as these types of lighters are odourless. However, some smokers insist on using their old Zippo lighters, which may have sentimental value. If you're one of these people, just make sure that when lighting your cigar, the flame of the Zippo does not touch the cigar's foot. Once the cigar is lit, you may also choose to give the cigar one (and only one) outward puff, to clear it of any impurities caused by the lighter fluid.
My grandfather always dips his cigars in Cognac or rum. Is this a good idea? Why does my tobacconist warn me against it?
Your grandfather probably started doing this decade ago, when cigars were shipped drier and humidification technology was not what it is today. Dipping the cigars in those years helped impart moisture to a dry cigar. Today, however, cigars are generally shipped and stored in optimally humidified conditions, and dipping a cigar in Cognac or rum will only serve to make your cigar soggy. What's more, the smoke will not taste like what it was dipped in, another reason we strongly recommend leaving the Cognac or rum in a glass, and enjoying it alongside your cigars.
I've been told you should only smoke a cigar halfway. Is this true? How can I tell when a cigar is done?
The golden rule here is that a cigar is done whenever you're no longer enjoying it. But as a general maxim, we smoke our cigars about half to two-thirds of the way down. The reason is that a cigar gets hotter and more powerful the further down you smoke it, and its flavour changes as tars and moisture build up near the cigar's head. Smoke it too far, and you risk ruining the great flavour you've been enjoying. But this is simply a suggestion—if you're still enjoying the cigar as its lit end is about to burn your fingertips, go right on smoking it. Cigar smoking, after all, is about enjoyment.
Cigars that are not well kept typically dries up due to the lack of humid conditions. But first, how do you know if your cigar is too dry?
- Your cigar is lighter than it is supposed to be
- Your cigar feels a lot tighter than before
- The draw is too tight in your cigar and it's not because it's rolled too tightly
- Your cigar is stale and tastes like dirt
- There is a crack in your cigar
You can also verify these things by pinching the cigar between your fingers. If it feels hard like a wooden stick then perhaps it might be a little too dry due to the evaporation of the natural oils in the tobacco.
If your cigar fits any of the descriptions above, then your cigar is definitely in danger. However, if your cigar meets the following criteria, then I'm afraid it might be too late and you might as well just chuck your cigar away.
- If your cigar has a crack, then it is still fine as long as the crack doesn't reach the filler of the cigar.
- If the oil has completely evaporated from your cigar
If not, then you are in luck and your cigar still has a fighting chance to stay alive. Keep in mind that this is going to be a long process that could take weeks and even months. Although it takes quite some time to re-hydrate your cigar, it is a process that is worth investing your time in as the altered taste of a dry cigar tastes like dirt. In some instances, the cigar may even become too tight and effect the draw of the cigar.
Now we will get right to it.
- Assuming you have a table-top humidor, take out the contents.
- Take a towel and moisten it with distilled water. Tap water is a no-go for this situation.
- Take your moist towel and wipe the walls of the humidor clean. The point in doing this is to take precautionary steps in order to avoid potential bugs or mould.
- With a moist towel, re-moisten the humidification part of the humidor with distilled water. Make sure it doesn't get over humidified, otherwise it'll over hydrate the cigar and cause it to expand the cigar too quickly, which would crack the wrapper of the cigar.
- Eventually the humidor should return to the optimal 70 degree humidity equilibrium. The cigar(s) being kept inside should also return to the optimal humidity within a couple weeks or so depending of the size of the cigar's ring gauge.
- Finally, check if your cigar has been salvaged by giving it a small, gentle squeeze between your fingers. If it is still too hard then you should continue with the process, if it is a little squishier, and plumper, then you have saved your cigar!
Hope you were able to salvage your cigar from destruction with our help. If you found this helpful maybe you can share this article with people who could benefit from it.
You might have seen it in the movies, or in TV shows, or on the cover of a gangster novel. The big boss – be he a mafia don, drug lord, or your plain, run-of-the-mill CEO – is sporting a large cigar, and is smoking it unaffectedly. He seems to like it, that tight, large wad of smoke and leaves. But what makes cigars so prized, and why is it often associated with wealth and business?
Very simply, a cigar is a rolled-up heap of dried, fermented tobacco. One end is lit with fire, and the other is the opening by which smoke can enter a user’s mouth. Cigar tobacco is special: its flavour is reputedly richer and deeper than the tobacco used for ordinary cigarettes. Such tobacco is grown in tropical countries, with Brazil, Cuba, Honduras, and Mexico leading the pack. Cuban cigars, in particular, are considered to be the best varieties, although experts contend that Nicaraguan and Honduran cigars easily rival the mighty Cuban.
Cigars were once extremely expensive, and were usually confined to banquets, where “smokers” were held. These were gatherings where important politicians convened to discuss important issues while they smoked. When the U.S. imposed a trade embargo on Cuba in the 20th century, the price of cigars rose much higher, and the use of them was confined to those who could afford them.
In mid 2005, however, cigar prices declined, allowing many smokers (and smoking beginners) to taste and enjoy cigar smoking. But what is there to enjoy in cigars? According to aficionados, cigars have less of the smoky taste of cigarettes, and can even take on the taste of whisky, chocolate, or even wine!
How are cigars made? Choice tobacco leaves are first harvested, then aged by a combination of heat and shade. This serves to lower the leaves’ water and sugar content, without causing leaves to rot. Once the dried leaves are ready, they are made to “die with grace” by a slow process of fermentation. During this time, humidity levels and temperature are controlled, such that the lea will ferment without disintegrating or rotting. In this critical period are ushered out of the leaves the flavours and aroma that characterize the cigar into which it will eventually be made.
When fermentation is done, leaves are sorted out depending on whether they will be used as filler for the cigar, or as wrapper. Leaves must be kept moist, and should be handled very carefully. As soon as they are sorted, a cigar maker will roll them into any of the various cigar shapes, carefully, and by hand.
The flavour of a cigar depends on the leaves used for its wrapper and filler. Wrapper leaves usually come from the widest part of a tobacco plant. Their colour can range from the very light, mildly greenish brown shade called the Double Claro; to the oily, black Oscuro grown in Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, or Brazil. The colour of a wrapper also describes the colour of a cigar.
Most of a cigar is made up of fillers, or the interior, where smoking tobacco leaves are bundled together by elastic leaves called binders. Some cigar makers mix up a variety of leaves of various tastes and strengths, in order to produce different flavours of cigar.
To keep their flavour, cigars should be stored at room temperature, but at relatively high humidity. A humidor, or a special wooden box, usually comes with cigars when they are purchased.
Cigars still retain their mystique, whether they are seen on the silver screen, or read about in books.
Till next time, Cigars are a Lifestyle!
Experienced cigar enthusiasts are well acquainted with the pleasures of a well-aged cigar. The subtle flavours and complex constitution of a well-aged cigar is indescribable and unforgettable. Like wine, many cigar aficionados swear by the process of ageing. A great cigar, the argument goes, is an aged one. How can you attain a well-aged cigar that provides the mellow, complex flavours you crave? You can always fork over a good deal of your money and purchase a box of expensive vintage cigars. If you would rather save the money and experiment with ageing on your own, here are a few tips to help you get started.
First, know that you will have to be patient if you want a properly aged cigar. You will have to age your cigars for about a year in order to achieve the flavours and complex subtleties of a well-aged cigar. Also, know that in order to achieve the rewards of a well-aged cigar; you must begin the process with a high-quality cigar. If you try to age a lower quality cigar, chances are that any amount of ageing will not improve their flavours significantly. Many high-quality cigars that you find too strong or odorous are perfect candidates for ageing. In fact, almost all high-quality cigars can be improved through the process of ageing.
To age your cigars, purchase a good quality humidor. Cigars must be stored in a constant and stable environment. Follow the 70-70 rules. That means the humidity must be at a constant humidity of 70%, and at a temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Of course, the environment in which they are stored in is crucial. Follow the usual 70-70 rules for temperature and humidity. Any more and your cigars will get mouldy; any less and the ageing process begins to be stunted. Maintaining a stable environment for your cigars is key - a constantly fluctuating environment can be disastrous. Swings in temperature and humidity causes cigars to expand and contract, which leads to cracking in its wrappers and a disruption in the ageing process. Ideally, the space in the humidor should be about twice the volume of cigars. The lining should be cedar - cedar wood is highly aromatic wood, full of its own oils. Over time, the tobacco oil, and the cedar oil leads to a mellowing and blending of flavours which results to a subtle complexity that you can only get from proper ageing.