Cigar Handbook

Many regard the experience of smoking a cigar as an art form. Connoisseurs slowly draw the cooled, tasteful smoke as one might sip a glass of vintage wine or a fine brandy. A well manufactured stogie will provide a flavorful bouquet of aromas and give the smoker a relaxing experience.

The cigar handbook is a resource for the novice, as well as experienced smoker.

History of the cigar

The first modern observation of the cigar occurred with the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World. On October 28, 1492 Columbus noted in his log reports that the natives of San Salvador burned and inhaled the leaves of a local plant. Rodrigo de Xeres, a lieutenant on Columbus's expedition became the first European to smoke the Indian's form of a cigar. Rodrigo smoked on every subsequent day of the expedition.

The Indians in South and Central America did not smoke cigars as we know them today. The natives smoked tobacco wrapped in maize, palm or other native vegetation. The Spanish created the cigar industry, and are given credit for creating the modern cigar.

The Origin of the word cigar comes from the native language of the ancient Mayans. The Mayans called the cigar a "Ciq-Sigan" which the Spanish word "Cigarro" is derived from. The New English Dictionary of 1735 called the cigar a "seegar", and was later adapted into the modern word "cigar".

Cigar ashtray

Manufacturing process of the cigar

The tobacco that is rolled into cigars is primarily grown in the tropical regions of the world. Africa, Brazil, the Canary Islands, Connecticut, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Sumatra are world renown in growing the quality tobacco that is used in the various components of a cigar.

Tobacco is planted in late September and generally takes two months to reach maturity. Harvesting begins before the plants flower and can take several months as the leaves are harvested in different phases.

Once the tobacco is harvested the leaves are sent to "tobacco barns" where the tobacco is dried. Leaves are tied in pairs and hung for the curing process. The tobacco barn faces from west so that the sun hits one side in the morning and one side at night. The doors at either side can be opened or closed to keep the temperature constant. The tobacco is kept in the barn for approximately 2 months while the leaves change color from green to yellow to brown.

After the leaves are dried, they are carefully laid into large piles for fermentation, where they are kept for several months. The piles are moistened and covered in cloth and are watched closely as the temperature can rise and harm the tobacco. The fermentation reduces natural resins, ammonia and nicotine present in the tobacco leaves.

The fermented tobacco is taken to warehouses, stored in large bales and allowed to slowly mature. The aging process can last from several months to many years depending on the quality desired.

Once the aged tobacco reaches the factory, the leaves are graded according to size, color, and quality. Leaves that are torn or have holes are set aside and used primarily as filler. Finally the leaves are de-veined by removing the center vein from the leaf.

There are three basic components that make up a cigar.

  • The filler
  • The binder
  • The wrapper

Handmade cigars are composed of filler tobacco bunched together with a binder leave and finally covered with the wrapper leaf. Cigars with long leaves bunched together as filler are called "long filler" cigars. Cigars with short, fragmented leaves bunched together as filler are called "short filler" cigars. The binder holds the bunch together and is enclosed with the wrapper leaf in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Machine made cigars are generally produced using short filler. A processed tobacco binder which resembles brown paper is used as the binder, and in most cases a natural wrapper is used to complete the cigar.

How to judge a cigar (the 3 C's)

  • Construction
    How well is the cigar made? How does it feel to the touch? With a firm, but soft grip feel it from end to end. Does it feel consistent all the way through? Are there any hard or soft spots? A cigar that is too hard, too soft, or inconsistent will not draw properly.
  • Condition
    Cigars should be well conditioned before smoking. Cigars should be aged for several months to several years at the proper humidity (70% RH) and temperature (70° F). A dry cigar will burn hot, fast and can taste harsh. A damp cigar will be hard to light and can be hard to draw.
  • Causality (cause and effect)
    How does the cigar taste? How does the cigar make you feel? Does the cigar build in taste, flavor and complexity as it burns? Or is it the same all the way through? Do you feel relaxed and calm after finishing it?

How to cut a cigar

The first step involved in preparing a cigar for use is to open a passage way allowing air to circulate from one end to the other. Some smokers elect to bite the tip off the cigar; its quick and easy solution and there is no need to carry around any tools along. Most cigar connoisseurs however use specialized clipper that provide a clean, manicured cut.

If a cutter is used, the incision should be made quickly and decisively. The cutter should be placed just above the cigar's cap line (the curved area that covers the head of the cigar) and clipped in one swift motion. This produces a clean cut which is desirable for smoking a cigar.

Once the cigar has been clipped using the smokers preferred method, it is ready to be lit.

Types of cutters

Guillotine or Traditional Cigar Cut Bullet or Punch Cigar Cut Bullet or Punch Cigar Cut
The "Guillotine" or "Traditional" Cut The "V" Cut The "Bullet" or "Punch" Cut
This cutter takes a straight slice across the cigars cap line. It is the best cut to create an easy, well circulated draw; however residue and tar from the burning tobacco will come in direct contact with the smoker's mouth. The V cutter creates a wedge shaped notice in the cigars cap. This cut allows proper air circulation to occur. The smokes tar and residue accumulate on the sides of the wedge keeping the bitter taste away from the smoker's mouth. It can be difficult to keep a V cutter sharp because of its unique shape. A bullet cutter pierces a small hole into the cigars cap. Depending on the diameter of the cutter, air circulation may be restricted and the smokes tar and residue can accumulate around the opening.

How to light a cigar

Tobacco will absorb any aroma or fragrance that it comes in contact with. Paper and sulfur based matches or the use of a fluid based lighter can leave the cigar with an unpleasant taste. The preferred method to light a cigar is the use of a butane based lighter. A lit wooden match can be used once it has burned off the chemicals used in the ignition process.

Once the cigar is cut, hold the open end of the cigar over your flame and slowly rotate it. This will "Toast" the cigar and prime it for lighting. While it is still warm, place the cigar in your mouth and hold it at a 45° angle over the flame. Slowly puff and rotate the cigar while maintaining slight contact with the flame. A Good cigar will light easy and burn evenly.

How to store cigars

Cigars should be kept in a controlled environment. A cedar lined box, called a humidor, is traditionally used for storage. The cedar helps flavor and age the cigar. Cedar also holds moisture well which helps keep humidity at a constant level.

Cigars kept at 70% RH and 70° F offer the best smoking experience. Tobacco burns smoothly and tastes the best when kept with in this range. A dry cigar burns fast and has a harsh flavor. A damp cigar will be hard to keep lit and can grow mold while in storage.

Humidors should always close tightly, providing a seal that keeps the atmosphere inside at a constant level. A reusable moisturizer should be used to aid in the humidification. A gauge that monitors temperature and humidity can be helpful to keep optimal conditions constant.

Cigar ring gauge guide

A cigar's ring gauge is the diameter of the cigar and is measured in 64ths of an inch. The chart below will help you visualize common cigar ring gauges used in manufacturing. Your monitor may not be set to display the actual size, so use the ring guages shown below as a comparison rather then an exact represenation.

Cigar Ring Gauge Guide