A Complete Beginner’s Guide to Cigars: From its Rich History to the Best Practises
For several thousand years, men have been fascinated with smoking. Ever since tobacco was introduced to the Westerners from the ‘New World’, the widespread popularity of tobacco and cigars has continued to grow over time. Perhaps you are new to the world of cigars and fancy dipping your toes in, perhaps you’re curious about what all the fuss is about- or maybe, you just want to know everything about them before you invest in some cigars online.
Here’s our comprehensive guide to cigars, answering some of the frequently asked questions, incorporating the recommendations for beginners and a brief overview of the fascinating history behind cigars.
Perhaps, unbeknown to many, the history of cigars far exceeds Churchill- who arguably made the cigar a fashion statement in the 40’s. The history of cigars extends back to well over a thousand years, although not in the form you are used to seeing them in.
For argument’s sake, a cigar is defined as a tightly bound bundle of tobacco, that can be lit so you can extract smoke. It is believed that cigars were the brainchild of the ancient Mayans, who used palm or plantain leaves to encompass tobacco into a mould, in order to smoke it. Depictions of ancient Mayans enjoying a primitive stogie decorate ancient Mayan pots, including one that has survived from the 10th century! Whilst this shows us that people have been enjoying a good smoke for thousands of years, many questions are still left unanswered- for example, how did the Mayans discover the tobacco plant, and how did they realise its smoking purposes?
Fast forward a couple thousand years to the time of Columbus and his travels across the world. Columbus and his crew were the first Westerners to discover tobacco, which was introduced to them by the local Indians through trade deals. As you can imagine, this new hobby was of particular interest and intrigue for Columbus and his men, and one of Columbus’ lieutenants was even recorded to be so fascinated by these primitive examples of cigars that he smoked a cigar every single day on the journey back to the Americas!
Bringing the hobby back with them, smoking caught like wildfire. It became particularly popular in Spain and Portugal, and the French ambassador to Portugal, a man called Jean Nicot, brought cigar smoking back to the country of his birth to introduce them to this new craze. It is believed that the word nicotine actually derives from the surname of this French ambassador.
The popularity of cigar smoking then spread across other European countries such as Italy. As the craze grew, so did the development of practises, with Spanish manufacturers creating specialised papers for stogies instead of the dried leaves of the primitive cigars. By creating the papers for the cigars, the Westerners hoped to make the practise appear more refined than their Eastern counterparts. However, the trend was not without its haters with rulers like King James I of England denouncing smoking as evil. This did not stop the population and their desire for cigars, and soon tobacco was grown specifically for commercial consumption.
Starting in Spain, the commercial growing of tobacco was taken over to Cuba- with its perfect climates and conditions for tobacco growth. This may be why you have heard so much about these classic Cuban cigars, that are a must-try for anyone who is new to cigar smoking!
Believe it or not, New York became an unlikely hub for cigar manufacturing, with many small manufacturers making cigars in their apartments! New York state fought back, trying to stop the manufacturing of cigar making, but this did not stop these business men who saw opportunity and dollar signs. The ban was lifted a mere four months after it had been put in place.
Different Types of Cigars
For people who are not well entwined with the cigar world, it may seem like diving into the unknown when deciding which cigars to sample.
Common cigars include Parejo, which mimics the original shape of the first cigars. Parejo cigars has many different types such as the Toro, Carlota and Corona (no, not the beer!). In addition to these types, other Parejo cigars include ranges named after famous smokers, such as Churchill, Rothschild and Lonsdale. If you’re looking for a cigar that are great talking points at a party, perhaps an investment in these types could be the way to go!
Cigars that are not so common these days include the Figurado cigars, that saw popularity in the 1800s. What is interesting about these types of cigars is their irregular shape and their expensive price tag! These features make them desirable for collectors, but perhaps not suitable for cigar novices.
Cigars also come in smaller designs, closely resembling that of a modern cigarette. These have skyrocketed in popularity, and may be the best option to try if you are new to the cigar game.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I leave the cigars in its original packaging?
To wrap or not to wrap? That is the question. Many question whether you should keep your cigars in their cellophane wrappers. Because cigars are completely natural products it should not be something that’s kept in plastic wrapping, however, many still believe that it makes no difference. Some brands will package your cigars in boxes, completely naked of any cellophane wrapping, though most will come packaged in these wrappers to protect them from damage in the shipping process.
Box pressed, known also as square pressed, cigars are when the cigars have been ‘pressed’ into a box. Originally, this was done to save space when shipping them, however, as a result, it is believed that the cigars burn longer and produce a more flavoursome smoke when box pressed.
In order to store your unwrapped stogie properly, the trick is to have a good quality humidor that keeps the rooms humidity around 65-70% humidity so that your cigars can be stored safely without their packaging. Keep a digital hygrometer inside your cigar humidor to accurately monitor the humidity level.
Removing such packaging allows the cigars to ‘breathe’ and thus age properly. It is all dependent on when and where you will be smoking your cigars. If you plan to hold onto them for a while, and smoke only at special occasions, it may be best to follow this advice- with an optimum leaving time of a month to six weeks to allow the cigar to mellow out. If however, you plan to take them out with you, it is recommended to leave the wrapping on to avoid any unwanted damage.
If you do decide to take the wrapping off, be sure to be careful in the removing process as you will not want to tear the leaf coating of the cigar.
But how important is a humidor?
This is all dependent on your plans for cigar smoking. If you only plan to have cigars for the odd occasion, there would be little point in investing in a humidor. However, if you find a real love for cigar smoking, like many do, it would be well worth it as these allow you to age your cigars for a better tasting experience.
To begin with, as you venture into the cigar smoking world, start with a sealable plastic food container and be sure to monitor regularly. Keep a corner of the container open slightly to allow for air flow and avoid the build-up of moisture, which can lead to mould.
Is my cigar fresh?
Cigar wrappers that feature a rich and oily sheen demonstrate a cigar that has been properly humidified and can indicate a high-quality leaf, although this should not deter you from duller wrapper that can also be high quality. Many decide whether their cigar is fresh by doing a cheeky pinch test, this is completed by ever so softly pinching the cigar between your thumb and forefinger. This should feel firm, with a little spring to it, and definitely not hard. If it feels particularly hard or soft in any well, the cigar is of bad quality.
Many can often be put off by tan spots on the cigar wrapping also, but this should not be the case! These are simply sun spots. It’s still unsure what causes these little spots to occur, but many believe that it is simply moisture droplets that have stained the leaf after drying. These will not affect the taste or experience of the cigar.
How much of the cigar tip should you cut?
One thing to make sure you have before you even cut your cigar is that you have a good quality cigar cutter, equipped with sharp blades. How much should you cut? Around 1/16” to around 1/8” of an inch- that’s it! You should aim to keep the cap intact, as if you cut most or all of the cap off, the head of the cigar can become wetter the more you smoke it, and the cap can peel off completely. Not the best thing to happen in your smoking experience.
What is the right way to light your cigar?
The answer to this may seem painfully obvious, but this is one of the most frequently asked question amongst novices to the practise. You could use any form of fire method to light your cigar, however be sure to light it gently, slowly and evenly.
For the best method, hold your cigar horizontally. The next step is to warm the cigar by placing a flame underneath the head of the cigar, then slowly rotate so that the end becomes evenly charred. Place the cigar in your mouth and position the cigar as close to the flame as possible, without putting the cigar in it. Draw on the cigar, whilst slowly rotating to ensure it is evenly lit, if you draw too fast this can cause the tobacco to taste bitter from the oxidisation process. To finish, blow on the glowing end very softly to ensure the cigar burns evenly and then enjoy!
If you have any more questions regarding cigars, its best to consult a specialist who will be able to advise you on the right products to buy, as well as answer any of your enquiries.