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Cigars 101: Cigar Basics to Get You Started

May 10, 2024

If you are a novice in the world of cigars, you may be confused about the complex cigar lexicon. Don’t let the unfamiliar terms put you off and send you running in the opposite direction.

Smoking a fine handmade cigar is undeniably a relaxing and luxurious experience. Learning about cigar shapes, sizes, and strength levels will help you choose the best options that you will enjoy. With a bit of knowledge, you can soon discern what you like and don’t like. 

This deep dive into cigar basics will help you successfully navigate the world of premium cigars and become an expert in no time.

Cigar Basics: Shapes and Sizes

The shape and size of a cigar determine its intensity, draw, and the length of time it will burn. These details are some of the most important ones you need to learn.

A cigar’s length is measured in inches, while the ring gauge or thickness is measured in 64ths of an inch. A standard Robusto cigar is 5 x 50, which means that its length is five inches, and it has a 50 ring gauge (50/64ths of an inch).

A cigar’s shape is also known as vitola, and parejos and figurados are the two major types of vitolas. A parejo is a straight-sided cigar that does not taper, like a Robusto or Toro. Figurados are cigars that are not straight-sided, like a Torpedo, Belicoso, or Perfecto.

Some cigar manufacturers choose to launch cigars that are box-pressed or pressed into a square shape, like Padrón. Although many box-pressed cigars are popular among enthusiasts, one cannot say that a certain cigar shape is better than others.

Slender cigars tend to burn faster and hotter than thick vitolas that deliver a cooler draw and last relatively longer. Longer cigars are better for beginners as the smoke goes farther and cools down before it settles on your palate. This way, you can enjoy the flavor and make the most of the smoking experience.

If you want to indulge in a cigar for an hour or so, go for a Churchill or Double Corona. If you only have half an hour to smoke, choose a Corona or Robusto.

Cigar Strength

The body or strength of a cigar is another factor to consider. It determines the intensity of the smoke and is usually a matter of personal preference among cigar smokers. Cigars can be mild-bodied, medium-bodied, or full-bodied.

Mild-bodied cigars have a delicate and gentle flavor that many new smokers enjoy. Medium-bodied smokes are just that: medium in body and intensity. Full-bodied cigars are full-flavored, bold, strong cigars that deliver rich flavor.

The flavor of a cigar gives it its taste. It depends on many factors, such as the cigar’s age, its dryness or humidity levels, your last meal, your food or drink pairings, and so on. The flavors of a cigar can range from woody and earthy to sweet, creamy, nutty, or even leathery or spicy.

Experienced cigar smokers often go for their favorite full-bodied stogies. For beginners, it’s best to start with mild cigars and gradually work up to bolder flavors.

Note that mild and medium cigars have the most complex flavors. Full-bodied cigars usually have a single dimension and are known more for strength than complexity.

Cutting a Cigar

Cutting a cigar is vital as the head—the end you put in your mouth—is sealed. You need to open up the tip of the head to puff on your smoke and draw air through it. The way you cut a cigar also affects its draw. 

The process is simple, just slice off the cap—1/8th of an inch is enough.

There are three main types of cutters: straight or guillotine cutters, punch or bullet cutters, and wedge or V-cutters. Straight cutters provide the most effortless draw on a cigar and are available in different designs. Punch cutters give a concentrated draw and a slower burn. Meanwhile, V-cutters create a highly concentrated draw.

Lighting a Cigar

The way you light a cigar also has an impact on its flavor. Wooden matches, butane cigar lighters, and cedar spills are some of the best options to get great results when lighting a cigar. Do not use liquid fuel lighters or burning candles, as they will taint the cigar’s flavor.

Hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle and apply heat to its foot while rotating it a few times over the flame. This will toast and warm the tobacco for easy lighting. Don’t let the flame touch the cigar, and gently puff a few times without inhaling.

Once you feel the smoke in your mouth, blow lightly on the foot of the cigar to make sure the circumference is lit evenly. If the end is not glowing, light the cigar again until it is. Otherwise, the cigar will not burn evenly, and you will have a bad smoking experience.

Smoking a Cigar

Smoking a cigar is also an art in itself. To smoke a cigar without inhaling it into your diaphragm, draw it in through your mouth as you would when sucking on a straw. Puff every 30 to 60 seconds and enjoy the different flavor notes.

Tap off the ash gently along the edge of your ashtray after it grows to about an inch. Don’t smash or knock the cigar against the tray, or the wrapper will crack.

Check the end of your cigar occasionally to ensure it maintains an even burn.

Buying Premium Cigars

Visit a premium local cigar store and shop for premium cigars. The staff at such establishments are highly knowledgeable and very welcoming—they would be happy to answer all your questions and guide you through the cigar basics.

They can also offer recommendations based on your preferences and tastes so you can find the perfect cigar body and flavor.

R&R Cigars – The Cigar Mansion stocks a wide range of high-quality handmade cigars. You can visit us at 2703 Fitts Street Tuscaloosa, AL 35401, text The Mansion at (205) 722-2741, or contact us to learn about our offerings. You can also explore our impressive humidor and sit back with a fine cigar in hand. We hope to see you there!

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