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Anatomy of a Cigar

Wrapper
The wrapper is the most important and expensive part of a cigar. Typically grown under a gauze tent (shade) to prevent the leaf from growing too thick, the wrapper must be smooth and have very few veins. The majority of a cigar's flavor is derived from the wrapper.
Wrapper Colors
The wrapper color of a cigar is as important as the brand or shape of a cigar in terms of enjoyment. People recognize slight changes in the wrapper color of their favorite cigars. Color changes and changes in the country where the wrapper was grown and can dramatically change the taste of a cigar. Wrapper colors are generally graded from the lightest to the darkest color as follows:
Variations in wrapper colors within these seven groups produce the possibility of 32 wrapper colors. A wrapper that is almost double maduro, but not quite, is classified as maduro. The possible 32 wrapper colors have been lumped into five basic color categories. Each category has a variety of names but all have the same meaning. The categories are described below.
Claro Claro
or
Double Claro
(light green)
This wrapper has a mild quality and the taste of the binder and filler are discernible. The following are names the light green wrappers are sometimes called:
 Double Claro
 Candela
 Jade
 Cambridge
 A.M.S. (American Market Selection)
Claro
(light brown with a greenish cast)
or
Colorado Claro
(light brown)
Both of these wrapper colors and any variations between the two are called "Natural." These wrappers have a noticeable taste of their own, but they do not disguise the flavor of the binder and filler tobacco. They are not as strong as the darker brown wrapper colors.
Colorado (medium brown)
Other names for Colorado are as follows:
Cafe
Sun Grown
Natural
E.M.S. (English Market Selection)
Colorado Maduro
(dark brown)
or
Maduro
 (very dark brown or black)
Both of these colors may be called maduro. This is a dark, oily wrapper and has a heavy-bodied (strong) taste.
Oscuro
(double dark brown or black)
This is a difficult wrapper color to find and even more difficult to produce. Other names for this wrapper are as follows:
Double Maduro
Maduro Maduro (Double Maduro)
The taste of the wrapper is more noticeable in the darker wrapper colors, and the taste of the binder and filler will be less discernible.
Punch and Hoyo cigars use a wrapper called Rare Corojo.This is a reddish-brown wrapper. It is used on the Rothschild size of Punch and Hoyo and is rarely used by any other cigar brands. The flavor of the Corojo wrapper is sweet and nutty with a very nice aroma.
The American Standard for Wrapper Colors
Double Claro (DC): Green
Natural (Nat): Light brown or tan
English Market (EMS): Medium brown
Maduro (Mad): Dark brown
Double Maduro (MM or X): Dark brown, almost black
Havana Seed Wrappers
Havana Seed wrappers vary in color depending on the conditions during the year the crop was grown. When grading the Havana Seed wrapper, the 32-shade separating process is not performed. These wrappers are graded on a comparative basis. This means that, at the time of the selection, the darkest wrappers are graded Maduro Maduro (double maduro), the next darkest Maduro, and so on. The result is that the consumer will receive a lighter or darker cigar than he normally would depending on the shades of color that particular year.
Binder
Binders usually come from the bottom part of the plant, where the leaves are thicker and have more strength. Usually, these leaves have little or no flavor.
Filler
The filler can be from any part of the tobacco plant. The top of the plant usually produces the strongest flavor, while the bottom produces the tobacco with the best burning properties. Most cigars have blended fillers (fillers from varying parts of the plant and varying sources) to achieve the correct taste and burning qualities

Cigar Characteristics
 

Length

Cigars are described by length and ring size. Length is measured in inches. The most popular lengths are between 5 & 6 inches.

Ring Gauge

The size of a cigar, in name, is a nearly meaningless designation. The reason for this is that the size of a cigar, when determined by a name such as corona or robusto, is not a universal standard. In other words, one company's corona is another company's Churchill even though both measure the exact same length and ring gauge. Once you understand this, most of the confusion regarding cigar size disappears.

There are, however, "classic" measurements for cigars that most cigar makers attempt to follow. But remember, just because a cigar is 7 inches in length with a 48 ring gauge doesn't necessarily mean that the manufacturer will designate that cigar as a Churchill. All you really have to know is that cigars are categorized by length and ring gauge, which is a fraction of an inch measured in 64ths. A cigar with a 52 ring gauge, for example, measures 52/64 of an inch in diameter. The most popular ring gauges are 42 to 44.

Body

The body refers to the relative strength of the cigar. Cigars are generally divided into three groups.The strength of most cigars sold today can be judged by the country where they were manufactured. The following list shows cigar manufacturing countries and the general strength of the cigars produced there:
 

Light Bodied or Mild                    

Jamaica
Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
United States
Philippines

Medium Bodied

Mexico
Honduras- (Med-Full)
Nicaragua-(Med-Full)
Brazil

Full Bodied

Honduras
Nicaragua
Costa Rica
Cuba

Cutting the Cigar

Many feel that a guillotine-style cigar cutter or cigar scissors are the most effective way to cut a premium cigar. Be careful not to cut beyond the cap of the cigar. Aside from a guillotine cutter, some smokers use a sharp knife, a cigar punch, a V-cutter, and some even use their teeth. Perhaps the most difficult cutting instrument to use is the scissor-style cutter, which requires practice, a steady hand, and a keen eye.

You’ve only just begun and you’re already in a quandary: where to cut? Well, first of all, you are cutting the uncut portion of the cigar – the head. The basic rule of thumb is to cut just past the shoulder (where the cigar stops being round). A half inch in (or 1.5 cm) usually does it, but that measure isn’t a universal guideline because of the various shapes in which a cigar may manifest itself.

Where to Cut Your Cigar

Cigar heads come in three basic shapes: round, torpedo, and pyramid. Follow the graphic guidelines here when cutting each of these shapes. You'll notice that, in the case of a torpedo, you can't cut it behind the shoulder because the head of the cigar inclines too gradually (you'd lose too much cigar!). And, although a pyramid straightens itself out much more quickly, in this instance, you should cut it slightly before you pass the shoulder.

The Guillotine Cut

The guillotine cut takes the technology responsible for separating many a French nobleman (circa 1792) from his head and applies it to your cigar. When purchasing your guillotine cutter, you can either select the cheaper one-blade guillotine or the more expensive two-blade guillotine. The two-blade is the better choice if you want a cleaner cut. The one-blade is preferred if you want to spend less money; however, you may have an inferior cut because the single blade sometimes has an annoying habit of smushing (that's the technical term) one side of your cigar head.

The V-cutter

The V-cutter offers its own unique benefit. This cutter places a V-shaped notch in your cigar tip when it makes the cut. This is sometimes desirable because the V gives you more surface area without exposing your tongue to loose tobacco (which you would need to continuously spit from your mouth – not terribly suave or sexy). Increased surface area is desirable because it allows you to draw more air through the cigar. The V-cutter is generally only used for smaller-ring cigars.

The Pluck Cutter

Plucks a perfect hole in the head of your cigar for a neat, clean smoke.

The Cigar Scissors

Cigar Scissors are the third and final cutting method. "Oh, dandy," you say, "I’ve got a pair of those in my desk drawer!" Not so, we respond. Cigar-cutting scissors are specifically manufactured for the purpose of snipping cigars only. Forged from high-precision, surgical-quality stainless steel, they are your optimum choice for a cigar cutter. Small, pocket-sized versions are commonly available.

 
Lighting the Cigar
 

Introduction

The foot, or tip, of the cigar should be lit using a long wooden cigar match or a butane lighter. Avoid candles, paper matches, a stove, and lighters that use lighter fluid (naphtha) because the chemicals and odors can affect the taste of the tobacco. When using a match, wait until the sulfur burns off before lighting the cigar. The ideal device is a wooden match and the best lighter is a butane lighter.

Start lighting a cigar by holding it at a 45-degree angle over the flame, about three to four inches from the tip of the cigar (depending on the height of the flame you're using) and rotate the cigar until the foot begins to ignite. Never letting the flame touch the cigar, slowly puff on the cigar while rotating it around the flame.

Take a look at the foot and make sure the cigar is burning evenly. You can gently blow on the foot to insure a complete lighting. Once the cigar is lit, let it sit for a minute as the short delay will allow the freshly-lit cigar to stabilize.

First, you must "toast" the cigar's foot. Sounds odd, but the purpose of toasting is to ignite the outer layers of the tobacco (that’s the binder and the wrapper) that hold the cigar together. If you just held up a match and began to draw, only the inner tobacco – known as the filler – would ignite. If that happened, the cigar would burn unevenly and develop a poorly shaped ash (we'll explain why that's a problem in a moment).

Toasting the Foot

So, you need to give the outer portion of your cigar a head start. Hold a match to the outside edge of the foot and rotate the cigar to evenly toast the edge.
You’ll observe that the outside wrapper and binder will have a white, ashen aspect after they’ve been properly toasted.

Lighting the Filler

Next, it’s time to ignite the filler. Use a long wooden match to create a larger flame area so that you can light the entire foot evenly. Place the cigar between your lips. Then, hold the match about a half an inch from the cigar (the flame is drawn in) and rotate the cigar as you draw in air.
 
 

Releasing the Draw

When you release the pressure of inhalation (you don't actually inhale, but you know what we mean), a surge of flame should shoot up from the foot of the cigar and a puff of smoke should come from your mouth.  Congratulations! You’ve successfully lit your cigar!
NOTE: Never use a lighter with a noxious gas (i.e., a Zippo) to light your cigar, although a butane lighter is acceptable. Noxious gases will impart a chemical taste to your cigar and mar the pleasure of your cigar-smoking experience. The best case scenario, however, is always to use a wooden match.

Letting the Ash Burn

Most premium handmade cigars (those costing from $3 to $30 each) will hold a very long ash before falling off. The ash on cheaper cigars tends to flake easily and fall off more frequently. Properly grown and maintained cigar tobacco will have a whiter ash than the sometimes very gray ash produced on lower-quality cigars. While some smokers like to see how long the ash on a cigar can grow before falling off by itself – keep in mind when in a public place where cigar smoking is permitted, or at a party, you don't want cigar ashes to fall on your clothes, a floor, or a rug. It's always wise as you see the ash starting to gain length to gently tap it off.

Keeping the Cigar Band On or Off

It's mostly a personal decision when opting to take a cigar band off or leave it on while smoking one’s favorite cigar. Some say that leaving the band on promotes conversation among cigar smokers, while others say it's a showy thing to do that displays a lack of proper cigar etiquette. If you do decide to remove the cigar band, make sure you let the cigar heat up before taking it off as the heat from the cigar will help loosen the glue that holds the band on. Remember too, that taking the band off some brands of Cuban cigars (even after heating), like the Montecristo, is very difficult and can result in damage to the cigar wrapper.

Relighting and Putting a Cigar Out

Perhaps some of the most overlooked aspects of cigar smoking are relighting and extinguishing cigars. On the subject of relighting, cigars, by nature, will go out if not puffed on every few minutes, so relighting a fresh cigar isn't a problem. While some contend you can save a partially smoked cigar for more than 24 hours, it's best to avoid relighting a cigar that hasn't been smoked in more than two hours. When relighting a cigar, hold the flame in front of the foot and blow out to help expel any old gases or ash that may have become trapped in the cigar. After that, follow standard lighting procedures. To extinguish a cigar, just let it go out by itself in an ashtray. Stubbing-out a cigar produces a stale odor that can linger in a room. Once you're sure your cigar is out, dispose of it in a safe manner.

 
Cigar Care and Storage
 

Introduction

The ideal storage condition for a cigar are approximately 70% humidity at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Air at different temperatures will hold completely different amounts of moisture. Warm air can hold a tremendous amount of moisture. If your cigars are stored in a warm place, you will have to continuously add water to the humidifier. The result will be very spongy cigars. Cold air holds almost no moisture. Air with 70% humidity will be dry at freezing temperatures. Relative humidity is defined as the percentage of the maximum amount of water that air can hold at a given temperature without condensation. As a general rule, when the air temperature is reduced from 68 degrees by one degree, the humidity should be increased by 1%, and vice versa. Therefore, if your cigars were stored at 58 degrees Fahrenheit, the humidity should be kept around 80%. Dry cigars can be moisturized, but will never be quite as good as they were from the factory. To re-moisturize a cigar, put it into a properly humidified environment for a very long period of time (6 months or more). The cigar will gradually absorb the surrounding humidity. Over humidified cigars that have become damp should be thrown away. The binder and filler of a cigar make up about 90% of the total mass of the cigar. Therefore, the binder and filler will also absorb over 90% of any excess humidity. When this happens, the body of the cigar swells, forcing the wrapper to expand. When you attempt to dry out a damp cigar the following will happen:

  1. The body shrinks rapidly.
  2. The wrapper will be loose and wrinkled.

The wrapper will peel when you attempt to smoke the cigar

Humistats

This is a large piece of Oasis or synthetic clay. This is the same material that is sold in home and garden centers. The Oasis is housed in either plastic or metal grills that are created to disperse perfect 70-75% humidity throughout the humidor. Depending on size, they keep anywhere from 50-100 cigars fresh. They range in price from $6.00 all the way up to $50.00. In essence, they all do the same job. Many times you are just paying for a fancy case or popular brand name.

Humidification

Humidification is the only way to keep your cigars fresh indefinitely. Cigars should be stored under the following conditions:

  • 70-75% humidity
  • 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit.

A cigar that is dry smokes:

  • Hot
  • Fast
  • Unevenly

A cigar that is too moist will:

  • Be hard to puff.

Allow mold to form and/or the wrapper will swell and split open.

The Humidor

The best way to store cigars is in a humidor. The purpose of a humidor is to recreate the mild, humid climate of the Caribbean, where the cigars are made. Every humidor contains some kind of humidifying element. It is important that distilled water be used with this element because tap water causes mold to form and contains minerals that can destroy the effectiveness of some humidifiers. Over a period of time, the molded device will alter the flavor of the cigars. It is always a good idea to check the humidor’s moisture level at least once a week and make sure that no patches of mold have started to form on the cigars. If mold has started to form, the offending cigars should be removed and the humidor should be cleaned with a dry cloth and aired out. A light-gray dusting of bloom on the wrapper is permissible because that is a sign that the cigar is properly aging.

Aging Cigars

A humidor can also be used to age cigars. While aging, cigars of the same brand should be kept together, without the cellophane, in a cedar-lined humidor. The benefit of this is to draw out any excessive moisture and allow the cigars to “marry.” Marriage is when the cigars absorb each other's oils and create one unique flavor. The cedar will also add to the flavor of the cigars. About once a week, the humidor should be opened for a few hours to let the air hit the cigars or they will acquire a musty taste.

Another popular lining for humidors is unstained mahogany. This is a fine lining if you do not want to age cigars or do not want the flavor of cedar to permeate your cigars. Mahogany-lined humidors do not have to be checked as often as cedar-lined ones because mahogany does not absorb as much moisture as cedar.

Breaking In Your New Humidor

  1. Activate and attach your humidifier and hygrometer (optional)
  2. Add a cup of distilled water into the humidor and close the lid or scrub the humidor with a lint free cloth.
  3. Wait 24 to 48 hours, then fill the humidor at least halfway to regulate the humidity.
  4. Check your cigars every day for freshness. Gently squeeze the foot of the cigar; it should have some spring to it like a loaf of bread.
  5. Slowly begin adding more cigars to the humidor and continue checking them every day. Eventually you will be able to go several days without checking them.

Even after your humidor is completely broken in, it is still a good idea to check them every day for freshness.

 
The Hygrometer
 
Introduction
The hygrometer is a device used for measuring the relative humidity inside of your humidor. There are two varieties.
Analog
This is the standard type of hygrometer. They are the least expensive and also the least reliable. They operate with a needle controlled by a hairspring that points to the correct percentage of humidity. They range in price from $3.00 and up.
Digital
Far more reliable, but also considerably more expensive. The digital hygrometer operates on a standard camera or watch battery and digitally reads the humidity as well as the temperature. This device is by no means perfect, but is still much more accurate than the analog hygrometers. They range in price from $27.00 and up.
Calibrating An Analog Hygrometer
Wrap the hygrometer in a hot damp towel. When the needle is buried at the highest humidity possible, unwrap it and leave it exposed until the needle points to 70-75% humidity and place it back in your humidor. Most likely it still will never be perfectly accurate.

 

 


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