1. Going Shopping.
Always purchase cigars from prestigious merchants that you trust and therefore feel confident for their sources, who stock a variety of products and of course have a large humidor to store all cigars in excellent conditions. I need not, of course, point out the risks of buying Cuban cigars from irrelevant, usually Spanish, websites, or -all the more so- of buying cigars through "friends with Cuban connections, or friends who know pilots, or...". Another good and safe source of cigars are the duty-free shops in certain airports (such as Cyprus, Lebanon or Switzerland), and of course the Casa del Habano shops in Havana, if you make it that far.
2. Choosing the origin.
Cigars are not like cigarettes where we pick a brand and stick with it. Cigar smokers indulge themselves in tasting different tastes, flavours, sizes and know that there is the right cigar for the every occasion. The first thing one needs to decide is the country of origin. Cuba is not the only producer of fine cigars; Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and Honduras are the main "alternative" countries you should know. As a rule, cigars from these countries are lighter than Cubans, although recently their top brands have marketed stronger cigars, in line with global trends.
3. Choosing brand and size.
Once you`ve selected the country of origin, brand and size come next. This is where the going gets tough, since the options are numerous and only if you constantly try new cigars and read columns like this, will you be able to make informed choices. Even when it comes to size, it is not enough to decide what best suits you or how much time you have available. You see, Cuban cigars of the same brand may differ considerably in terms of quality from one type to the next. As a rule of thumb, you can opt for relatively large-gauge cigars (Robustos, Belicosos) if you prefer richness and intensity. If, however, you are not an experienced smoker, avoid very large cigars (Churchills, Double Coronas), since they could make you dizzy but also since minor construction defects appear in these types more often than in others.
4. Checking the quality.
Before buying, check that the cigars are neither dry nor excessively moist. Pick one up and make sure that the wrapper, that`s the outermost leaf, is soft and -ideally- oily. Quality cigars are always hand-made. Even the finest cigars, however, occasionally show some rolling defects. The good thing is that, more often than not, you can feel such defects with your fingers. A properly rolled cigar must not be loose, because it will burn easily and overheat, nor very firm, and of course be free of hard spots because it will not draw.
A good cigar is a well-preserved cigar. You simply cannot be a cigar smoker and not ensure their proper storage. The first thing cigars need is humidity, ideally around 70-72%, but they also need to be kept relatively cool: around 18-20οC because at higher temperatures there is the risk of cigar beetles: these are minuscule white creatures that enjoy opening holes in cigars and destroying them. If, however, you do discover cigar beetles, throw away the destroyed cigars, clean the humidor and place both the humidor and the cigars in the fridge for two days. The cold will eliminate both the beetles and their...offspring. So you need a humidor, which is nothing more than a good-quality wooden -usually- box that closes tightly and has a humidifying device, maybe even a hygrometer. In choosing your humidor, pay special attention to its construction; it must be robust, with a heavy lid that will close tightly. Ideally, the interior must be lined with odourless Spanish cedar that can absorb any excess humidity (but also release it when needed). However, none of this really matters if you forget to fill the humidifying device with distilled water. Nevertheless, irrespective of the reading on the hygrometer (especially the analogue ones could be off significantly), you should know that the state of your cigars is a good indicator of the conditions in your humidor.
There is no point in sucking on a sealed tube. All good hand-made cigars are sealed on one end. Therefore, to enjoy them we must cut them. One of the most significant features of cigars is that they burn at a relatively low temperature, and therefore their smoke has a feeling of "freshness" in it. To safeguard this advantage, we need to ensure a good enough opening that will enable the easy flow of smoke. So forget about fancy punches and V cutters. An additional problem that these often cause is that as we smoke, nicotine forms at the cigar edge creating a horrible bitter taste. Undoubtedly, the best cutters are guillotines (especially two-bladed ones), and scissors but they are hard to carry. The decision is entirely up to you. Just make sure you don`t butcher your cigar. Cut a thin peel of tobacco (approx 2 mm), otherwise you run the risk of unrolling the cigar, since the edge of the wrapper reaches all the way down to the point you are cutting.
Forget pre-heating; it is a pointless, if not dangerous for the cigar`s quality, myth. Also forget your favourite Zippo or any other fluid-filled lighter because your cigar will smell like oil. Avoid even lighting using a match that has just lit. Wait for the sulphur to burn first. Opt for long matches (so as not to burn your fingers) or butane-filled lighters. The best cigar lighters are the ones with a double, long flame the easily light up the entire surface of the cigar. Torch lighters (you know, the ones with the blow-torch like flame) are my personal favourite because I can accurately control the flame, which does not wobble even in windy conditions, and are very convenient when re-lighting a cigar that has gone out. But be careful not to bring the flame very close to the cigar as you will char it. Uniformly light the entire cigar tip and briskly draw two-three times so that it will light up well. Once lit, make sure you smoke your cigar slowly and leisurely, as is becoming. Don`t be impatient and don`t take quick draws, because it will overheat and you will miss out on 60% of the enjoyment. If it goes out, relight it before it cools down.
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