There is No Bad Cigar, Only Better Ones
Cigars - The History
Cigar History - The Origins
Cigars, or something similar, have been around for well over 1000 years. Most historians believe their origin to have been invented by the ancient Mayans, who wrapped tobacco in either palm or plantain leaves. In fact, an ancient Mayan pot from the 10th century depicts a Mayan man smoking one of these primitive cigars. Both pre-Columbian Americans and Native Americans apparently cultivated the plant and smoked it in pipes for medicinal and ceremonial purposes.
What is not known, is when, or who, actually discovered the tobacco plant and its ability to be used for smoking purposes. The name tobacco and its origin are still being debated. The word tobacco was used among pre-Columbian natives of the West Indies. Those who took it back with them called it tobacco; the Mayan verb "sikar" meaning "to smoke" later became the Spanish noun cigarro.
Cigar History - 1400 to 1700
So now, flash forward to the 1400’s and it is generally agreed that Christopher Columbus and his men were the first Westerners to encounter tobacco in recorded history on October 12, 1492, in the gulf of San Salvador in the Bahamas. Three of Columbus's crewmen during his 1492 journey, Rodrigo de Jerez, Hector Fuentes and Luis de Torres, are said to have encountered tobacco for the first time on the island of Hispaniola, in what is present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, when natives presented them with dry leaves that spread a peculiar fragrance
Tobacco was widely diffused among all of the islands of the Caribbean and was therefore also encountered in Cuba where Columbus and his men had settled. His sailors reported that the Taínos on the island of Cuba smoked a primitive form of cigar, with twisted, dried tobacco leaves rolled in other leaves such as palm or plantain.
He and his crew saw the natives there growing the tobacco and soon realized that it would become a valuable commodity. They were correct, since upon their return and introduction, smoking caught on and became quite popular in Spain and Portugal.
Over the centuries cigars spread further as many sailors and missionaries were smoking cigars on voyages to many other countries and explorations including Italy and other European nations of course. It was actually the Portuguese who did most to convert the rest of the world. Portugal was the first to cultivate the tobacco plant outside of the Americas, its introduction having occurred around 1512. By 1558, snuff was on sale in the markets of Lisbon.
Also in the mid-1500’s, Spanish manufacturers had developed the art of wrapping dried tobacco in specialized papers instead of leaves, thus making smoking a refined art. While most European cigars were originally manufactured in Spain, it was not long before the Spanish found that Cuba was the ideal place to grow tobacco. This country's climate is in fact ideal for growing this plant, which explains why Cuban cigars have become famous the world over.
Later, tobacco use spread to Italy and, after Sir Walter Raleigh's voyages to the Americas, to Britain. Smoking became familiar throughout Europe—in pipes in Britain—by the mid-16th century. In 1542, tobacco started to be grown commercially in North America, when the Spaniards established the first cigar factory on the island of Cuba. Around 1592, the Spanish galleon San Clemente brought 50 kilograms (110 lb.) of tobacco seed to the Philippines over the Acapulco-Manila trade route. It was distributed among Roman Catholic missionaries, who found excellent climates and soils for growing high-quality tobacco there.
But most Europeans didn't get their first taste of tobacco until the mid-16th century, when adventurers and diplomats like France's Jean Nicot - the French ambassador to Portugal, made cigar smoking popular back in his home country; in fact, the word nicotine is derived from this man's name. He experimented with crushed tobacco leaves used as a snuff for curing migraine headaches. In 1560, Nicot gave a sample of this home remedy to Catherine de Medici who also suffered from chronic migraines. It was effective in relieving her headaches and the popularity of tobacco snuff grew among the aristocracy. In fact, people became so enthusiastic about its powers that tobacco became known as "Herba Medicea" or "Herba Catherinea".
Speaking of Cuba, the largest of the islands Columbus would claim for Spain, he named it “Isla Juana” in honor of the ruler of Catile. Later it would be known as Fernandina. But it was native Taino Indians that called it Colba, which Spanish tongues twisted into "Cuba." They also had a name for the curious dried leaves they set on fire in order to inhale the smoke - cojoba or cohiba.
In the late 1500’s the English developed a liking for tobacco, but found it very expensive to import it from their enemy, Spain. Ultimately, the cost of the "Spanish" tobacco drove the English into an effort to produce an acceptable English tobacco – and they found it in the new and thriving colony of Virginia. The first successful commercial crop was cultivated in Virginia in 1612 by Englishman John Rolfe. Within seven years, it was the colony's largest export.
Cigar History - 1800's
Over the next two centuries, the growth of tobacco as a cash crop fueled the demand in North America for slave labor for both cotton and tobacco production. By 1880, the only states in the Union lacking a cigar factory where Montana and Idaho.
At the same time, because Spain tried to completely dominate and monopolize the cigar industry, many cigar manufacturers moved to Florida and the Philippines, which was at the time a Spanish colony. Still, the chief source of cigars smoked in the United States in the nineteenth century was the West Indies, especially Cuba.
The cigar had obtained a great deal of popularity in the USA and the period involving the Civil War could easily be called the Golden Age of the Cigar in The United States. In 1869, Spanish cigar manufacturer Vicente Martinez Ybor moved his Principe de Gales (Prince of Wales) operations from the important cigar manufacturing center of Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida to escape the turmoil of the Ten Years' War. Other manufacturers followed, and Key West became another important cigar manufacturing center. In 1885, Ybor moved again, buying land near the then-small city of Tampa, Florida and building the largest cigar factory in the world at the time in the new company town of Ybor City. Friendly rival and Flor de Sánchez y Haya owner Ignacio Haya built his own factory nearby in the same year, and many other cigar manufacturers soon followed to Tampa, especially after an 1886 fire that gutted much of Key West.
Cigar History - 1900's to Present Day
As the population of New York exploded, so did cigar factories in New York, where cigars were made by rollers working in their own homes. It was reported that as of 1883, cigars were being manufactured in 130 apartment houses in New York, employing 2000 families and 8000 individuals. By 1905, there were 80,000 cigar-making operations in the United States, most of them small, family-operated shops where cigars were rolled and sold immediately.
So, great was the demand for tobacco in all its forms that in 1913 domestic output totaled 267,000 tons. In 1920 the number of cigars sold had reached 7 billion. One writer said "The weight of the tobacco consumed in the U.S. in a year is equal to the weight of the entire and combined populations of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and the District of Columbia." Everyone who wished to smoke, no matter his financial means, could find a cigar of agreeable flavor at a reasonable price.
Local cigar manufacturing peaked in 1929, when workers in Ybor City and West Tampa rolled over 500,000,000 "clear Havana" cigars, earning the town the nickname "Cigar Capital of the World".
Cuban-made cigar smoking enjoyed consistent support until the downfall of Cuban cigars, when Fidel Castro emerged in Cuba in 1959 and toppled the hated government of dictator Fulgencio Batista. Suddenly, an island that since Columbus's arrival was called "Pearl of the Antilles" was now denounced a dreaded "Red toehold in the Western Hemisphere" and "a Communist threat ninety miles from Miami".
In the 1960’s, after the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro strengthened his ties with the Soviets. On 7 February 1962, United States President John F. Kennedy imposed a trade embargo on Cuba to sanction Fidel Castro's communist government and with the stroke of his pen, an embargo on all imports of Cuban cigars that would remain in effect for decades.
The embargo prohibited U.S. residents from legally purchasing Cuban cigars and American cigar manufacturers from importing Cuban tobacco. As a result, Cuba was deprived of its major customer for tobacco, and American cigar manufacturers either had to find an alternative source of tobacco or go out of business.
Upon the expropriation of private property in Cuba, many former Cuban cigar manufacturers moved to other countries (primarily the Dominican Republic) to continue production. The Dominican Republic's production of tobacco grew significantly. After reallocation, most Cuban manufacturers continued to use their known company name, seed, and harvesting technique while Cubatabaco, Cuba's state tobacco monopoly after the Revolution, independently continued production of cigars using the former private company names. As a result, cigar name brands like Romeo y Julieta, La Gloria Cubana, Montecristo, and H. Upmann among others, exist in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The embargo on importation of Havana cigars led directly to an exodus of Cuban cigar makers and the growth of competition in premium cigar manufacturing not only in the Dominican Republic, but also Honduras, Nicaragua and other Latin American countries.
The loosening of the embargo in January 2015 included a provision that allowed the importation into the U.S. of up to $100 worth of alcohol or tobacco per traveler, allowing legal importation for the first time since the ban. In October 2016, the Obama administration lifted restrictions on the number of cigars that an American can bring back to the U.S. for personal use without having to pay customs taxes.
So now that you know the history of cigars, lets talk about how they are made.
Cigars - Manufacture & Composition
Cigar - Manufacture
Tobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a curing process that combines heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the bigger leaves to rot. This takes between 25 and 45 days, depending upon climatic conditions and the nature of sheds or barns used to store harvested tobacco. Curing varies by type of tobacco and desired leaf color. A slow fermentation follows, where temperature and humidity are controlled to enhance flavor, aroma, and burning characteristics while forestalling rot or disintegration.
The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, un-baled, re-inspected, and baled again during the aging cycle. When it has matured to manufacturer's specifications it is sorted for appearance and overall quality and used as filler or wrapper accordingly. During this process, leaves are continually moistened to prevent damage.
While most cigars are now made by machine, some, as a matter of prestige and quality, are still rolled by hand---especially in Central America and Cuba, as well as in small chinchales in sizable cities in the United States. Boxes of hand-rolled cigars bear the phrase totalmente a mano (totally by hand) or hecho a mano (made by hand). An experienced cigar-roller can produce hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist — especially the wrapper — and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately. Once rolled, the cigars are stored in wooden forms as they dry, in which their uncapped ends are cut to a uniform size. From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can be "laid down" and aged for decades if kept as close to 21 °C (70 °F), and 70% relative humidity. Once purchased, proper storage is typically in a specialized wooden humidor.
Some cigars, especially premium brands, use different varieties of tobacco for the filler and the wrapper. Long filler cigars are a far higher quality of cigar, using long leaves throughout. These cigars also use a third variety of tobacco leaf, called a "binder", between the filler and the outer wrapper. This permits the makers to use more delicate and attractive leaves as a wrapper. These high-quality cigars almost always blend varieties of tobacco. Even Cuban long-filler cigars will combine tobaccos from different parts of the island to incorporate several different flavors.
In low-grade and machine-made cigars, chopped tobacco leaves are used for the filler, and long leaves or a type of "paper" made from tobacco pulp is used for the wrapper.
Cigar - Composition
Cigars are composed of three types of tobacco whose variations determine smoking and flavor characteristics:
A cigar's outermost layer, or wrapper (Spanish: capa), is the most expensive component of a cigar. The wrapper determines much of the cigar's character and flavor, and as such its color is often used to describe the cigar as a whole. Wrappers are frequently grown underneath huge canopies made of gauze to diffuse direct sunlight and are fermented separately from other rougher cigar components, with a view to the production of a thinly-veined, smooth, supple leaf.
Wrapper tobacco produced without the gauze canopies under which "shade grown" leaf is grown, generally coarser in texture and stronger in flavor, is commonly known as "sun grown." Several different countries are used to produce wrapper tobacco, including Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Cameroon, and the United States.
While dozens of minor wrapper shades have been touted by manufacturers, the most common classifications are noted below, ranging from lightest to darkest. In general, dark wrappers add a touch of sweetness, while light ones add a hint of dryness to the taste.
Candela ("Double Claro"): This wrapper is light green, a hue created by a quick-drying process using heat that locks in the green chlorophyll of the tobacco. Years ago, this wrapper was tremendously popular in the United States, and it was a point of amusement for Europeans.
Claro: A light tan color, most commonly achieved by growing in shade under cheesecloth tents, picking the plants early and air-drying the leaves. Flavor wise, these wrappers have little to offer, and allow the flavors of the filler tobaccos to dominate the taste of the cigar.
Colorado Claro: Light reddish-brown; often grown in direct sunlight, and given longer to mature before picking.
Colorado ("Rosado"): The center of the color scale. These cigars are medium-brown to brownish-red and full flavored, though soft and subtle in their aroma. These wrappers are often shade grown.
Colorado Maduro: darker brown, lighter than maduro
Maduro: This shade can vary from a deep reddish-brown to almost black. Maduro means "mature" in Spanish, which refers to longer time needed to cure this color wrapper than wrappers that are lighter. For maduros, leaves are either toasted in a pressure chamber or fermented longer in above-average heat. A maduro wrapper lends significant flavor to a cigar: it tends to be mild in aroma, but to have robust, almost sweet flavor
Oscuro ("Double Maduro"): This black-as-night wrapper shade is achieved by leaving the leaves on the plant if possible, by using only the leaves from the top of the plant, and by fermenting them for an especially long time. Most often Brazilian or Mexican in origin, oscuro wrappers are often very rough, a result of the extra fermentation. This category is sometimes referred to as "black," "negro" or "double maduro."
Some manufacturers use an alternate wrapper designation:
American Market Selection, AMS: synonymous with Candela ("Double Claro")
English Market Selection, EMS: any natural colored wrapper which is darker than Candela but lighter than Maduro
Spanish Market Selection, SMS: one of the two darkest colors, Maduro or Oscuro
Beneath the wrapper is a small bunch of "filler" leaves bound together inside of a leaf called a "binder" (Spanish: capote). Binder leaf is typically the sun-saturated leaf from the top part of a tobacco plant and is selected for its elasticity and durability in the rolling process. Unlike wrapper leaf, which must be uniform in appearance and smooth in texture, binder leaf may show evidence of physical blemishes or lack uniform coloration. Binder leaf is generally considerably thicker and more hardy than the wrapper leaf surrounding it.
The bulk of a cigar is "filler" — a bound bunch of tobacco leaves. These leaves are folded by hand to allow air passageways down the length of the cigar, through which smoke is drawn after the cigar is lit. A cigar rolled with insufficient air passage is referred to by a smoker as "too tight"; one with excessive airflow creating an excessively fast, hot burn is regarded as "too loose." Considerable skill and dexterity on the part of the cigar roller is needed to avoid these opposing pitfalls — a primary factor in the superiority of hand-rolled cigars over their machine-made counterparts.
Short filler: the fermentation and aging process adds to this variety, as does the part of the tobacco plant harvested, with bottom leaves (Spanish: volado) having a mild flavor and burning easily, middle leaves (Spanish: seco) having a somewhat stronger flavor, with potent and spicy ligero leaves taken from the sun-drenched top of the plant. When used, ligero is always folded into the middle of the filler bunch due to its slow-burning characteristics.
Long filler: if full leaves are used as filler, a cigar is said to be composed of "long filler."
By blending various varieties of filler tobacco, cigar makers create distinctive strength and flavor profiles for their various branded products. In general, fatter cigars hold more filler leaves, allowing a greater potential for the creation of complex flavors. In addition to the variety of tobacco employed, the country of origin can be one important determinant of taste, with different growing environments producing distinctive flavors.
If a cigar is completely constructed (filler, binder, and wrapper) of tobacco produced in only one country, it is referred to in the cigar industry as a "puro," from the Spanish word for "pure."
So now is the time to enjoy a cigar. Let's talk about the flavor, types and how to properly cut and light these things - an often misunderstood and key piece of enjoyment.
Cigars - Flavor, Types, Cut, Light
Each brand and type of cigar tastes different. While the wrapper does not entirely determine the flavor of the cigar, darker wrappers tend to produce a sweetness, while lighter wrappers usually have a "drier" taste. Whether a cigar is mild, medium, or full bodied does not correlate with quality. Some words used to describe cigar flavor and texture include; spicy, peppery (red or black), sweet, harsh, burnt, green, earthy, woody, cocoa, chestnut, roasted, aged, nutty, creamy, cedar, oak, chewy, fruity, and leathery.
Cigar smoke, which is not typically inhaled, tastes of tobacco with nuances of other tastes. Many different things affect the scent of cigar smoke: tobacco type, quality of the cigar, added flavors, age and humidity, production method (handmade vs. machine-made), and more. Some cigar enthusiasts use a vocabulary similar to that of wine-tasters to describe the overtones and undertones observed while smoking a cigar.
Different Types of Cigars
Cigars are commonly categorized by their size and shape, which together are known as the vitola. The size of a cigar is measured by two dimensions: its ring gauge (its diameter in sixty-fourths of an inch) and its length (in inches). There are a few different types of cigars.
Parejo: the most common shape is the parejo, sometimes referred to as simply "coronas", which have traditionally been the benchmark against which all other cigar formats are measured. Parejos are straight-sided cigars; most have an open foot for lighting and need to be cut before smoking. They may be either round or box-pressed, meaning that the sides of the cigar were pressed square prior to packing or, in some cases, by pressure in the box. There are over a dozen different types of Parejo cigars, such as the:
Figurado: irregularly shaped cigars are known as figurados and are sometimes considered of higher quality because they are more difficult to make. Historically, especially during the 19th century, figurados were the most popular shapes, but by the 1930s they had fallen out of fashion and all but disappeared. They have, however, recently received a small resurgence in popularity, and there are currently many brands (manufacturers) that produce figurados Although cigar-makers' interpretations of the shapes vary as widely as the flavors inside their cigars, the basic categories of figurados are as follows:
Belicoso: Traditional belicosos are short pyramids, often with a slightly rounded pyramid head. They often measure from 5 to 5 1/2 inches, with ring gauges of about 50. Today's belicosos, however, are often coronas or corona gordas with tapered heads. Recent years have also seen the production of mini-belicosos, short cigars with small ring gauges and tapered heads. Example: Bolivar Belicoso Fino
Cheroot: like a parejo except that there is no cap, i.e. both ends are open
Chisel: is much like the Torpedo, but instead of coming to a rounded point, comes to a flatter, broader edge, much like an actual chisel. This shape was patented and can only be found in the La Flor Dominicana (LFD) brand
Culebras: More popular in the past than it is today, the culebra is perhaps the most exotic shape of cigar made. It consists of three panetelas braided together and tied with string, sold as one cigar. The three parts are then unbraided and smoked separately. Usually 5 to 6 inches long, culebras most often have a 38-ring gauge. Since they are difficult to come by today, you might consider sharing the other two braids of the cigar with two friends, turning the smoking of a culebra into a special occasion. Example: Partagas CulebraPerfecto: Like the torpedo, the perfecto has a closed foot and a bulge in the middle. Unlike torpedos, though, the head of a perfecto is rounded like the head of a parejo. Perfectos very greatly in length, from a diminutive 4 1/2 inches to unwieldy 9-inch cigars, with ring gauges from 38 to 48. Example: Partagas Presidente
Presidente/Diadema: Diademas are enormous, 8 1/2 inches or longer. The head is tapered, though often not to a complete point, usually with a 40-ring gauge. The cigar then tapers down to a foot that can be open like a parejo or closed like a perfecto, usually with a ring gauge of 52 or greater. This is a cigar to be enjoyed when time is no object. Example: Hoyo de Monterrey Diadema
Pyramid: Pyramids are cigars with cut feet, like parejos, but with heads tapered to a point. Generally, the cigars measure from 6 to 7 inches in length, with ring gauges of about 40 at the head widening to 52 to 54 at the foot. The pyramid is treasured because the tapered head allows complex flavors of the cigar to meld in the mouth. Example: Montecristo No. 2
Torpedo: Although many companies include cigars called torpedos in their portfolios, the cigars are often pyramids. A true torpedo is a rare cigar today, a smoke with a closed foot, a head tapered to a point, and a bulge in the middle. Example: Cuaba Millennium. Note - In practice, the terms Torpedo and Pyramid are often used interchangeably, even among very knowledgeable cigar smokers.
Cigarillo: a cigarillo is a machine-made cigar that is shorter and narrower than a traditional cigar but larger than little cigars, filtered cigars, and cigarettes. Sometimes they are informally called small cigars, mini cigars, or club cigars. Some famous cigar brands, such as Cohiba or Davidoff, also make cigarillos---Cohiba Mini and Davidoff Club Cigarillos, for example. And there are purely cigarillo brands, such as Café Crème, Dannemann Moods, Mehari's, Al Capone, and Swisher Sweets. Cigarillos have a secondary use: they are often used for the making of marijuana cigars.
Little cigars: sometimes called small cigars differ greatly from regular cigars. They weigh less than cigars and cigarillos, but, more importantly, they resemble cigarettes in size, shape, packaging, and filters. Little cigars are sometimes called "cigarettes in disguise", and unsuccessful attempts have been made to reclassify them as cigarettes. Yet, many continue to argue that there is in fact a distinction between little cigars and filtered cigars. Little cigars offer a similar draw and overall feel to cigarettes, but with aged and fermented tobaccos, while filtered cigars are said to be more closely related to traditional cigars, and are not meant to be inhaled.
Smoking & Enjoying
To smoke a cigar, a smoker cuts the closed end or 'cap', lights the other end, then puts the unlit end into the mouth and draws smoke into the mouth. Some smokers inhale the smoke into the lungs, particularly with little cigars, but this is uncommon. A smoker may swirl the smoke around in the mouth before exhaling it, and may exhale part of the smoke through the nose in order to smell the cigar better as well as to taste it.
Although some cigars are cut on both ends, or twirled at both ends, the vast majority come with one straight cut end and one end in a "cap". Most quality handmade cigars, regardless of shape, will have a cap which is one or more small pieces of a wrapper pasted onto one end of the cigar with either a natural tobacco paste or with a mixture of flour and water.
The cap end of a cigar must be cut for the cigar to be smoked properly. It is the rounded end without the tobacco exposed and the end to always cut. If the cap is cut jaggedly or without care, the end of the cigar will not burn evenly and smokeable tobacco will be lost. Some cigar manufacturers purposely place different types of tobacco from one end to the other to give the cigar smokers a variety of tastes, body, and strength from start to finish.
There are three basic types of cigar cutters:
Guillotine (straight cut)
V-cut (a.k.a. notch cut, cat's eye, wedge cut, English cut)
The "head" of the cigar is usually the end closest to the cigar band. The opposite end of the cigar is called the "foot". The band identifies the type of the cigar and may be removed or left on. When lighting, the cigar should be rotated to achieve an even burn and the air should be slowly drawn with gentle puffs. A flame that may impart its own flavor to the cigar should not be used. The tip of the cigar should minimally touch the flame, the heat of the flame from a butane or torch lighter can burn the tobacco leaves. A match or cedar spill flame is a milder flame to be used.
Cigars can be lit with the use of butane-filled lighters. Butane is colorless, odorless and burns clean with very little, if any, flavor; but are quite hot as a flame source. It is not recommended to use (lighter) fluid-filled lighters and paper matches since they can influence the taste.
A second option is wooden matches, but the smoker must ensure the chemical head of the match has burned away and only the burning wooden section is used to light the cigar. Depending on the manufacturer, the chemical head portion of the matchstick may contain one or more of the following: gelatin, paraffin wax, potassium chlorate, barium chlorate, glue, polyvinyl chlorides, phosphorus trisulfide, and clay. The strike plate to ignite the match may contain one more of the following: glass particles, red phosphorus, and glue.
A third and most traditional way to light a cigar is to use a cedar spill. A spill is a splinter or a slender piece of wood or twisted paper, for lighting candles, lamps, campfires or fireplaces, etc. A cedar spill for lighting a cigar is a torn narrow strip of Spanish cedar (ideally) and lit using whatever flame source is handy. Cigars packaged in boxes or metal tubes may contain a thin wrapping of cedar that may be used to light a cigar, minimizing the problem of lighters or matches affecting the taste. Cedar spills, matches, and lighters are all commercially available.
Gallery - Cigars
A Pipe Gives a Wiseman Time to Think
& A Fool Something to Stick in His Mouth
- C.S. Lewis
Content coming Soon!