New Smokers' Questions

How do the packaged cigars that I can buy form the drugstore or the magazine store compare to THE GOOD STUFF?

[IMAGE] Most packaged "drug store" cigars include non-tobacco ingredients such as paper, saltpeter (for even burning) and PG or Glycerin (to prevent them from drying out). Quality cigars contain only tobacco. Most quality cigars contain top-of-the-line leaves, and are made with long-filler (the leaves run from end to end. "Good" cigars are generally only available from tobacconists.

Are Mail-Order cigars ok?

Many cigar smokers use mail-order houses for their discounted prices. The problem with this is that there are very few mail-order suppliers who will let you purchase singles - and who wants to spend $100 for a box just to try a new smoke? This is one of the best reasons why you might want to frequent your local tobacconist. There you can get good advice, buy singles, and see and smell the stogies you're purchasing.


What about "old" cigars? Should I buy "fresh" ones?

Tobacco used in premiums is aged 18 to 24 months before rolling. Some manufacturers age rolled cigars an additional year before even shipping them to the distributor. as long as they are stored properly, there's no such thing as an "old" cigar. Many people prefer "vintage" smokes. Refer to the FAQ section on aging cigars for more information.

The Epitome & Fine Tabac
631 Royal Street
New Orleans
Cigars are never "fresh" in the proper definition of the word. All reputable tobacconists will store them properly, at approx. 70 deg, 70% humidity. Always have cigars shipped overnight or 2nd day to prevent their drying out in transit.

If a cigar is properly stored in a humidor, how long will it last?

Indefinitely. Many people still have pre-Castro Cubans (yum!) I've heard of pre-WW2 smokes which were GREAT!

If a cigar dries out, is it possible to get the taste back?

If you let a cigar dry out it'll certainly damage it, but it can be recovered (somewhat) by s-l-o-w-l-y re-humidifying it in a proper humidor. It'll never be quite the same, but cigars will re-humidify far better than others

Besides being a suitable way to transport cigars, are those glass (or metal) storage-tubes ok to use? For how long?

As long as the cigars were properly humidified before the tubes sealed, they should last for a long time. Open it up to smell the tobacco though, and you'll be letting in dry air (which will slowly dry them out). Tubes with cork stoppers also will slowly exchange moisture with the "outside" air. I really can't recommend these tubes for long-term (over a year) storage.

What's the difference in taste of cigars from different countries?

Each country's cigar production has its own taste and character. Cigars are made all over the world, with tobacco grown in different soils, cured by different processes, and rolled with different techniques. Too many to discuss here (unfortunately), so let's stick with some general guidelines for some of the more popular Caribbean countries.


These are not hard and fast rules, but you'll have something to go by when you're faced with a humidor full of cigars from which to choose.

Cigars from Jamaica are usually considered mild. Cigars from the Dominican Republic are mild to medium in strength. Cigars from Honduras and Nicaragua are stronger and heavier smokes. And cigars from Cuba are considered to be some of the richest and creamiest in the world!

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Also remember that the larger the diameter (ring gauge) the richer and fuller the flavor, and the longer the cigar, the cooler the smoke. New smokers might want to start with any cigar made by Macanudo or Arturo Fuente. Just pick one that is a size you like and enjoy it. You might also try one with a "maduro" wrapper (which is dark and rich tasting).

Selecting the perfect single

[IMAGE] 1) Look for open boxes in your tobacconist's humidor that have been there for a while. Cigars are often shipped "wet" to retard drying, and should stabilize for a week or more in a proper environment before smoking. Grab them too soon, and they may have only stabilized on the exposed side, causing uneven burning. (You can compensate just as easily by putting your purchases in your own humidor for a week before smoking.)

2) Squeeze the cigar gently. It should "give" but not be too soft. Don't roll it in your fingers, as some suggest - this can damage the wrapper. Squeeze gently up and down the body to look for lumps or soft spots. A good cigar should have neither. Remember to be gently. Even if you don't buy that cigar somebody else might - don't damage it!

3) inspect the wrapper for "odd" discolorations, looseness, or cracks. The wrapper should be smooth and tight, and not damaged on either end. Smaller veins are good to watch for, as these often smoke smoother, but compare your single to other cigars with the same wrapper! Veins appear differently in different wrapper types.

4) Look at the tobacco in the exposed end. Some variation of color is normal, as most cigars are made from a blend of tobaccos. What you're watching for is extreme or abrupt color changes. This sometimes means an inferior leaf was used, or the leaves weren't laid together properly in the bunching process. Off tastes and uneven burns will often be the result.

Clippers, cutters, etc.

The first thing you should do is closely examine the "head" of the cigar - this is the closed end that needs to be clipped. Almost all have what is called a "cap" - a bit of tobacco leaf used to close of the end - you should be able to see how far down the length of the cigar the cap goes by inspection. Typically only a 1/4" - 3/8" or so; sometimes much less, and on figurado shapes sometimes quite longer. Anyhow wherever the cap stops is your cutting limit - cut beneath the cap's line or even too close and your cigar will start to unwravel, and as you pointed out this is extremely unpleasant. Typically I cut the minimal possible while trying to open approx. 75%-85% of the cigar end's surface area. Sometimes this means a cut as little as 1/32" down, where other times almost 3/8" - it depends entirely on the individual cigar's roll and cap construction.

The single bladed cheapie cutters that most newbies are given or buy for $3 typically do a very poor job of clipping the cap, and result in crushed, split, and tatterted cuts. One thing to keep in mind when using a guillotine cutter is to line up your cigar at eye level and to them clipped it quickly and decisively

[IMAGE] Many smokers swear by the .44 Magnum cutter which is a relatively inexpensive punch that is easy to use, makes a perfect round opening, and completely bypasses the problem of how much to clip. I personally don't use one because they do not work as well on figurado shapes, nor can I get as large an opening as I sometimes would prefer. Crestmark also makes a nice cigar punch that extracts the cut cap from itself. I own both types of punches and think they are excellent products and would recommend that you try one at your tobacconist, it may be ideal for you.

V-Cut clippers are also available, and a few cigar smokers I know think this is the ONLY way to clip your cigar. You don't have to worry about the caps length using this type of cutter since you rest the cigar against it, and it "automatically" takes out a v-notched shaped bit of tobacco of the same size everytime. Personally I hate this type of cut, I find that it tends to build up tar on the edges and that some cigars tend to burn unevenly when cut this way. These cutters typically work better on some sizes than others, depends on the size of the v-notch blade.

723 St. Peter Street
New Oleans, La 70116

Cigar scissors are elegant, but they are difficult to use in my opinion. Plus they are damn near impossible to carry around.

Some people use x-acto blades, swiss army pen knives, their teeth, and so on. How you clip your cigar is a matter of what works best for you. Just keep in mind where the cap ends and you should be fine.

Ashes, Ashtrays...


Your cigar ashes are a tell-tale sign about some of the characteristics of your cigar. A cigar that is well rolled (packed), can burn slowly and create a stiff ash up to two to three inches in length without bending or breaking. It merely looks like the cigar itself, except it's grey.

Woodlands Fine Cigars & Tobaccos
582 Sawdust Road
The Woodlands, Texas
Should your ash break up quickly, or burn in a less than tightly contained manner, or expend, it is probably not packed well and its' smoking characteristics are probably below par. If the ash color begins to vary into the darker tones the leaf mix was not up to standard either.

The quality of the smoke is not affected by the length of the ash. Hot or bitter smoking taste, or any other kinds of less tham smooth variations that occur WHILE smoking the cigar, are other indications of poorer quality, either in the leaf mix or the rolling.

A great quality cigar can usually be smoked down to the nub (way past the Band). Sometimes, as you smoke a great or good one down, the taste will change from "lovely smooth", to beginning to be "bitter" or have a distinct "after taste". Most experts suggests tossing it, but I practice more patience. I simply put it down and let it burn itself gently in the "proper ashtray". A good cigar can maintain its slow burning qualities from 3 to 5 minutes without being puffed. Quite often it will burn itself past a "tar" spot easily and a resumption of your smoking it (without it going out) will confirm its' return to its original wonderful flavor. Give it a chance to re-prove itself. I find the last two inches really satisfying and "Hard to put down"! It's almost like a love affair, when it's that good!

ASHTRAYS Critical to the fulfillment of the pleasures of smoking are an assortment of the the proper cigar ashtrays to match the size of your cigars AND your personal technique of how you physically handle your cigar while smoking, or how you hold it in your mouth (wet vs dry, etc).

[IMAGE] Antique ashtrays picked up in fleamarkets, are usually old enough to have been designed specifically for CIGAR smokers. I avoid the modern, lead crystal ones with the very long cigar rest. It gets very dirty quickly, and it is hard to handle the cigar (the, "I'm not looking", reach for it) as it smokes down.

For me the proper ashtray has a "Rest" (landing ) for your cigar that has generous proportions, such as about 2 inches long and 7/8 to an inch wide, with at least a generous curve on its' sides so as to contain it EASILY, ie, prevent it from rolling to the side.

The tray itself needs to be big enough to take, at least, the ashes from two big cigars, or else there is an annoying build up of a mountain of ash that constantly has to be played with (distracting to the purist), or else emptied frequently. Should a friend visit you you need an ashtray with two holders for cigars and an even larger size to hold the ashes without ash-buildup.

Sometimes there is no room on your desk for an ashtray or in many cases, you are in a room where you need a "Ashtray on a Stand". Again I prefer antiques specially made for cigars, not cigarettes. These too, must have ample proportions, and of course a removeable tray that nests in a stand. In either the desk, or stand type, Heavy glass or Metal is preferrred. Decorated Ceramics stand alone ashtrays or inserts, are of course, acceptable, as long as they meet the above criteria, and do not clash with your smoking room DECOR. For me, there is always the bounce test, where I gently mishandle things and see if then can stand up to a fall to a carpeted floor. Good ones bounce slightly without breaking. Don't use fragile ones, especially if they're purchased specially for you as a gift by a dear family member.

Above all, never put your cigar out by stubbing the end in the ashtry. Proper style calls for you to tip it into the ashtray and let it die out naturally. Pointing it down will end its life quickly. There will be less smell and residue.

DISPOSAL The 21st Century man, that smokes at home and wants to preserve his marriage, and relationship with his children, must pay careful attention to the devastating effects that cigar smoke has, as well as the OVERNIGHT smell of a dead cigar remaining in the ASHTRAYS. Saftey and Sanity require you to be constantly running a BIONAIRE Air purifier in any room you are smoking in, within your house. These need to be permanently there, lest you forget. I run them all night just to be sure, and have two of them each in different rooms. Never, Never, leave a dead cigar in the ashtray overnight. Ashes are OK but Butts, never. They really create a stale stink that damages any "SMOKING FREEDOMS", granted to you by the QUEEN of the Household.

[IMAGE] I know too many violators of these simple "after smoking care" principles, who have been BANISHED to Balconys', Porches or other OUTDOOR barren Spaces, especially by the Princesses of the Castle, who protest about their ability to get their Beauty sleep.

If you follow these guidelines I can guarantee that you and your cigars shold be tolerated for at least 10 or more years as long as you spend on your wife, as least twice what you spend on your cigar "HOBBY". Never let her see the Invoice for your favorite high quality box of cigars. That will cause you to stutter, and try to explain something that no practical person will ever understand. If you repeat this folly, guilt will overtake you and cost you a fortune.

[IMAGE] Construction - The Parts of a Cigar


The wrapper is the outside layer of tobacco on a cigar. It gives a cigar one of its primary flavor components. Wrappers are usually very high quality leaves, and are available in colors ranging from double claro, the lightest to Oscuro, the darkest. Wrappers are very important to the taste of a fine cigar, and described in detail in another section of the FAQ.


Binder leaves are the intermediate leaf used to hold the bunch of filler tobacco together. These vary considerably from one manufacturer to the next.


Filler is the bunch of tobacco found at the center of the cigar. Generally the filler is responsible for determining how strong a cigar will smoke. There are two types of filler: long filler, which contains the whole leaf running from the head to the foot of the cigar, and short filler, comprised of scraps of tobacco (often the trimmed ends of long fillers).

[IMAGE] The blending of wrappers, fillers and binders determines the overall flavor of a cigar. There is an art to blending tobaccos and as you smoke different cigars, you will notice how the various tobaccos interplay with one another.

Are there any differences between the blends of different size cigars in the same line?

Manufacturers often use the same types of tobacco in different sizes, producing different tastes. Often the consumer will perceive this as the same "blend". There is a difference however - it's in the proportions of each type of leaf used. An experienced roller may use different proportions of the tobaccos in different sizes to allow for that size differences. In a smaller ring cigar, the binder and wrapper have a greater influence on the taste, for instance. The blender will allow for this difference by re-proportioning the filler blend. It's just one of those details that requires years of training among master rollers. (and of course, one of the reasons smokers will prefer the taste of one size over another of the same blend....

What is ring gauge and how is it measured?

Ring size is the cigar's diameter, measured in 64ths of an inch. Thus a 32 ring cigar will measure 1/2 inch in diameter. Although many catalogs list ring sizes, they may deviate from each by a couple of points on specific cigars.

Wrapper Types

DOUBLE CLARO (also called Candela or American Market Select)- green to greenish brown. The color is achieved by picking the leaf before it reaches maturity, and then drying it rapidly. Very mild, almost bland with very little oil.

[IMAGE] CLARO - light tan. Usually this is the color of shade grown tobacco. Connecticut Shade wrappers are said to be some of the finest in the world. Shade grown tobacco is grown under large canopies to protect the tobacco from harsh sunlight. Neutral flavor and smooth smoking.

NATURAL - (also called English Market Select) light brown to brown. These are most often sun grown, meaning they are not protected by canopies like shade grown leaves. Fuller bodied flavor than shade grown leaves, but still very smooth.

COLORADO CLARO - mid-brown, tawny. (For example, brands such as Dominican Partagas or Fuentes, using Camaroon wrappers.)

COLORADO - reddish dark brown, aromatic. A cigar with this wrapper tastes robust and rich.

COLORADO MADURO - dark brown, medium strength, slightly more aromatic the maduro. Usually gives a rich flavor, as found in many of the best Honduran cigars.

[IMAGE] MADURO - dark brown to very dark brown. These usually have more texture and veining than the lighter wrappers. They are often described as oily looking, with stronger taste - sweet to some palates with a unique aroma.

OSCURO - very dark brown or almost black. They are the strongest tasting of all wrappers. These wrappers tend to be from Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, or Connecticut Broadleaf.

The term EMS or English Market Selection is a broad one, which refers to brown cigars- anything other double claro, (EMS) essentially.

The darker the color, the sweeter and stronger the flavor is likely to be, and the greater the oil and sugar content of the wrapper. Darker wrappers will normally have spent longer on the tobacco plant. or come from higher altitudes: the extra exposure to sunlight produces both oil (as protection) and sugar (through photosynthesis). They will also have been fermented for longer.

All too often, smokers confuse, or blur together, the concept of body, strength and flavor in a cigar. You had posited smoke volume as a possible component - interestingly enough, smoke volume does indeed relate to these factors as well - more on that in a moment.

[IMAGE] Most smokers define a cigar's character to two primary components:

BODY (or 'strength', and even 'intensity'), and FLAVOR (the 'taste' that characterizes a particular cigar)

A full bodied cigar would be perceived as 'strong', but not necessarily as 'flavorful' - naturally, the converse is also true. Incidentally, many veteran smokers favor cigars characterized by both full body, and full flavor.

The Law and Cuban Cigars...

Cigar Palace 121 West 8th Street Austin 512/472-2277
Downing Street 2549 Kirby Drive Houston 713/523-2291
Heroes & Legacies 10000 Research Suite 123 Austin 512/343-6600
McCoy's Fine Cigars & Tobaccos 582 Sawdust Road The Woodlands 281/296-0202
Smoker's Shoppe 1704 Commerce Street Downtown Dallas 214/747-6786
The Cigar Vault North Junction 132-C FM 1960 Houston 281/443-0663
The Cigar Vault Woodforest 446 Uvalde Road Houston 713/455-0223
The Cigar Merchant 1001 Coolidge Blvd. Lafayette 318/233-9611
The Humidor Room 137 Robert E. Lee Blvd. New Orleans 888/28-PUROS 504/28-CGARS
Tobacco Exchange 2828 NW 63rd Street Oklahoma City 405/843-1688

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