From binder to wrapper, these are a few things every cigar smoker needs to know when cutting, lighting and smoking his favorite cigar.
Cut and Light Like a Pro
Handmade cigars don’t come ready to smoke. You must cut the head, then light. While types of lighters and cutters are open to preference, some basic rules are universal. For example, cutting too much off the top of your cigar is a no-no. What’s too much? If the wrapper of your cigar unravels after you lopped off the top, you’ve cut down too far. Normally, there’s a slight taper at the head of the cigar, referred to as the shoulder. We do not recommend cutting below the shoulder line.
In the case of torpedoes and piramides, which taper drastically to a point, you shouldn’t cut off so much of the head that you actually lose the taper. It’s there for both functional and aesthetic reasons—to fit more comfortably in your mouth and to look nice. They are harder to make and require the work of a highly skilled roller. Also, they take longer to create, which is why they are generally more expensive. Cutting off too much defeats the entire purpose, both practically and artistically. Conversely, not cutting off enough can result in a firm draw and a build-up of tar in the head that will ooze into your mouth, something any sane smoker wishes to avoid. But it’s better to cut too little than too much—you can always cut more.
Lighting should be done delicately, similar to the way you might toast a marshmallow—with minimal direct contact. Too much direct contact of flame to tobacco and your cigar might end up tasting like pure char. It’s always better to light in low-wind conditions. On top of the obvious reasons, the breeze might also cause you to compensate by using too much flame just to get a burn going. Again, this will result in an unpleasantly charry aftertaste.
The risk is even greater with powerful torch lighters, which burn at a much higher temperature than soft, natural flames. While we certainly appreciate the wind resistance and surgical control of a torch flame, you’re goal is lighting a cigar, not welding pipes.
Smoke Cool & Slow
Some cigar smokers puff too often. This is a mistake for a few reasons. Philosophically, a cigar is about enjoyment and savoring the moment. Smoking fast runs counterintuitive to this sentiment. Take your time and slow down.
But there’s a more concrete reason as well. Hyper-frequent puffing will inevitably overheat your cigar and cause it to become bitter. Often, that bitterness is irreversible.
A perfectly constructed cigar is made to burn slow and cool in order to impart flavor in a steady progression. While there are no set laws as to how long a cigar should last, we believe that a five-inch cigar should last you at least 45 minutes. If you’re sucking down a five-inch robusto in 10 minutes, you’re treating the cigar like a cigarette, and that’s a big mistake. Puffing every 30 seconds to a minute should be an appropriate interval.
Keep in mind that smoking too slowly could have a negative consequence as well. Puff too infrequently, and your cigar will go out, meaning you’ll have to relight it over and over again. Constantly lighting an extinguished cigar could introduce unpleasant flavors of char, carbon, sulfuric fumes and bitterness. But don’t sweat a relight now and then.
Leave the ash on for as long as you can. The ash serves as a temperature regulator and minimizes contact between the air and the lit tobacco, thus keeping it cooler. Great cigars are made of whole leaves, not chopped up tobacco. Those leaves have structure, and will hold an ash of a size that’s surprising to a novice.