The subtle art of cigar smoking

Recently I ran into a cigar or two. Like so often in my life I realized that there are worlds around me I do not have any idea about.

A cigar became a mark of sophistication, authority, and good taste. By a process of carefully selected leaves, the process of drying and rolling; the cigar became an artisan item, equivalent to a work of art. In time it became a sign of greatness of important men to be accompanied by only the very best cigars. The following people have established themselves as true icons and champions of the cigar. 

With a background like this, where do we start to learn more? Where do I start looking for cigars?

If it is a male orientated hobby, let us start with size. Average would be a 7 x 38. That means 7 inches long. The ring size is measured as X times 1/64th of an inch. Thus the 38 would be 38 times 1/64. What does the size matter? The longer and wider the cigar, the cooler the smoke and that means your flavor will be fuller. The larger the cigar the more complex the taste.

Pajero is the standard type of cigar. It is a cylindrical shape, with a head (the front that will be lit), body and a foot. This side is neatly closed with the wrapper and will need to be cut before lighting. Other forms are grouped under Figurado’s. These are Pyramids, Bellicose, Torpedo’s and many more. Each will have its own champions that will tell you why that cigar form is better.

Of course the most important part is the tobacco. The most obvious to start with will be the wrappers, or the leaf used to cover the cigar. There are subtle differences in the appearance of wrapper leaves. They vary from cream to yellow through subtle green to darker brown and to almost black. They are named from Double Claro through Colorado to Maduro and any amount of combinations of these. The color depends on the amount of sunlight the leaves get up to the ripening and amount of fermentation allowed .Lighter leaves have a dryer taste, while darker ones would be sweeter.

Wrapper leaves are grown with care. The wrapper leaves will inform the content, 60-90% of taste and flavor is derived from the wrapper. Aesthetics play a role as well. There must be no blemishes. A single leaf must cover the whole cigar. Oils in the leaf will give it a slight sheen, and as we said the color is very important in creating expectation from your unlit cigar.

Cigar tobacco comes from the Caroga cultivar. Plants are usually harvested from bottom to top. The bottom leaves are those that ripen earlier and the bottom leaves being more flavor rich. A plant can be harvested up to eight times in a season.

When the tobacco is ripe it is harvested. Then follows a curing process. leaves are bound in bunches and dried. Light will be eliminated for hydrolysis and oxygenation to take place, and for the amount of chlorophyll to be removed. Then leaves are dried in air (wind) that ideally should take about 40-60 days. This process can also be accelerated by heat from a fire or in mass production in a kiln. The main indicator is to check the main vein on the leaf.

The leaves are then put through a first and second fermentation. Leaves are batched in bales, with stable heat and humidity and a decrease in air flow. Humidity and temperature is regulated.

After finishing the making process cigars are aged. This is a slow fermentation process. the larger the cigar, the better the aging process. On average aging is allowed for six to 12 months, but better handmade cigars are aged up to six years. After buying your cigar it can still age at home, provided that you have good storage with constant temperature and humidity.

Anatomy of a cigar

As already stated, a cigar consists of a head, body and a foot.

It is built up in 3 layers. The filler is the inside leaves. They are from top leaves, darker in color, more oily and they burn slower. The filler is covered by the binder. Binder is more course leaves that will hold the filler together. They tend to be lighter in color and flavor. The Wrapper is the outside leaf. Here the aesthetic look is very important. There should be no blemishes and should feel soothing to both hand and lips. The foot is covered with the same color leaf in one to three wrappings and should form three layers.

By now I know a little about a cigar. Later I will comment on the ritual of smoking one.

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