Cigars are divided into two basic forms:
Any cigar that has a single continuous ring gage from foot to head is considered to be "straight." The Cuban term for these cigars are Parejos. Parejos can have round, conical or pigtail heads. Parejos are by far the most common style of cigars produced in Cuba today. Examples of Parejos are Robustos, Julieta No.2 (Churchills), and Laguito No.1.
Figurados or Fancy cigars are any cigar with a non-uniform shape, normally tapering at one or both ends. This was the most common style of cigar until the 1930s, and has gradually fallen out of favour since then. Aside from Cuaba, which specialises in the shape, most brands today will have one or two Figurados at most. Figurados can only be rolled by the most experienced rollers. Examples of figurado shaped cigars are Diademas, Tacos, and Pirámides. Culebras, which are three straight cigars twisted together, are also considered Figurados.
All cigars in standard dress boxes (except for tubos and cedar-wrapped cigars) are "boxed pressed," meaning that their sides have been compressed by their neighbours until the cigar has a square shape.
The degree of box pressing can vary from negligible to extreme, but tends to be more pronouced in cigars that have sat undisturbed for a long period of time.
No other packaging contains box pressed cigars.
Cuban cigar sizes are measured by their ring gauge (diameter) and their length.
The ring gauge of a cigar is the cigar's diameter, measured in sixty-fourths of an inch. For example, a ring size of 50 represents 50/64 of an inch. Figurado shaped cigars are measured at their thickest point.
Modern Cuban cigar retailers generally present their cigars with the precise dimensions listed, however, prior to the 1970s, cigars were generally listed with only a length and weight per thousand, or an indicative gauge grouping.
|Slender (thin)||up to 39|
|Standard (medium)||40 - 45|
|Heavy (thick)||46 & up|
Applying these groupings to modern cigars would probably require an additional "Super Heavy" category for 52+ ring cigars.
Metric diameters, while sometimes quoted, are not in general use. The following conversion chart can be used if this information is required.
Cigar lengths in Cuba are produced to a metric dimension (millimeters).
When checking the size of cigars, allow a minus 2-4mm tolerance, as cigars shrink after production.
While an official list of cigar weights is issued by Habanos S.A. to its distributors, these figures are not generally useful to the consumer as the observed weight of a cigar can vary by as much as thirty per cent from the official weight due to natural roll variation and (to a lesser extent) moisture content.
The official cigar weights tend to be on the low side of actual cigar weights.
Cigars are described using three different names.
This is the name that the cigar is sold under. This name appears on price lists and the cigar packaging. It is a specific name and identifies a single unique cigar.
For example, Cohiba Lanceros is a Market name.
This is the name used by the factory to define a specific cigar size (that is, the ring size, length, shape and cap finish). This name might appear on catalogue lists but it does not usually appear on the outer cigar box packaging. If the cigar is a special release and comes with an internal flyer describing the cigar, this will often list the vitola de galera.
In the above example of the Cohiba Lanceros, its factory name is Laguito No.1, which has a unique size of 38 x 192. This vitola is also a Parejos (straight cigar) and has a "pig-tail" cap.
There are a number of cigars made in this Vitola de Galera that are sold under different market names (Vitola de Salidas), for example the Montecristo Montecristo Especial.
Common names are general slang terms that are used to identify particular groups of cigars with a similar shape, ring size and length. These names are not used by the factories and generally not by retailers.
For example, the Cohiba Lanceros is commonly called a Long Panetela. There are many cigars that fall within this common name description.
Common names are slang and therefore lack precise definition and their usage varies between regions. In Paul Garmirian's 1990 Gourmet Guide to Cigars, only a single Robusto is listed. He calls a longer version of the Robusto a "Toro"; a common term used in the USA, but not used to describe Cuban cigars.
All boxes of Habanos include a flyer with this statement:
"For fullest enjoyment, these cigars should be stored in a humidor, away from products with strong odour and under correct conditions of temperature (16ºC to 18ºC) and relative humidity (65% to 70%)."
Control of these two factors (temperature and relative humidity) is the key to the proper storage of cigars.
The upper limit of temperature for cigar storage is 25ºC (77ºF), as sustained periods above this temperature will allow any dormant Tobacco Beetles to hatch and become active.
Sustained temperatures below 15ºC (59ºF) will slow down the chemical processes that happen in a cigar that is stored for a long period time ("ageing"). This is generally considered undesireable.
It is also important to understand the relationship between temperature and relative humidity. Relative humidity is a measure of the amount of water vapour contained in air, expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount that the air could contain before that water became liquid (the dew point). Warmer air can contain more water vapour than cooler air, so as the temperature increases, more water will need to be released into that air to maintain the same relative humidity. As a rule of thumb, the relative humidity will drop by a factor of two for each 20ºF or 10ºC increase in temperature.
Maintaining stable temperature, therefore, is a critical first step to maintaining stable relative humidity. For this reason, a cigar storage vessel should never be subject to direct sunlight. Glass windows in humidors are also generally inadvisable.
The humidity level in a cigar when it is smoked will have an affect on the temperature and consistency of the burn, as well as the tightness of the draw. Both of these factors will have a significant affect on the flavour. The humidity level that a cigar is stored at will have an affect on the ageing process occours within the cigar.
High humidity can cause the growth of mould or cracking of the wrapper. Sustained humidity above 75% can be considered critical.
Low humidity can allow cigars to dry out, causing cracking of the wrapper leaf, evaporation of oils, and loss of flavour. Sustained humidity below 60% should be considered critical.
Most domestic digital hygrometers are only accurate to plus or minus 2% and should be recalibrated every six months.
Cigars are a porous natural substance, and will absorb flavours from strong odours in their environment. Generally, it is advisable to take care to avoid storing cigars near malodorous substances like paint, varnish, petrol etc, and to make sure that any plastics used are stable and free from manufacturing residue (food-safe is a useful guide). Conversely, certain odiferous substances are considered beneficial to cigars; most notably the cedar wood that is used in cigar boxes and humidors.
Beyond those general rules, it is up to each cigar smoker to determine what environment they prefer for storing their cigars. Many aficionados store cigars they intend to smoke in the near term under different conditions to those they plan to keep for a longer period.
Cigars are typically stored in a humidor. These can range from a small desktop box holding fifty cigars, to climate controlled rooms holding many thousands. The traditional construction or lining material for humidors is Spanish Cedar (Cedrela Odorata). Spanish Cedar is not from Spain but from Brazil and other South American countries and is also called South American Cedar or sometimes Cigar Box Cedar. Other timbers used are American (or Canadian) Red Cedar (Thuja Plicata) or Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia Macrophylla).
Spanish Cedar is highly hygroscopic, meaning that it has a high capacity for water absorption (while remaining stable at high moisture levels), and so, once seasoned, aids in the maintenance of humidity levels where it is present. The aromatic fragrance is generally thought to add a pleasant flavour to cigars over time. Some have argued that this fragrance also helps suppress tobacco beetle, but there is little evidence to support this.
Ultimately, any airtight container which can maintain a stable temperature and humidity is appropriate for storing cigars. Many aficionados use electric wine fridges, plastic storage bins (colloquially "Tupperdors," these will ideally be food-safe and IP rated for air and water tightness) or ice boxes ("Coolerdors") when their cigar collection has grown to the point where purpose built humidor storage would be too costly.
Within storage vessels a variety of humidity maintenance devices can be used including electronic humidifiers, treated silica beads and gels, salt packs, and sponges.
Storing cigars in their original boxes is recommended, rather than on open display shelves. This protects the cigars from light and it is argued that confinement in boxes results in better aging. The hygroscopic nature of the wooden boxes will also create microclimates, which will aid humidity stability when the humidor is opened for a short period. Some cigar collectors vacuum-seal their boxes to exacerbate this effect.
Habanos S.A. recommends removing cigars from their tubes for long term storage. Min Ron Nee, in his book An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Post-Revolution Havana Cigars, contends that entubed cigars age slower but to better end result.
For older cigars that come in cellophane, current consensus is that cellophane is best left on cigars during long term storage. Some contend that it improves aging: at worst it seems to have no affect, and there would be a risk of damage in removing it.
Cigars are a natural, organic product, and undergo a process of chemical change if stored for any period of time.
Traditionally, it was generally agreed that cigars should not be consumed within a year of production.
Since 2006, this appears to have become less critical as Cubatabaco has begun using older leaf in the construction of new cigars, and has introduced new technology and better quality control of its processes, with the result that cigars are smoking better earlier.
Current consensus appears to be as follows:
Opinion varies greatly on this aspect of cigars; in the end it is up to individual preference. Establishing your own views on ageing cigars is one of the joys of cigar collecting.
There are various problems that can affect cigars:
Tobacco beetles can hatch at temperatures around 25ºC / 77ºF, and their activity will increase as temperatures rise above this number.
Their twelve week long, four stage lifecycle starts off as microscopic eggs which hatch into larvae, pupate and finally emerge as an adult beetle. The larva does the damage inside the cigar by tunneling within it. The adult beetle does its damage by burrowing out of the cigar, leaving pinhole size holes in the wrapper. Female beetles do further damage by burrowing their way back into the cigar to lay eggs, so starting the cycle again.
The eggs of the beetle are white, oval, shaped and are too small to be detected by the human eye. They are laid in batches of between 10 and 100 at a time. The eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days into the larval stage.
The larva is a white soft prickly grub that grows up to 4mm long. They live for about two months inside the cigar, feeding on the tobacco, before the grub pupates.
The pupa is a protective cocoon that grows around the larva. This pupation lasts 1 to 2 weeks while the larva changes into the adult beetle, before emerging from its cocoon and then the cigar.
The adult is a 2-3mm long brownish-red, flying beetle, which lives around three weeks.
This photograph shows (from left to right) the pupa, adult beetle and the larva grub.
This pest was traditionally fought by fumigation of the finished cigars with Phosphine (Phosphorus Hydride) at the factories before packing. This chemical kills the tobacco beetle in all four stages of its life-cycle, is non-toxic, leaves no residue and has no taste or effect on the cigar.
However, as fumigation was not 100% effective (and as the use of such chemicals may eventually be banned), in early 2005 Habanos introduced a freezing process to their cigars during warehousing. All cigars are now frozen by the pallet for four to five days in industrial sized freezers before export. As a result of this, while one might occasionally find a beetle hole in a new Cuban cigar, this most likely occurred in transit between the factory and the central warehouse facility, and outbreaks of beetle in new boxes are very rare. Some collectors nonetheless choose to freeze their cigars themselves upon receipt. To do this, seal the cigars in a zip-lock bag and place them in the refrigerator for a few days, before transitioning to the freezer for 4-5 days. Bring the cigars back to the refrigerator for a few days to acclimatise before returning them to your humidor.
Prior to 2017, conventional wisdom held that there were two kinds of blue or white growth that could occur on tobacco. One of these was mould, while the other was 'plume' or 'bloom.' Plume was said to be a crystalline substance that formed on aged cigars; many explanations were offered as to the origins and composition of this bloom, but it was generally said to be a positive thing and a sign of high quality cigars that were ageing well.
In 2017, retailer Rob Ayala of Friends of Habanos, commissioned an environmental testing laboratory to examine samples of cigars with wide spectrum of 'plume' growths. These tests revealed the 'plume' to be a variety of moulds (fungi), bacteria, and common dust.
Mould growth can occur on cigars in any conditions, but generally indicates an excess of moisture. If the mould is only on the wrapper, it can usually be dusted off and the cigar can be smoked without incident. If the mould is on the foot of the cigar then it may have traveled further inside it. In this case, clip a portion from the foot of the cigar and investigate. If the mould has deeply penetrated the cigar then it should be thrown away, and other cigars stored nearby should be checked for growth.
Whilst individual brands have an accepted strength / flavour rating, strengths and blends of individual cigars vary within the brand.
Habanos S.A. rate their cigars using a single term, which encompasses flavour, body and strength. Their current brand ratings are as follows.
|Mild (or Light)||Mild to Medium||Medium||Medium to Full||Full|
Hoyo de Monterrey
El Rey del Mundo
Cohiba - Siglo
Flor de Cano
La Gloria Cubana
Montecristo - Open
Romeo y Julieta
Cohiba - Classic
Cohiba - Maduro
Jose L Piedra
Cohiba - Behike
Saint Luis Rey
Smokers tend to separate these characteristics:
Not all users use these terms in the same sense, contributing to some confusion and differing opinions.
Some of the more common flavours one can observe while smoking a cigar include: spice, cocoa or chocolate, peat, moss, earth, coffee, leather, grass, bean, nut, wood, and berry.
This section provides some information on selection, cutting, lighting, smoking, finishing and grading your cigar.
When selecting a cigar in a store, you can check for construction issues. If the cigar has one area of unusual firmness or softness, then it may be underfilled or plugged. If the cigar is mouldy then it probably indicates poor storage conditions in the store. You can also inform your selection by examining the wrapper shade, texture, and sheen, along with the aroma of the cigar, and of course the vitola, all to conform with your personal preferences.
The cigar should be cut just inside the cap, leaving enough cap on to prevent the wrapper from unravelling. On figurados, cut about 5mm from the tip. The easiest method is to use either a single or double sided guillotine cutter. Some prefer a sharp knife, scissors, punch cutter, or to simply pick the cap off with their fingernail.
To light the cigar, a gas butane lighter (which has an odourless flame) is recommended. Liquid fuel lighters, wax candles and matches are not recommended.
Char the end of the cigar evenly, then place the cigar in your mouth and slowly draw-in until the cigar is well lit, rotating the cigar as necessary. Don't hurry this process as a well lit cigar will respond with even burning.
If relighting is necessary, this is not a problem if carried out immediately. If a cigar is left for any period, it can lose flavour and become bitter.
Enjoy the cigar; do not rush things. Much of the smoking pleasure is taking the time-out to enjoy.
Don't inhale like a cigarette; just draw in the smoke and enjoy the flavour and aromas.
Cigars are commonly discarded around the three-quarter mark. More or less is an indication of your enjoyment of the cigar . If you burn your fingers you have had a good cigar.
Where possible, leave you cigar to safely burn out, as cigars naturally self-extinguish within one or two minutes. This avoids the "butting-out" smell and is a fitting end to your Cuban.
After smoking your cigar, you may wish to "grade" it. Typical grading scales are:
|100 Point Grading||0 - 5 Point Grading||1 - 9 Grading||Descriptive Grading|
|95 - 100||5||9||Classic|
|90 – 94||4||8||Outstanding|
|85 – 89||3||7||Excellent|
|80 – 84||6||Very good|
|75 – 79||2||5||Good|
|70 – 74||4||Average|
|60 - 69||1||3||Below average|
The following images show the typical shape and relative size of cigars, based on their common name.