Cigars are divided into two basic forms:
Box Pressed Cigars
All cigars in standard Dress boxes (except for Tubos and cedar-wrapped cigars) are boxed pressed.
The degree of box pressing can vary from negligible to extreme.
No other packaging contains box pressed cigars.
Cuban cigars sizes are quoted by their ring size (diameter) and their length.
The ring size of a cigar is the cigar's diameter, quoted as the number of sixty-fourths of an inch. For example, a ring size of 50 represents 50/64 of an inch. Perfectos are measured at their thickest point.
Cuban cigars are divided into three gauge groups. The gauge of a cigar is an indication of its ring size. The common Cuban term is shown first in the following table.
These groups are becoming a bit lopsided with the trend to thicker 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 are produced to a metric dimension (mm). For convenience, the lengths (in inches) have been added to appropriate sections of this website.
When checking the size of cigars, allow a minus 2-4mm tolerance, as cigars shrink after production.
While there is a schedule of cigar weights issued by HSA, the weight of a cigar cannot be used to test authenticity. Individual weights vary enormously due to hand roll variation and (to a lesser extent) their moisture content.
The official cigar weights tend to be on the low side of actual cigar weights.
Cigars are described using three different names.
Market or Commercial Name - Vitola de Salida
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.
Factory Name - Vitola de Galera
This is the name used by the factory to define a specific cigar type or "vitola" (that is, the ring size, length, shape and cap finish). This name might appear on catalogue lists but it does not appear on the cigar box packaging.
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 i s 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).
This is the common (or slang) name for the cigar and is used in general terms to identify a particular group of cigars with a similar shape, ring size and length. This name is not used by the factory.
In the above example, the Cohiba Lanceros is commonly called a Long Panetela. There are many cigars that fall within this common name description.
However, not everyone agrees what each common name exactly means. In Paul Garmirian's 1990 publication, only a single Robusto is listed. He calls a longer version of the Robusto "a Toro"; a common term used in USA, but not used to describe a Cuban cigar.
In this website, Robustos and Perfectos have been further subdivided.
In some older publications or in different areas of the world, the common names can vary.
Using these Names
These terms are often loosely used and can cause confusion. Sometimes a specific cigar adds to this confusion.
For example in the Cohiba brand, there is a Cohiba Robustos. It has a factory name Robustos and has a common name Robusto. One needs to be clear on which term is being used. In this website, all three names are shown.
Storage of Cigars
Ideally, cigars should be stored in a properly manufactured humidor at the optimal temperature and humidity levels. Stable temperature and humidity control is critical for cigars. Also, cigars should be stored where they cannot be affected by strong odours or fumes (paint, varnish, petrol, etc.).
The ideal construction material or lining 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 has a high absorption capacity (while remaining stable at high moisture levels) and is generally credited with a positive effect on the cigar aging process and in adding flavour to the cigars. Some have argued that its aromatic fragrance helps suppress tobacco beetle, but there is little evidence to support this.
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. A humidor should never be subject to direct sunlight because of temperature fluctuations.
In humidification devices only distilled water should be used. The use of demineralised or deionised water is not a suitable alternative as deionisation does not significantly remove uncharged organic molecules, viruses or bacteria, except by incidental trapping in the resin.
Storing cigars in their cellophane sleaves is an academic argument for modern Cuban cigars.
For older cigars, current consensus is that cellophane is probably best left on for disease/ pest control if your storage conditions are less than ideal. It may also improve aging.
Some dealers distribute single cigars in cellophane to protect them during transport. Some smokers use sleeves for singles to prevent transfer of oils between different cigars.
Temperature & Humidity
While the 70/70 rule, 70ºF (21ºC) temperature and 70% humidity, is often quoted as the ideal condition for cigar storage, Habanos recommends a lower range for Cuban cigars.
Their cigars include the following 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 humidity (65% to 70%)."
Equally important as maintaining ideal temperature and humidity, is stability. Fluctuations from these values should be avoided. Bear in mind that most domestic digital hygrometers are only accurate to plus or minus 2% and should be recalibrated every 6 months. Digital thermometers are usually accurate to plus or minus 0.5ºC (1ºF).
Temperature should be controlled to within the recommended range of 16ºC to 18ºC (61ºF to 64ºF).
Temperatures above 18ºC (64ºF) will allow any dormant Tobacco Beetles to hatch and become active. Sustained temperatures above 25ºC (77ºF) can be considered critical.
Low temperature can delay the aging process. Sustained temperatures below 15ºC (59ºF) should be considered undesirable for normal aging.
Humidity should be controlled within the recommended range of 65% to 70% RH.
High humidity can cause the growth of damaging blue mould or cracking of the wrapper. Sustained humidity above 75% can be considered critical.
Low humidity can allow cigars to dry out. Sustained humidity below 60% should be considered critical.
Traditionally, it was generally agreed that cigars should not be consumed within the first year of production.
Since 2006, this appears to have become less of a criterion as Habanos introduces modern technology and better quality control of its processes, with the result that cigars are smoking better earlier.
Current consensus appears to be as follows:
Newly received cigars should be allowed to stabilise for around one month before smoking.
All cigars benefit from aging. A good benchmark for Cubans is 5 years. Lighter flavoured cigars probably sooner & stronger cigars probably longer. A suggestion is to try a cigar from the box every six months to check how they are smoking.
Cigars in "air-tight" storage conditions may benefit from longer aging and those stored in less than ideal conditions should be smoked earlier.
Cigars older than 10-15 years may be past their prime unless ideal storage conditions have been adhered to; however some cigars gain a remarkable complexity when old.
Note, opinion varies greatly on this aspect of cigars; therefore use this section as a guide only since, in the end, it is up to individual preference.
For an in-depth discussion on aging cigars, Min Ron Nee's Illustrated Encyclopaedia is recommended.
Cigar Pests & Problems
There are various problems that can affect cigars:
The tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne, can cause devastation to cigars. By the time that they are discovered, the damage is done. If not contained, your whole stock can be ruined.
Tobacco beetles thrive in temperatures in excess of 18ºC / 65ºF.
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 tunnelling 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 are white oval microscopic size and are undetectable to 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 lava grub.
This pest was traditionally fought by fumigation of the finished cigars before packing. The chemical used kills the tobacco beetle in all of its four stages of its life-cycle, is non-toxic, leaves no residue and has no taste or effect on the cigar.
However, as fumigation has not been 100% effective (and as the use of such chemicals may eventually be banned), since circa 2005 Habanos freeze their cigars during warehousing. This is expected to totally eradicate this pest from finished cigars; however notwithstanding this, there are occasionally reports of beetle infestation of current boxes.
Prevention is to keep correct storage temperatures and isolate new cigars from non-Cuban cigars and from cigars produced before circa 2005.
In the absence of storage conditions below 18ºC/65ºF, consideration should be given to freezing newly received cigars. A conventional household freezer normally operates around -15ºC/+5ºF, so (wrapped/zip-locked) cigars should be stored for several days.
Allow a period of transition by moving the cigars from the freezer to the fridge for several days before returning them to the humidor.
If cigars are in prolonged contact with water (say from a leaking wet type humidifier) or subject to high humidity, a damaging blue-green fungal mould can occur, affecting both cigars and humidor.
Affected cigars should be destroyed and the humidor thoroughly cleaned and dried.
White mould is a less aggressive form of the blue-green mould and generally can be wiped off if only slightly affecting the wrapper. However once it gets into the foot of the cigar, it may have terminally affected the cigar's taste. White mould is not reflective under UV black-light.
White Powdery Bloom / Plume
This is not actually a problem, but it concerns many newcomers. It is a white, powdery, crystalline residue which occurs naturally with age or when cigars are subject to a sudden increase in humidity. Bloom can be easily removed with a soft brush. Bloom can be distinguished from mould by shining a UV-light on it in a dark-room.....bloom is reflective, mould is not.
Dry cigars can permanently lose their flavour. The period over which this occurs is debateable. Habanos states that noticeable flavour loss starts within two or three months. Others argue much shorter periods. Prevention is to keep the correct storage humidity.
Poor Draw - Plugged and Underfilled Cigars
Poor draw problems result from underfilled or overfilled cigars, or badly bunched or twisted filler leaf within the cigar. Poor draw can be more pronounced in young, inadequately aged cigars. Allowing a longer time for the cigar to age may help.
Plugged cigars can vary from partial (hard to draw) to fully plugged (totally unsmokable). A tight or badly bunched cigar might be saved by poking a thin skewer down the centre of the cigar. Allowing the cigars to dry may help.
Underfilled cigars, while smokable, are very unsatisfying. There is nothing you can do with an underfilled cigar, except that if the cigars were over-dry, restoring them to their proper humidity level may help.
Plugged cigars were virtually unheard of before circa 1996. Construction issues began to appear in 1998, and 2003-2004 was notorious for construction problems, including gross underfilling. The situation improved mid-2004. Since 2005, suction tests are carried out on all cigars before the wrappers are applied. Now construction is generally very good.
Whilst individual brands have an accepted strength / flavour rating, strengths and blends of individual cigars vary within the brand.
Habanos rate their cigars using a single term, which encompasses flavour, body and strength. Their current brand ratings are as follows.
Smokers tend to separate these characteristics:
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.
Smoking your Cigar
This section provides some information on selection, cutting, lighting, smoking, finishing and grading your cigar.
Select a size suitable for the available smoking time. Examine the cigar using all your senses: smell, appearance and feel. If you are buying and if anything at all looks wrong, try something else. If it is one of your own cigars, reappraise your storage conditions. You will gradually develop a sense for this, it really can't be taught.
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 or a punch cutter. Definitely don't poke a hole in the end.
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.
Grading your Cigar
After smoking your cigar, you may wish to "grade" it. Typical grading scales are:
Cigar Type Images
The following images show the typical shape and relative size of cigars, based on their common name.