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Cigar 101

Are Expensive Cigars Better?

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

Are expensive cigars better? Sure, but that depends on your idea of expensive. And that can vary greatly from one guy to the next. One thing for sure is that getting a great cigar without spending a lot equals value, and overpaying for a mediocre cigar is a negative experience.

Premium handmade cigars vary wildly in price – some come in a bundle go for less than a buck apiece and others can be well over $30 for one cigar. Let’s explore some basic differences between expensive and cheap cigars to learn why some cigars cost more and if they are indeed better.

Filet Mignon vs. Value Meal

There’s no shame in cruising through the drive-thru for a Big Mac when you’re on the go, but breaking out the credit card for an epicurean dinner at a steakhouse is far and away a more indulgent experience. Premium handmade cigars come in the same extremes.

Thrifty bundles of Bella Cuba, Don Lino, and Rocky Patel Mulligans are produced and priced for the guy who needs a decent cigar during an afternoon of landscaping or painting the porch. The taste is decent, but if you drop one in the grass you’re not going to shed a tear. Exclusive cigars from Arturo Fuente, Ashton, My Father, and Padron are the ones you save for when you can sit back and sip on a Macallan single malt. But, “they’re all made from tobacco, what’s the difference?” you ask.

Why Some Cigars Cost More:

Taxes

One expense that has zero influence on a cigar’s taste or quality is taxes. Sales and tobacco taxes can add a whopping percentage onto the price of a premium cigar. State tobacco taxes can be especially steep, upwards of 60% or more of the retailer’s cost. Except in a handful of states like Pennsylvania and Florida, which have no tobacco tax, and Texas, where the tax is minimal, tobacco taxes can send the base price of a premium cigar into the stratosphere. Tobacco taxes vary widely based on federal, state, county, and municipal duties.

Rarity

Like expensive watches, cars, and bottles of wine, pricier cigars are rare. Sought-after blends like Fuente Fuente Opus X ($30 and up), Ashton ESG ($18.75-$22), Padron Family Reserve ($21.60-$32.50), and annual limited editions from My Father ($20-$24) are not produced in huge quantities. These are not cigars you’ll find in the blowout bin at your local retail shop. They cost a lot to make. More money is spent on the bands and boxes. They carry an air of prestige. And there simply aren’t that many to go around. The guys who buy these cigars scoop them up when they see them and they’re generally less concerned with the price.

Premium Aged Tobaccos

Renowned cigar-makers like Carlito Fuente, Pepin Garcia, and Jorge Padron know you can’t rush the hands of time. They rely on special reserves of tobacco procured from select farms to make their most expensive cigars. They select only the finest and most flavorful wrapper leaves.

The tobacco is fermented for many months if not years. It costs money to store and rotate pilons (stacks of leaves) of premium tobacco in optimal conditions for long periods of time during fermentation. After fermentation, tobacco can be aged for an additional period of years before or after it is rolled into the finished product. The best cigar-makers are uncompromising, though. They won’t take shortcuts to rush their cigars to market even if retail stores run out for a while. In most cases, when you buy an expensive box, the cigars inside have been resting for long, long time before you crack it open.

Quality Control

The competition for talent is fierce among brand owners when it comes to staffing their rolling galleries.

Today’s best cigars are handmade in modern, well-equipped cigar factories. Successful cigar-makers attract and retain the best cigar-rollers by investing in their facilities. Benefits like air conditioning and onsite medical care are important to workers. Some brand owners even provide incentives like free scooters.

The makers of the best cigars hire rollers with superior skills and they take the time to train new rollers to perfect their rolling techniques. Carlito Fuente only hires new rollers to make Fuente Fuente Opus X cigars. That way, he can teach them from scratch to make the cigars to his standards without having to erase any bad habits an experienced roller could have picked up over the years.

Better working conditions and advanced training cost more money. But it can easily be argued that a content workforce produces superior cigars. Rolling cigars requires years of skill and focus. Experienced owners invest in their employees. When you smoke a cigar that hovers around $20 or more, you should expect a flawless burn and consistent flavor and know that the individual who made the cigar is proud of his or her craftsmanship. 

Packaging

We all know you don’t smoke the boxes. But packaging speaks volumes about the product inside. Alluring bands and boxes express pride and impress shoppers. While ornate packaging is not a prerequisite for great taste, it’s easy to believe the cigar under an intricate La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse band, for example, is special. The highest quality cigar bands are printed in the Netherlands by Vrijdag, a company that’s been making cigars bands for over a century. All of the prominent cigar companies employ Vrijdag for their bands.

The biggest cigar makers also operate cigar box factories. Controlling cigar box production actually lowers a manufacturer’s cost as there is no third party to pay for making the boxes. But, it’s common for more expensive cigars to come in fancy and beautiful boxes with extravagant detail and embossing, which adds to the price.  

Are Cheap Cigars as Good?

Back in 2008, Cigar Aficionado bestowed its coveted ‘#1 Cigar of the Year’ award to the Casa Magna Robusto, a cigar that sold for just $5.25. Cigar lovers did a double take. Some argued a less expensive cigar was selected due to the economic slowdown at the time.

The truth is, there are plenty of acclaimed cigars that sell for $5 or less. We regularly sell the highest-rated cigars from brands like Alec Bradley, Rocky Patel, and AJ Fernandez for $1.99 to $3.99 apiece. Lower prices simply reflect an increase in production or a drop in demand, which equals a steal for the consumer. Production does not eclipse demand with more expensive cigars. If it did, their prices would drop as well.

Cheap cigars, especially those packaged in no-frills bundles with basic bands have their place. But, for the most part, cigars that consistently command a high price reflect superior taste and quality. And you can’t buy them for pennies on the dollar in an email blast. It all depends on what you’re in the mood for, though. Sometimes a cheap cigar is just what you’re craving. 

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