Cigar 101

Cigar Anatomy: The Many Parts of a Cigar

Holt's Staff Cigar's picture

Holt's Staff

Premium handcrafted cigars often create a sense of anticipation. How often do you look forward to toasting up your next smoke whether you’re camped out around a bonfire, watching a game with your pals in your man cave, or hitting the greens for a round of golf? The taste, the aroma and the pleasure that fine handmade cigars deliver is the result of a carefully constructed blend of tobaccos.

The maker of the premium cigar you’re about to enjoy is not unlike a chef in a top-rated restaurant who has put together a select recipe of the best ingredients to make your favorite dish. Following is some valuable insight into the parts of a cigar and how we identify the components that make up a cigar’s blend.

Wrapper

The wrapper is the outer leaf of a cigar that cradles the interior tobaccos. Besides a cigar’s band and overall shape, the wrapper is the first thing you will notice about your cigar. It’s kind of like a cigar’s first impression. Because of this, cigar-makers are very particular about wrapper selection. The outer leaf must be pristine, smooth and enticing in appearance, as well as taste. Wrappers differ according to color and texture, and can determine 60 percent or more of a cigar’s specific flavor. The wrapper generally receives the greatest amount of attention and consideration in the growing, fermentation and construction of a premium cigar. The greatest number of hands handle a cigar’s wrapper leaf in its journey from the field to your humidor.

The two broadest categories for classifying wrappers are Natural (lighter in color) and Maduro (darker in color), although Maduro has more to do with how a wrapper leaf is processed than simply its color.

Many other terms characterize a cigar’s wrapper leaf, which often identify important details like seed varietal and the country or region where the wrapper is grown. For example, an Ecuador Connecticut wrapper refers to a Connecticut-seed wrapper that is grown in Ecuador. Some of the most popular wrapper varietals include Connecticut Shade, Connecticut Broadleaf, Ecuador Connecticut, Ecuador Habano, Ecuador Sumatra, Cameroon, Nicaraguan, San Andrés, and Corojo.

If you ever want to really taste the difference between a Connecticut Shade (Natural) and a Connecticut Broadleaf (Maduro) wrapper, try smoking an Ashton Classic and an Ashton Aged Maduro. Each blend is hand-rolled from aged Dominican tobaccos and delivers the kind of premium flavor and aroma that have made these wrapper varietals among the most popular in the world.

Besides color and region, characteristics like texture and the taste and aroma you can perceive from an unlit cigar when you take a cold draw often offer an immediate impression of the tasting notes you’re about to indulge in. The interior tobaccos in a cigar are blended to complement the wrapper leaf and reveal its optimal flavor. It’s always useful to take note of your cigar’s wrapper. If you find you really enjoy a particular blend, keep an eye out for other cigars that share a wrapper from the same seed varietal or region.

Binder

Just under the wrapper leaf resides the binder tobaccos. This is the part of the cigar that encases the filler tobaccos. Binders serve as conduits for a smooth burn and combustibility, and maintain a cigar’s structure and density. A lot of cigars are rolled with a single binder leaf, while others are crafted with two binder leaves. Cuban-legacy brand Punch Vintage is blended with a pair of Connecticut Broadleaf binder leaves, which enhance the cigar’s sweet and earthy profile. In some cases, binder tobaccos were originally grown as wrappers, but didn’t meet aesthetic requirements and were therefore repurposed as binder leaves. Quality binder tobaccos deliver a consistent burn.

Filler

Shielded beneath the binder, the filler tobaccos occupy the very center of a cigar. Filler tobaccos can greatly enhance the flavor a wrapper delivers and show off a cigar-maker’s talent for blending leaves from different fields, crop years, and regions. Distinct transitions of taste can amplify a cigar’s complexity, or reveal a more uniform profile. The density of a cigar’s core tobaccos can determine whether you experience a cooler, looser draw, or a slower-burning, firmer pull. It’s not unusual for a cigar-maker to experiment with many combinations of binder and filler tobaccos before arriving at a decisive blend. 

Cap

At the head of a cigar (the end that you put in your mouth), is the cap. The cap consists of the same tobacco leaf as the wrapper. You can distinguish the cap by the faint line, or seam, around the head of the cigar where the end tapers (called the shoulder). In a standard shape like a Robusto, the taper is rounded and more gradual, while a Torpedo displays a much sharper, drastic taper. Highly skilled rollers can apply the cap with near perfect symmetry, and in some cases you will notice a triple-cap, which is a common Cuban-style of rolling, as opposed to a traditional double-cap.

You will need to cut the cap in order to smoke your cigar. As a general rule, you never want to cut the cigar below the shoulder. The cap helps to keep the wrapper intact as you smoke, and it’s always recommended that you cut your cigar above the seam that outlines the cap. On a typical Robusto or Toro, it’s common to cut roughly the circumference of dime from the cap when you’re using a standard guillotine or straight cutter.

Foot

The end of the cigar that you light is called the foot. It’s important to toast the entire foot of your cigar to ensure an even burn and prevent one side of the cigar from burning unevenly or “canoeing.” Use a wide flame on standard shapes like a Robusto, Toro, or Churchill, or simply take your time and examine the cigar’s foot after it’s lit to make sure the burn encompasses the entire circumference.

Certain Figurado shapes, like an Arturo Fuente Hemingway Short Story, feature a closed foot where the end is tapered to a point. These shapes take less time to ignite as the opening at the foot is much smaller. The initial draws on a closed-foot cigar often reflect a slightly tighter, slower draw, however, the initial minutes of your smoke deliver an additional dose of the wrapper’s flavor, as you’re predominantly burning the wrapper leaf in your first puffs.

Cigar Band

Cigar bands evolved in the 1800s as means to identify Cuban cigars imported to Europe. Today, cigar bands adorn nearly every brand you can think of, although there are also a number of bundles and cigar seconds that forego the convention, often for reasons of cost-effectiveness.

A cigar band communicates brand identity, tradition, and serves to capture your attention on a store shelf or in an online photo. We’re frequently drawn to one cigar over another based on our impressions of the band. Vivid cigar band imagery includes everything from colorful landscapes to crests and intricate calligraphic fonts. Appealing and highly detailed cigar bands can enhance our perception of a cigar, call attention to the wrapper leaf, and influence our purchasing decisions.

San Cristobal Ovation, La Aroma de Cuba Noblesse, and Ashton Symmetry are all wrapped in bands with an unmistakable visual signature. Some connoisseurs will even collect cigar bands. Whether or not you choose to start a band collection of your own, snap a pic on your smartphone of your favorite cigars with the band intact. Keeping track of the blends you want to revisit in the future is convenient and fun.

Total Recall

Now that you’ve got a firm grasp on cigar anatomy, consider how the differences in region, construction, and appearance impact the brands you prefer. It’s also worthwhile to keep in mind the blenders and the cigar factories behind your favorites. Chances are good they’re responsible for a number of different cigars that belong on your radar.

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