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Cigar 101

How to Choose a Cigar

Shane K. K's picture

Shane K.

Knowing how to choose a cigar is essential whether you’re buying one for yourself or you need cigars as a gift for your favorite aficionado. For new cigar lovers and gift buyers, it’s nice to know what to look for when you’re shopping for cigars online or in a store. Premium handmade cigars are very similar to fine wine. Learning about the different countries and regions where the tobacco is grown and the cigar-makers who blend the cigars is invaluable, but let’s simplify the selection process. Cigars range in quality, strength, and cost. Below, we’ve outlined the five primary criteria for choosing a cigar: taste, strength, size, tobacco, and price.

Taste & Aroma

Taste and aroma should be at the top of the list for choosing a cigar. Regardless of price, packaging, or your preference for size, if you don’t like the way a cigar tastes, you won’t want to smoke it. If you’re new to cigars, check out the best cigars for beginners. Start by smoking blends that sound the most appealing in the product descriptions, staff reviews, and customer reviews. All of these resources provide insight into a cigar’s flavor profile, which can be spicy, sweet, woody, nutty, creamy, silky, leathery, and more. Many culinary terms are used to characterize a cigar’s taste. Think about the kinds of food and spirits you enjoy. If you like spicy cuisine, a spicy cigar may be to your liking. You can pair cigars with whiskey, beer, wine, and even dessert. Keep your preferences for food and beverages in mind when deciding on a cigar.

As you develop your palate for cigars, consider keeping a cigar journal to track the cigars you enjoy – and the ones you don’t. This can help you refine your search for new cigars by trying other brands from a cigar-maker or country you’re fond of.

Different occasions call for smoking a mild, medium, or strong cigar, but you never want to smoke a cigar that’s too strong. Another way to think of strength is how much nicotine a cigar possesses. Milder cigars are blended from less-intense tobaccos that contain lower nicotine levels. You can’t judge a cigar’s strength by its color, though. Most cigar descriptions online identify the strength with a graphic, in the copy, or both. If you’re shopping in a store, the staff will point out a cigar’s strength and assist you in selecting one you’ll be comfortable smoking. If you feel like a cigar is a little too strong after you start smoking it, set it down, and smoke it slowly by pausing longer in between puffs. It’s best to eat before you smoke and remember, don’t inhale cigars.

There are many cigar shapes and sizes to consider. Classic Parejos – or straight-sided cigar sizes – include the Churchill, Corona, Double Corona, Gordo, Panetela, Robusto, and Toro. Figurados – or tapered cigars – include the Belicoso, Perfecto, Pyramid, Torpedo, and Salomon. Some cigars, like Padron 1964 Anniversary, are box-pressed, while others are round.

A cigar’s size plays a role in its intensity. Thinner cigars burn hotter and faster than thicker ones, and longer cigars are mellower in the beginning but become more intense at the end. Most premium cigars are between four and eight inches long with a ring gauge, or thickness, between 38 and 60 (64ths of an inch). Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of cigar sizes available. Make your choice based on how much time you have to smoke. If you’ve got over an hour to kick back with a cigar, you can smoke a larger format like a Churchill or a Double Corona. If you’ve only got forty-five minutes, choose a Robusto or a Corona.

Tobacco & Cigar-Maker

Tobacco is a broad category, but this one encompasses the components in a premium cigar: the binder, filler, and wrapper leaves. Premium cigars are made in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, and, of course, Cuba. The tobaccos that go into a cigar come from these countries, as well as many other Central and South American nations. As you smoke more cigars, you’ll become acquainted with the taste and strength of tobaccos from Nicaragua versus the Dominican Republic, for example. A cigar’s wrapper is particularly important. Connecticut Shade, Connecticut Broadleaf, Ecuador Habano, Ecuador Sumatra, and San Andrs are common wrapper varietals, and each imparts specific flavors in a premium cigar.

The individual who blended the cigar you’re smoking is the architect of its taste. You can anticipate a certain level of quality and value from prominent cigar-makers like Carlito Fuente, Jose ‘Pepin’ Garcia, Jorge Padron, and more. Top-rated brands like Arturo Fuente, Ashton, My Father, and Padron are found in premium shops around the world.

Price is a big factor in choosing a good cigar. How much a cigar costs inevitably influences our enjoyment. Premium handmade cigars start at less than $2 apiece for inexpensive bundles and go up to more than $30 or $40 per cigar for something that’s extravagant and rare. There are thousands of amazing cigars to smoke between $5 and $15. When you smoke a great cigar that’s in your budget, compare other more expensive cigars against it, and know that you don’t have to spend a fortune for a good cigar.

Shop for Cigars Online

Explore our full inventory of over 550 cigars brands and cigar accessories. We’ve put together plenty of cigar gift guides, as well, if you’re choosing a cigar for someone else. Consult our extensive menu of the top cigar lists where we recommend brands based on country, strength, size, season, and much more.

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