So far we have discussed tobacco on the farm in the article Cigar Basics - Part 1: Seed to Factory, and tobacco in the factory in the article Cigar Basics - Part 2: Factory to Shop. This article will discuss the consumer experience of cigars. From the packaging and marketing to the smoking experience. As with the previous articles, there could be so much more written with regards to the topics in this article, however, this will provide some basic information and terms.
The Stage: Shop to Smoke
The Terms: Box, Bundle, Cab, Jar, Cellophane, Sleeves, Tubo, Band, Company, Brand, Shape, Vitola, Length, Ring Gauge, Head, Foot, Cut, Toast, Draw, Finish, Retrohale, Body, Strength
The cigars found in stores have taken years to get there and have passed through hundreds of hands to get to the shelf. When you walk into a tobacconist, you only see the final product on display and with a price tag. Many things go into determining how to properly display this product and how to price the product. Things that impact price are the type of tobacco, the crop yield of the tobacco, the amount of tobacco, the quality of tobacco, the extent of aging, and the packaging. The end goal of the cigar is for it to be enjoyed by the consumer and most cigar manufacturers have offerings that should cover nearly all consumer types.
Cigars are most commonly packaged in Box with the box count ranging significantly in quantity. Some boxes are very ornate and eye-catching, such as the Espinosa Las 6 Provincias Dress Boxes while many are strictly utilitarian. Other packaging options include Bundles, Cabs, and Jars. Bundles are a way to keep the cigar price down as they are typically a Box worth of cigars wrapped together in plastic or butcher paper. The previously mentioned Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Umbagog is an example of a butcher paper bundle. Cabs are another method commonly used for more “budget friendly” cigars because they are typically larger boxes of 50 or more cigars. An example of a Cab is the Illusione Rothchildes. Jars are less common and are usually metal or acrylic. Some of these Jars are humidified, like the Bandlero Barbaros.
While the packaging is important in marketing the product, it also provides protection in transport for the product. When you open the cigar packaging, you may find a couple other means of individual cigar protection. Most commonly is Cellophane, which appears simply to be individual plastic packages for each cigar. This is a cellulose based material that protects the cigars from damage, while also allowing for some air transfer. Another common form of protection, that doubles as a marketing tool, are Sleeves of either cedar or tissue. Arturo Fuente makes use of cedar sleeves on several regular production lines. An example of a tissue sleeve is JRE’s limited production line, the Aladino Corojo Reserva. The other option is the Tubo, which is a capped tube that encases the cigar. An example of this is the Davidoff Aniversario No. 3 Tubos.
One more aspect that can be wrapped up into packaging and market is the Band. The Band(s) is/are essentially the identifying label and/or added design element for the cigar. Traditionally cigars have a single band towards the head of the cigar. However, some cigars have a band at the foot, others have multiple bands, and some have no band at all. If a band is present it often indicates, in some way, the Company and particular Brand. In the cigar world, the Brand is the particular cigar line. The Company is the entity that owns the brand. Take, for example, the Davidoff Aniversario mentioned above. Davidoff is the Company and Anniversario is the Brand.
In the photo above, this Ashton VSG is shown with its cellophane. This cigar has one band showing the Company (Ashton) and Brand (VSG).
Something that is quite apparent when you step into a retailer’s humidor is that cigars can come in various shapes and sizes. The terms to describe the general Shape are Parejo, Pressed, and Figurado. A Parejo is your typical, round, straight sided cigar. A Pressed cigar is a straight sided, non-round cigar. The most common press is boxed press, but there have been diamond pressed cigars, flat pressed cigars, and oval cigars. A Figurado is any cigar that is not straight sided, such as a Perfecto, Torpedo, Belicoso, etc. The more specific term for the combination of shape and size is Vitola. It is impossible to list all the vitolas that exist, but a pretty standard vitola we can analyze is the 5 x 50 Robusto. 5 x 50 represent the measurements of the cigar. Sometimes they can be written reverse (i.e. 50 x 5). The larger number is what is known as the Ring Gauge and this is the diameter of the cigar in 64th of an inch. So the common robusto is 50/64th of an inch in diameter. The smaller number is the length of the cigar in inches. For the example of a figurado with varying ring gauges, you see something like 6 x 50/58. This indicates the larger and smaller ring gauges that occur in the cigar.
Once you have made your cigar selection you are ready to enjoy the cigar. The cigar has a Head and a Foot. The Foot is the end of the cigar that gets ignited. The Head is the capped end of the cigar. To begin, you must Cut a portion of the cap off to allow for airflow through the cigar. There are numerous options for cutting but the intent is to remove enough of the cap to have your preferred level of airflow without cutting off too much, which could cause the cigar to unravel. When you are ready to light the cigar, many people, myself included, elect to Toast the foot. This process is done by not quite touching the flame to the cigar foot and evenly and slowly heating the tobacco. The tobacco will ignite without the flame actually touching the foot and thus avoiding scorching the cigar. Once the foot appears to have evenly ignited, you can take a couple puffs with the lighter or match flame still not quite touching the foot. This process helps get the cigar burning evenly from the start to avoid trouble down the road.
The Draw while smoking a cigar describes the way the smoke pulls through the cigar. The draw resistance is critical to the experience, but it is a preference of the smoker. Too tight of a draw and smoke production can be low and it can be an uncomfortable smoking experience. Too loose and the cigar can burn quickly, and consequently, too hot. Flavor starts with the draw as the smoke enters, coats, and exits the mouth. The sensation and coating of the mouth is referred to as Body. Not to be confused with Strength, which is a reference to the nicotine level in the cigar. The Finish is the set of flavors left on the palate between draws. A critical part to getting the full flavor profile of a cigar is the Retrohale, which is the act of blowing some smoke out of the nose. The olfactory system plays an incredibly important role in taste.
As with anything, cigar smoking takes time and practice. The more you smoke, the more you’ll be able to understand the flavors you are getting out of a cigar. You will also learn what you like and dislike in a cigar. There is so much more that can be written about each section of this Cigar Basics series, but for now, this should give you a good understanding of the cigar, from seed to smoke.
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