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Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Hand Journal Worksheet - Certified Cigar Reviews


Here is our Certified Cigar Review Hand Journal Worksheet, for those of you that would like to take some notes by hand before you create a cigar review.  This download is free to anyone who wants to use it for any purpose, but it is tailored to the Certified Cigar Review (CCR) process: you will see that it closely resembles our Tear Sheet printables.   This worksheet is especially handy if you intend to do a CCR later but wanted to make some notes now.  Enjoy!  


Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Weathering The Storm: By Patrick Potter, CMT

Certified Master Tobacconist
Academic Contribution
Patrick Potter, CMT




Bob Dillon couldn’t be more apropos “The Times They Are A Changing.” As the landscape of personal space and social distancing becomes a new normal Tobacconists will be challenged. However, by incorporating public health guidance into daily practices and responding to customers’ need for peace of mind during these  trying  times,  Tobacconists  can  meet  these  challenges  head-on  and  with confidence. 

Tobacconists the world over have always weathered the storm. We are an essential service and provide an essential dispensation unlike other retail businesses. Extravagant to some; the relationship between Tobacconist and the cigar and pipe smoker are a lifeline to freedom and self-care. One of the greatest aspects is the two or three hour break we all get to shed the stress of the day, turn a shoulder to the chaos of the world and either discover a new cigar or reach for ole’ faithful. From first cut, to first draw, the expectation and delight that comes is priceless. Tobacco has always been given a bad rap especially because of cigarettes but cigars and pipes  are  not  cigarettes  and  their  design  was  never  intended  to  be  a  nicotine delivery system. Cigars are air cured, fermented, hand rolled and blended to inspire, delight and satiate. James J Fox once commented that cigars and pipes are at the center of civility and decent behavior. They give both men and women an opportunity to decompress, reflect on life or their day and most importantly socialize.  

Change is something all Tobacconists face.  Brands  have  changed,  some  have remained  and  new  exciting  developments  with  boutique  cigar  makers  have emerged.  Tobacconists have always been challenged in knowing which brand or vitolas to carry over another. The modern “go-to” for this valued information was once isolated to Cigar Aficionado but in recent years new media has also emerged from online blogs like Halfwheel, to Stogie Press, and Cigar Advisor. Additionally, the European market has a dedicated magazine and online presence ‘Cigar Journal, who has helped to impact the European Tobacconist by highlighting free world cigars and showcasing boutique makers from around the world. 

Every Tobacconist is challenged with either implementation or threat of taxation. Most states in the country impose a tobacco tax, and in some, that tax is so great, selling cigars alone may result in closure.  As the tax climate changes, the Tobacconist is faced with opposing forces. One retailer who saw the climate of change grow around them was my grandfather’s company he co-founded, Tinder Box International. Founded in 1928, and later incorporated in 1946. This small- town brick and mortar grew to over eight hundred stores worldwide by the mid 1980’s, before their sale. They capitalized on a retail franchise concept that allowed for incredible expansion while maintaining the brand price structure per market. Which meant that the same cigar purchased in Los Angeles could be purchased in Chicago at the same price. They combated higher taxation by designing a buying system  and price  structure  that  is  now  called vertical (*1)  integration.


Tinder Box used this central buying design and amassed such inventory that they could take losses in high tax states and gain revenue in the lower tax states. Unfortunately, our economy today couldn’t support this type of “retail only” design. However, I took my grandfather’s Tinder Box Franchise design and restructured it to work in today’s economy. The Continental Cigar Club is my solution; it’s the integration between retail and a private members lounge. Lounges for some, are an essential to a brick and mortars success. Especially with higher taxation and legislative restrictions, the combination of private/public membership lounge and retail operation is the perfect business model in today’s economy, for me.


The interaction between consumer and Tobacconist can also be very challenging. We must fight to maintain our relationships and our customer loyalties. With social distancing becoming a new normal we have to balance self-care with business. Customer loyalty is all that we have. The preservation of those relationships will help us weather the new storms. In the dawn of COVID-19 or really any viral or bacterial  illness  cleanliness  is  essential  to  foster  peace  of  mind  between  the customer and the Tobacconist.  To address this issue, I developed (*2) an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan for all Continental Cigar Clubs.


In creating this plan there were a number of recommendations (*3) from OSHA that I could incorporate. I have implemented several that give my customers peace of mind. Here is a list of practices I have implemented that have been effective for both customer and my tobacconists:


1.  I created a reservation system for our private member lounge.  I found a restaurant seating application that has the configurations I wanted.  It makes it easy for staff and convenient for the member.  The design allows the member to call us and reserve a particular seat.  Our seating chart allows for thirty-six total seats.  For the time being we are still in a hold status on members in the club or retail use.  However, once reopened, members will find that we are able to move our furniture in such a way to allow a six foot gap between seats, except our four-tops, which we have reduced to two seats, and our community table, which accomodates ten, we have reduced to four.  Members can choose a three hour reservation beginning at 11:00am and the last reservation is at 8:00pm, so that we can promptly close at 11:00pm.  Those that wish to extend, can if the next three hour slot is available.  No one has been belligerent over this; as a matter of fact, it's increased our accolades for being concerned about members' health.  This may be our new normal, and if it is, we are prepared to adapt. 


2.   In our plan we asks customers to use a hand sanitizer before entering the main part of the retail operation.  Currently hand sanitizer is in short supply but our hand sanitizer kiosk is operational.  OSHA (*4) recommends alcohol- based hand-wipes containing at least 60% alcohol. Allowing the customer to enter the humidor is discretionary; we have a posted sign explaining that at this time humidor access is limited to tobacconist staff only. One creative option I implemented is a menu book detailing the brands I carry. It took some time to develop but has proven to be a fantastic method for selling. This is especially helpful because now the engagement is based on my product knowledge of my tobacconist and enthusiasm of customer.


3.   We started using latex and vinyl gloves but they seemed to create more issues than they were designed to prevent between the handling of things like money, touching our face from time to time, and they would make our hands sweat which wasn’t good either. Our hand sanitizing policy is frequent use: every time between transactions. However, the practice of washing our hands for 20 seconds between transactions is impossible when the bathroom is across the store. Seeing no real solution, we opted for the lesser of two evils. I gave the tobacconist the option of either using a disposable cotton glove or use a tong. When handling cigars their care is the utmost importance and who doesn’t like white glove service? We use hand sanitizer between transactions as a normal behavior anyway. We only use the glove to handle the cigar itself. The glove is on when we enter the humidor and removed when the cigar is placed into the cigar pouch or handed to customer.


4.   Another option my other tobacconists favor is the use of the tong. After doing a little homework on tongs, standard BBQ tongs would be to harmful to the cigar itself, the tong we use has rounded ends, and is all metal. We wanted something easy to sterilize. We use Barbicide disinfectant easy to get online and it use meets the OSHA requirement of 60% alcohol for sterilization.


5.   We,  as a  normal practice, offer cutting  service upon  purchase of a  cigar.  Luckily we, as a normal course of business, only use sterilized cutters, punches or V cuts. We have a members cutting station in the lounge. We do have to constantly remind lounge members not to lick their cigar before cutting or ask them to use their own cutter.


6.   Our lounge cleaning procedure is strict. We ask members to disinfect upon entering the lounge and we disinfect the seating area after a member has left. A  simple  wipe  down  of  the  chair,  TV  remotes  and  ashtrays  can  have enormous impact on safety and peace of mind. Some already may be wearing a protective mask or have gloves on, we don’t humiliate anyone who chooses these precautions. It’s about peace of mind. Most members chip in and help with monitoring their own space after use.


7.   Not all cigars are in cellophane. Cellophane has not been tested clinically if they pose less/more of a risk to contraception. However, they do seem to give customers peace of mind. This was proven in my store when Padron and Oliva V sales dropped off. Then when I decided to put them in cello, the sales improved immediately. Preventing random customers from entering the humidor has also improved customer peace of mind.  Cellophane is an unexpected benefit of today’s cigar manufacturing. I was able to buy a case of cellophanes from the manufacturer I use in Nicaragua and had them shipped with my regular order of house cigars.  I was also able to find them through various vendors like LeafOnly.com. The benefit with cellophane is that the cigar itself isn’t touched, merely the plastic-like exterior.  Cellophane (*5) is a polymeric cellulose film made from the cellulose from wood, cotton, hemp, or other sources. The viscose solution is then extruded through a slit into a bath of dilute sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate to reconvert the viscose into cellulose. This is then put through an extruder and sealed for various sizes of cigars. We ask the customer if they prefer to leave the cello on before putting them into a to-go pouch or removing them entirely from the cello before placing in the to-go pouch.


8.   We have posted brass laser etched signs all over the club and bathroom with various reminders. In the bathroom we ask the user to please wash their hands or use disinfectant gel or foam. Upon entering there are signs posted to respect the 6ft rule. These not only are aesthetically pleasing but reduce the clubs liability exposure if a claim were ever levied against us.


9.   One option that we attempted to use, but were later advised (by state law) we couldn’t, was curbside delivery. We don’t meet the essential business criteria although our members disagree. In the locations that can legally and logistically service this option, might take advantage of a curbside pick-up. Customers can order by phone, pull up out front and obtain their cigars. Companies like Postmates have very strict rules regarding tobacco but could be an option if you qualify. Otherwise you could consider using a courier service.


As the times continue to change, the Tobacconist must change as well. Our greatest strength is our ability to be creative, to think outside the box, to help instill peace of mind  to  our  customer  and  be  the  one  constant  shoulder  to  lean  on.  Winston Churchill was quoted once saying “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” As Tobacconists we must adapt, improvise and overcome the challenges we face as Tobacconists and as an industry as a whole. Our unification is paramount. We should constantly share experiences and information with one another. I for one am grateful for Tobacconist University for creating and implementing its curriculum. I think it’s a fantastic way to grow enthusiasm in our industry and I am honored to be part of it.

                                                        

*1 https://www.investopedia.com/terms/v/verticalintegration.asp
Vertical integration is a strategy whereby a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations to control its value or supply chain.

*2  Page 8, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

*3  Page 8 & 9, https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

*4  Page 8  https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf

*5  https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/materials-science/cellophane

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Overall Rating - Certified Cigar Reviews


Tobacconist University's Certified Cigar Review (CCR) platform allows users to provide an overall rating/opinion of a cigar using a zero to ten (0-10) scale.  We use this scale because it is a historic and traditional model used to rate countless things - and it is understood by most people.  Always keep in mind that these ratings are, like taste, subjective and relative.  For example, a cigar that is rated a 6.5, but is very inexpensive could be a great value!  We encourage you to learn about and use our rating system in context and not compare it to others.  



Friday, March 20, 2020

CIGARS 101.BONUS: Etiquette, Myths & More...



CIGAR SHOP ETIQUETTE
Retail tobacconist stores must be rigorously maintained.  Walk-in humidors must have their temperature, humidity, air quality, and sanitary standards perfectly maintained to preserve the cigars and protect the customers that smoke them.  People walking in and out of retail walk-in humidors bring germs, dirt, and debris into the environment, so many steps must be followed to protect the cigars.  While tobacconists are responsible for maintaining their shops, customers must also act responsibly and do their part.  Below are some important rules to follow.

No Smoke In Humidor
The natural aromas of a walk-in humidor are subtle and delightful: the commingling of spanish cedar and tobacco aromas from around the world is a special treat.  Part of the reason tobacconists make their walk-ins accessible to customers is so that they can enjoy the smell of unlit, aging tobaccos.  So, do your part and refrain from smoking in the walk-in.   

Be Careful Touching & Smelling
As we learned in a previous lesson, care must be taken when touching and smelling cigars: avoid touching he head and do not let it touch your nose.  Always treat cigars you do not own with the highest sanitary standards.  

Handle With Care
Be careful when pulling cigars out of a box as the head, foot or wrappers can easily be damaged.  You might be surprised at how many cigars are ruined by careless handling; it is a significant expense to retailers.  Also, remember that tobacconists spend a lot of time organizing, straightening out and facing (making sure the bands face forward) cigars.  If you pull a cigar out of the box, make sure you return it to its proper position.  

Damaged Cigars
Cigars can be damaged during shipping or by careless customers and/or tobacconists.  Many of these are discarded or repaired and sold at a discount.  Most of the damage that occurs is purely aesthetic and will not significantly effect the smoking qualities of a cigar.  If you see a damaged cigar in the humidor, feel free to make an offer - a 25 percent discount might be a win-win for both you and the retailer.

Returning Cigars
Most retail tobacconists will not allow returns on cigars that have been taken out of the shop for a period of time.  This is because cigars are sanitary products that must be kept at proper temperature and humidity: it would be irresponsible to accept returns.  But, if you purchased several of the same cigar and found one or more to be plugged (tight or no draw), you should let the retailer know: a good retailer will do what is necessary to make it right.  However, if you want to return cigars simply because they did not suit your taste preferences, that is just part of the cost of educating your palate: don't expect retailers to accept returns just because you didn't like the cigars.   

Theft Is Real
People shoplift from cigar stores everyday!  Even a small retail tobacconist shop can lose thousands of dollars a year from shoplifting.  It is one of the most difficult challenges faced by retail tobacconists and nearly impossible to stop without creating uncomfortable customer experiences.  Do your part by not acting suspicious, not touching cigars unnecessarily and not putting your hands in and out of your pockets too much.  The snapshot below shows an elderly couple stealing over seven hundred dollars worth of cigars in less that two minutes!   

Public Cigar Cutter Rules
Cigar cutters touch the head of the cigar that will eventually touch your mouth, so they must be kept clean.  Retail tobacconists have cutters on hand for customers to use when they buy cigars, but they must also have procedures in place to keep those cutters clean.  If you are going to use a shop cutter, keep the cigar out of your mouth until you have cut the cigar.  And remember that you are well within your rights to ask your tobacconist about the sanitary procedures they use to keep their cutters clean.




CIGAR MYTHS
There is enough magic and wonder in the world of cigar making to make lies, myths and marketing exaggerations totally unnecessary.  Yet there are innumerable untruths and half-truths in the marketplace, and many of them have been propagated for decades by successful individuals and companies.  As an educated consumer we encourage you to be skeptical and continue to educate yourself from credible sources.  Below is a list of some of the most popular cigar myths you will come across. 


Virgin Thighs
Myth: In Cuba, cigars are rolled on the thighs of virgins.
Truth: This is an absurd concept that sounds interesting and amusing to some, but it is not grounded in reality. 


Cuban Seed
Myth: Cuban see equals quality.
Truth: Cuban seeds, grown inside or outside Cuba, can produce both good and bad cigars.  There are far too many variables impacting the quality of tobacco and cigars (ie. soil, climate, rain, fermentation, blending, rolling, etc...).  This myth gained traction after the American embargo on Cuba when cigar makers wanted to enhance the perceived value of their own brands by saying that Cuban seeds were being used.  To this day, many uninformed consumers visit retail tobacconists and ask for "Cuban seed" cigars, thinking that they are better.  Actually, most premium cigar seed varietals originate from Cuban seeds but have been developed and grown outside of Cuba for decades.  Ultimately, when you see "Cuban Seed" written on a box, it is probably a sign that the cigar maker has nothing better or more original to say about the product; and they are marketing to uneducated consumers.


Maduros Are Stronger
Myth: Maduro wrappers/cigars are stronger
Truth: While maduro wrappers may undergo a longer and more rigorous fermentation, they do not increase in strength or spice.  Rather, they become richer in body and a little sweeter as the sugars develop in the leaf.


Perfect Consistency
Myth: Perfect consistency exists.
Truth: It is impossible to create a perfectly consistent cigar and blend from one batch to another, much less from one crop/year to another.  In addition, it is impossible to construct every cigar perfectly.  The nature of handmade cigars requires some deviation and inconsistency.  It is perfectly acceptable for handmade cigars to be a little inconsistent.  It is also okay for a cigar to burn a little crooked and require a touch-up and it is okay for cigars to taste a little different from one batch to another.  In fact, the human senses cannot taste or smell perfectly, so we wouldn't recognize perfect consistency if it were possible.


Lost & Found Tobaccos
Myth: The classic marketing story about a long lost batch of perfectly conditioned tobacco being discovered and used to create a "once in a lifetime" cigar.
Truth:  The "truth" is hard to find in this case.  Discovering the how, what, when, and where of a "re-discovered" tobacco is difficult if not impossible to prove.  And even if this very special, rare, expensive "tobacco" is used in a cigar, it could be an insignificant amount: just another marketing ploy - buyer beware!


Cuban Cigars Are "The Best"
Myth: This is the mother of all cigar myths, probably because it was true half a century ago and can occasionally seem true today.  Cuba is the birthplace of great dark air-cured tobacco seeds and cigars, but time has moved us forward.  Great tobacconists and consumers everywhere know that our current 'golden age of cigars' exists mostly because of the efforts and products created by those outside of Cuba.
Truth: Today, claiming that "I only smoke Cubans" or "Cuban cigars are the best" is merely a personal preference as opposed to objective fact.  Aficionados, connoisseurs and tobacconists know that taste is subjective. 


Spanish Cedar Is Necessary
Myth: Humidors and cigar boxes need to be lined with Spanish Cedar.  
Truth: Spanish Cedar is not necessary.  It was historically and geographically convenient and practical for cigar box and humidor construction.  While it may be a valid taste and aroma preference, it is not required.  


Cigar Licking
Myth: A cigar should be thoroughly licked/wet-down before being smoked.
Truth: This practice was common a century ago when humidification was not as accurate and consistent as it is today.  Wetting a dry cigar/wrapper would help keep the cigar from unraveling, but it is not necessary when smoking a well-conditioned cigar. 


 Angled Cut
Myth: Cutting the cap/head of a cigar on an angle helps aim the smoke directly to the palate and enhances the taste.
Truth: In contrast to the perfect cut, an angled cut jeopardizes the integrity of the cigar head and may lead to it unraveling.  In addition, a mouth filled with smoke will taste the smoke, whether it is aimed at the tongue or not.  


Self-Sharpening Cutter
Myth: Some double guillotine cigar cutters are said to sharpen themselves.
Truth: This is false.  The physics of metal sharpening have nothing in common with the way double guillotines function.


Packaging Equals Quality
Myth: It is natural to equate beauty with quality.
Truth: Many cigars with simple packaging are extraordinary, and many cigars have extraordinary packing that is not commensurate with the product.  The cigar industry pioneered artistic, intricate, and luxurious packaging concepts, in part, because the products look like commodities without distinguished packaging and branding.  But, extraordinary packaging says nothing about the actual quality of a product.


Strength Equals Body
Myth: Full-bodied cigars are strong.  Strong cigars are full-bodied.
Truth: A cigar can have a full body, characterized by depth and breadth of flavor (i.e. richness, earthiness), and not be strong.  Strength relates to nicotine intensity and can refer to spice levels (i.e. strong spice), but not necessarily profound, rich, or full flavors.  


Flavored Cigars Are Made To Attract Children
Myth: If you believe the FDA, flavored and infused cigars are made to attract underage smokers.
Truth: Nothing could be further from the truth.  While the FDA claims that flavored and infused cigars are an attempt to lure underage smokers, the cigar industry has no such interest.  If this were true then daiquiris, margaritas, and any sweet or fruit flavored liquors and alcoholic beverages could be accused of the same despicable goal.  The truth is that adults enjoy a wide range of flavor profiles, including chocolate, vanilla, mint, herbal, etc...


Absolutes Exist
Myth: Absolute statements like, "this is the best cigar," "this brand must age ___ months/years," "Dominican tobacco is always mild," etc...
Truth: Everything in the world of luxury tobacco depends on one or many variables.  Every batch, type, and crop of tobacco leaf is different.  There are not absolute time periods for growing, fermentation, or aging.  There are not absolute ways to quantify or qualify taste.  There are no absolutes in luxury tobacco- everything depends.


Finally, you have finished a well rounded educational journey.  Remember that romanticism plays a big part in the world of luxury tobacco, but real romance and pleasure needs no embellishment.  The actual magic and wonder of luxury tobacco is enough without the myths, hyperbole and lies.  Ultimately, enhanced appreciation requires enlightenment, which requires truth... thus, the importance of education.


Click below if you would like to continue learning...

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Thursday, March 19, 2020

CIGARS 101.9: Tasting, Evaluating & Reviews

Merriam-Webster Dictionary provides the following two definitions for TASTE:


"the special sense that perceives and distinguishes the sweet, sour, bitter, or salty quality of a dissolved substance and is mediated by taste buds on the tongue" (noun)


and...


"to have perception, experience, or enjoyment" (verb)

Tasting is the process of perceiving, experiencing and enjoying!  As you can see, the words we use matter.  And some of the words we use can have very different definitions.  The key to understanding, enhancing and communicating our taste preferences is having a strong fundamental understanding of the words, facts and science relating to human taste.  Keep reading to learn more...



THE HUMAN SENSES
Traditionally speaking, there are five physiological human senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell.  Each of our senses plays a special role in the way we experience our lives and time.  The enjoyment of luxury tobacco is an organoleptic delicacy, a sensory delight: just like the enjoyment of fine wine, great food, a beautiful view, our favorite music, or even a hot bath.  And the enjoyment of luxury tobacco involves all five of the human senses.

Sight
Consider sight/seeing the "introductory sense", since it is typically the first sense we use when selecting cigars.  Our sight helps us determine size, color, shape, consistency, oiliness, etc...  While our eyes can deceive us, they mostly help us asses the initial quality and construction of cigars.  After selecting your cigar, the importance of sight will increase.  Seeing and monitoring the cigar and ash is critical to maintaining the proper burn, pace, and ash-free clothing.  Ultimately, sight is useful on many levels.  For reasons that date back to the dawn of man, the sight of fire and smoke have a hypnotic and soothing effect on humans.  To lovers of luxury tobacco, there is nothing so relaxing as the sight of smoke wafting up into the air, as if your tension and worries are being carried away with it.  

Hearing
With regard to cigars, what you don't hear may matter the most.  Aside from the sounds of good conversation, few sounds are associated with cigar smoking.  Even the "sound" of freshness is silent.  But there are a couple distinct sounds occasionally heard from tobacco that tell us something important.  If you gently squeeze a cigar and hear a cracking sound coming from the wrapper, it is probably too dry and not optimally conditioned; a snap, crackle or pop while smoking could be a cigar beetle popping - indicating you should not be smoking that cigar.  

Touch
There is a lot to say about the importance of touch and cigars.  Touch is the physical sensation of feeling.   The way a cigar feels in the hand is paramount.  With our hands we can sense if a cigar is at the proper humidity.  We can even use our fingers to determine the silkiness of a cigar wrapper as well as the firmness, construction consistency, and much, much more.  But the key to understanding touch is realizing that it is not limited to the hands:  we feel with our mouth, tongue, and nose as well.  It is important to note that spice and heat are sensations that we feel as well!




Nicotine = Strength
Nicotine is a naturally occurring organic compound in the same family of substances (alkaloids) as caffeine: it is found in tomatoes, green peppers, potatoes, and tobacco.  Traditionally, we do not think of nicotine as something we touch, but it is definitely something we feel.  As with caffeine and alcohol, every person has a different tolerance level to nicotine: too much nicotine can induce nausea and a light head: if this every happens to you, consume a little sugar and it will subside.  The effects and/or level of nicotine will determine the "strength" of a cigar.

Taste
Taste, also known as gustation, is the human sense which drives our appetite and protects us from ingesting poisons.  We taste with sensory organs called taste buds which are located on our tongue.  Our taste buds are limited to sensing only five distinct tastes: salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami.  All of these tastes can be experienced when enjoying a cigar: some of them will make the experience better and others can be a detriment.  Click here to learn more about the human sense of taste...



Smell
Smell, also known as olfaction, is the human sense contained in the nasal cavity that detects microscopic molecules released by substances like food, smoke, flowers, and wine.  Our olfactory nerve cells can detect thousands of different "smells" that our sense of taste cannot.  Without our sense of smell it would be difficult for our palate (sense of taste) to distinguish between an orange and coffee or chocolate and vanilla.  Ultimately, smell is the sense that reveals the extraordinary qualities (ie. complexity/sophistication) of great tobacco, food, wine and even air.  If you don't believe this, try smoking a cigar with a cold, or with cotton stuffed up your nose - just for fun.


Flavor
Flavor is what we perceive when taste and aroma combine:
a true synergy! 



TobaccAromatherapy

Merriam-Webster defines aromatherapy as: "the use of aroma to enhance the feeling of well being".  Tobacconist University began using the term TobaccAromatherapy in 1998, referring to the beneficial and therapeutic effects derived from luxury tobaccos; products which are cultivated, crafted, and curated until they are combusted and savored for our sensory pleasure.  Stimulating our senses for pleasure and health is one of the most natural and enriching ways we can savor our time!




TASTING METHODOLOGY
People enjoy luxury tobacco on many different levels and for different reasons. To some, a great cigar can be a meditative or transcendental experience, while to others it can simply be something to puff on while playing a round of golf. Some people taste vanilla, leather, and nutmeg while others just taste tobacco. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong because taste is subjective. 

Our Tasting Methodology is a simple set of guidelines to follow if you are trying to evaluate the qualities of a cigar.  This is especially useful for tobacconists who must evaluate cigars for their inventories and then describe them to their customers.  Following the Tasting Methodology, or conducting a “tasting,” requires focus and purpose because it is more thorough than just casually enjoying a cigar


3 Step Tasting Methodology:

Observation
Description & Comparison
Evaluation 


Pre-Observation: Establish Neutrality
The most important step before tasting is to establish a neutral setting, starting with the pH in your mouth and eliminating distractions.  Distractions can include people, stress, other tobacco smoke in the air, food odors, and anything else that detracts from focusing on the tasting. Other confounders include food and beverages, which should be avoided during a tasting since they will change the flavors you are perceiving. In addition, emotional biases can also confound a tasting. Smoking a cigar on vacation or under particularly pleasant and relaxed circumstances can make the product seem to taste better.  Establishing neutrality is about trying to eliminate any potential biases, and this includes physical as well as emotional issues. Finally, if you are tasting on a regular basis, you should try to keep the variables as consistent as possible. This means, tasting at the same time of day and in a consistent place. Again, always minimize distractions and confounders.  



Observation
Observation is the process of using your senses to observe and experience the cigar.  We recommend breaking the process down into three stages: Pre-Smoke, Smoking and Post-Smoke.  

Pre-Smoke: Appearance, Construction, Draw
As we have already learned, all of our senses are used to savor a cigar, and the process starts before the product is lit. First, we observe appearance and construction with our sight. Then we touch the head and body of the cigar, judging firmness, conditioning, texture, and consistency. Next, we can smell the bouquet of both the foot and the cigar wrapper. Last, we can cut the cigar and put it in our mouth to assess the draw and the nuances of the wrapper leaf.  By removing the cigar from our palate, we can focus on the finish of the unlit tobacco. The finish is the flavor (taste+aroma) that remains after the cigar has left your mouth. All of this “cigar foreplay” will lead to greater enjoyment and appreciation of the cigar you are about to smoke.

Smoking: Combustion, Smoke, Ash, Flavor
Next, we smoke the cigar and assess its combustion, smoke, and ash.  The cigar will need to burn evenly for the flavors to develop properly.  In addition, a good ash will stay firm until it is released. The smoke of luxury tobaccos will have a distinct texture and appearance as well. While smoking, we focus on the flavors (taste+aroma), strength, spice, body, and the overall experience the tobacco conveys.  Every puff of a cigar will yield different flavors. Cigars are blended to change and develop. The unique construction of cigars allows for leaf placements, which will create flavor changes as the cigar is smoked. In fact, cigars can deliver an evolving flavor experience designed by the cigar maker, which is why cigars should be smoked from beginning to end, in one “sitting,” the same way you might watch a good movie or eat a great meal. It is also one of the reasons we start smoking by the head and not the foot.

Post-Smoke: The Finish
Lastly, every puff you take will reveal new flavors and leave a new finish layer on your palate.  The final finish of a cigar will be very important because the flavors and sensations will stay with you and evolve even after the cigar is done being smoked: savor it!

Description & Comparison
This is the process of  ascribing values, measurements and words to your observations.  Your vocabulary, memory, knowledge and experience will contribute to your ability to describe what you have perceived.  Ultimately, describing what you taste can be an artistic process because it is an intangible interpretation of experiences and perceptions.  Using colorful words and analogies is perfectly acceptable.  Regardless of how technical or verbose you are, the only goal that matters when describing a cigar or pipe tobacco is that others understand what you are saying.  Unique descriptors like "musty," "earthy," "cocoa," or "nuttiness" are only useful if it makes sense to you and your audience.  The descriptive process is something you can get better at, and there are many publications and experts worth learning from.  In addition, having the experience and ability to compare one cigar to another is a useful tactic.  It can be easier to describe something in contrast to another, rather than coming up with the perfect descriptor.  But, there does not have to be a right or wrong way to describe what you have perceived.

By now, the fundamental knowledge you have learned is more than enough to get you started on describing and communicating what you are tasting. 


Evaluation
As consumers, we can usually decide if we like a cigar after smoking just one.  In fact, we probably do not need to go through the rigors of the Tasting Methodology.  Just smoking a few of the same cigar brand/vitola can be enough to know if we "like" something.  But, the rationale of tasting is to come to some sort of conclusion - and evaluation.

Price & Value
The Tasting Methodology evaluation should lead to an assessment based on the observation, description, and analysis, but it must also factor in one more variable: the product price.  While price may not seem like an obvious part of Tasting Methodology, it is important since we are tasting products, and all products have a price.  The ultimate value of a product must be related to its price.  Finally, how we choose to add up all these variables and perceptions is a subjective process, just like your personal taste.  The main goal of any evaluation method is for you and your audience to understand it.  As we have said, taste is subjective, and how you evaluate and define your taste will be up to you.


CERTIFIED CIGAR REVIEWS
If you would like a little structure and help with your Tasting Methodology, Tobacconist University (TU) has got what you need.  The TU Certified Cigar Reviews platform is the world's first and only interactive methodology to document and evaluate cigars.  The Certified Cigar Reviews website will walk you through the process and add value as you document Cigar Specs, Component Data, Pre-Smoke, Smoke, and Post-Smoke impressions and data.  Reviewers rate the objective and subjective criteria of a cigar: including aesthetics, construction, flavor (taste+aroma), spice, strength, body, and smoking conditions.  Facts, sensations, impressions, opinions are documented, aggregated, evaluated, processed and displayed on a graphically rich webpage, which can also be shared, printed, and/or saved by anyone in the world.  Furthermore, all of the review data and criteria are hyperlinked with the TU academic curriculum to enhance the educational experience and establish fundamental definitions and facts.  So if you forget what "strength," "spice," or "body" means, you can just click on the word and learn.

If you want to learn and read other substantive reviews, the Certified Cigar Reviews homepage displays reviews done by Certified Retail Tobacconists (CRT); and you can search the entire database in just a few clicks!  We welcome you to visit the Certified Cigar Reviews website if you want to learn or if you want to share your own thoughts and help educate others.  








Monday, March 16, 2020

CIGAR CUTS



                       


Premium cigars have a finished/closed head which must be cut to draw and smoke properly.  While there is no right or wrong cutter to use, there are fundamental techniques which will keep you from damaging the cigar you are smoking.  You can read about the many types of cigar cutters in Accoutrements College and learn about The Perfect Cut in our FAQ section.

                              


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Sunday, March 15, 2020

CIGARS 101.8: Selecting, Cutting, Lighting, Ashing & More...


Selecting cigars begins with a real life visit to a retail tobacconist - preferably a Certified Retail Tobacconist.  Partly because you can't really see, smell and touch cigars on the internet and also because real human interaction, including body language, verbal inflection and passion can only be communicated in a face-to-face environment.  Internet and mail order companies specialize in hyperbole, story telling, and discounting brands on the back end of their life cycle.  While retail tobacconists must be accountable to their customers in real life.  Retail tobacconists test and pioneer new products and get personal feedback from customers every single day.  This hands on experience is the difference between professional excellence and just pushing cigars. 



The average retail tobacconist store has between three to five hundred facings of cigars, all curated to serve their unique customer base.  If a retail tobacconist works full time and smokes two cigars a day, that means they are smoking five hundred cigars per year.  This means they would only get to smoke through their own inventory once per year - at best maybe they would get to smoke two of everything in their inventory!  At this rate it would seem impossible to become an expert on every cigar in the inventory; halfway into the year a professional tobacconist would have forgotten the details and nuances of what they smoked six months ago!  And of course a person would have to smoke multiples of a particular cigar to become well versed in its nuances and properties and then be able to communicate about it.  Fortunately, the retail environment has the benefit of creating a feedback loop where the tobacconist becomes a repository of information and impressions from customers.  Customers help educate tobacconists as much as tobacconists help to educate customers!  

Practically speaking, professional tobacconists are just passionate consumers with a little more experience and information.  Furthermore, tobacconists have the same preferences and biases as other consumers.   Rather than smoke every product in a store, they will tend to smoke cigars in the style and format that they prefer.  Some tobacconists will prefer large ring gauge Nicaraguan style cigars while others prefer lighter Dominican coronas.  

The process of finding the right tobacconist will involve getting to know them and understanding their strengths, preferences, and personal style.  Above all, a well educated and certified tobacconist will know their fundamentals and be able to educate you and point you in the right direction.  A great tobacconist will share their own knowledge and experience with you as well as all that they learn from their customers!  In summary, selecting the right tobacconist is the first step to selecting the right cigar(s).    

SELECTING CIGARS
When you are in a walk-in humidor you will be surrounded by hundreds of cigars in varying sizes, shapes, and wrapper colors, with an astronomical variety of components and flavor profiles: it is simply overwhelming.

STEP 1
The first thing you should do is ask yourself, "what am I in the mood for?"  What ring gauge and length are you in the mood for?  What will feel comfortable in your hand and mouth?  How much time do you have/how long do you want the cigar to be?  This process will narrow your options significantly.  

STEP 2
The next step is to narrow your options even further.  Do you prefer a certain flavor profile?  Are you looking for full bodied? Spicy? Complexity? Or are you in the mood for a richer and sweeter maduro wrapper?  Are you in the mood for something like XXX which you smoked previously?  You are in charge of your mood and palate and your tobacconist can help guide you through the inventory with short descriptions and personal impressions and opinions.

STEP 3
Now, pick a cigar and smoke it.  Ultimately, there is no right or wrong selection, there is only experience!  You must smoke them to get to know them and you must smoke them to form your own opinions.  There is no substitute for the experience of smoking a particular cigar and there are no amount of adjectives or other people's opinions that will give you the experience of smoking a cigar.  

Cigar Inspection
In an ideal world, you are welcome to pick cigars up and feel them for consistency, proper humidification, etc... But best to check with your tobacconist first.  A well-conditioned cigar (70% humidity) will allow a little compression when gently squeezed and the wrapper will not crackle or crack.  If the cigar feels dry or hard, don't pick that one.  You are welcome to smell the foot of the cigar and the wrapper from a distance, but keep in mind not to touch the head of the cigar as that will end up in someone's mouth.  If the cigar is sealed in cellophane, ask your tobacconist if it can be removed if you want to smell it: don't bother smelling the cellophane because it smells like cellophane.

The X Factor
Everybody has personal preferences and biases, whether we are aware of them or not.  A beautiful oily wrapper in a certain color shade may strongly appeal to you while a beautiful band or box dress may attract another person.  We are all consciously and subconsciously influenced by many factors.  It is important to note our own biases or at least be aware that they exist.  We encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and make counter intuitive choices.  In the world of premium cigars things are not always as they seem and our own preconceived notions can limit our enjoyment.  There is very little black and white in the world of cigars.  For example, dark wrapper cigars are not necessarily stronger,  and lighter wrapper cigars are not always lighter in body.  Just because you did not enjoy a particular brand several months ago does not mean you will not enjoy it today.  Our tastes and preferences are always evolving and there are myriad things which influence our taste perceptions in real time.  Be open to new experiences and don't overthink your options.  Great luxury tobacco products are full of surprises so be open to the experiences and you will continue to enhance your appreciation.        

CUTTING CIGARS
Premium cigars have a finished head that needs to be opened for the cigar to draw, light and smoke.  A good tobacconist will offer to cut the cigar for you so make sure not to put it in your mouth first.  Well conditioned cigars do not need to be slobbered on before they are cut.  While the straight cut provided by guillotines and scissors are the most popular way to cut a cigar, the punch, piercer or V-cut are also popular alternatives.  Pick a style that suits you as there is no right or wrong choice: there is only proper technique.





Cigar makers go to extraordinary lengths to create a strong and beautiful cigar head that will stand up to hours of smoking, saliva and teeth.  In the case of parejo and box pressed cigars, care must be taken to hold the cigar firmly around the shoulder so the wrapper will not shift or crack.  In addition, make sure not to remove too much of the cap: always leave a little shoulder on the cigar.  Cutting too much off can lead to the cigar unraveling and/or feeling untidy in the mouth.  Many figurados, due to the tapered head, will allow you to choose the size of your cut opening; so do what feels right for you.





LIGHTING CIGARS
After cutting the cigar you can test its construction and pre-light flavor by puffing air through it: this is called a cold draw.  If the cigar's draw is tight, try to cut a little more off the head and massage the body a little; this will usually open up the filler tobaccos.  If the cigar is plugged it is defective and you deserve a replacement.  After cutting and the cold draw test, you are ready to light.  

Evenly lighting the foot of a cigar is the most important part of cigar lighting.  If a cigar is not evenly lit, it will not burn or taste properly.  The best cigar lighting technique involves bringing the flame to the tobacco by gently drawing air through the cigar (a.k.a. puffing).  While puffing, rotate the cigar over the flame to ensure the foot lights evenly without getting charred.  Note, you can keep your match or lighter flame just below the foot of the cigar as the act of puffing/drawing will pull the flame gently to the tobacco. 



DO:
- Remove cellophane and any cedar, ribbons, or bands around the foot of the cigar.
- When using a match, allow the chemicals to burn off the match head before taking the flame to the tobacco.
- Hold the flame slightly off of the tobacco.  Traditional flame = 1/8"  while Torch = 1/2".
- Rotate the cigar to evenly light the foot.  
- Puff of the cigar in order to draw the flame to the foot.
- Touch Up the cigar if it starts to burn askew: some oily or dense wrappers may need correcting; its not a sign of poor quality, just a fact of life.

DON'T:
- Light or char the outside of the wrapper.
- Use a candle or liquid fuel lighter (ie. zippo type) to light the cigar.
- Light the head - it happens!

Other Lighting/Burning Issues: Click to learn more...
- Re-Lighting
- Uneven Light
- Inward Burn
- Canoeing
- Tight Draw
- Smoking Too Hot


ASHING CIGARS
Premium cigars are made with long filler (whole leaves), while machine made cigars are made with short filler - chopped up pieces of leaves.  Short filler cigars will produce a short flaky ash while premium cigars can produce a firm ash structure over an inch long.  The long ash can help keep the cigar ember cool and help the cigar burn slower.  The long ash of a premium cigar will naturally fall off when its ready - just gently tap the cigar body over an ashtray and it should fall off leaving behind a flat ember.  If the ember is pointy then the cigar is smoking too hot and you are not tasting the cigar as it is meant to be.



Some people have the habit of tapping their ash off more regularly and never letting the long ash form: it this works for you, so be it.  Once again, remember that cigar smoking is a personal pleasure and you are in charge of your process. 

Finally, the cigar's journey will come to an end when you are done smoking it.  You can smoke the cigar as long and far down as you want as long as it is pleasurable: if this means removing the band and nubbing the cigar, feel free to do so.  When you are done smoking a cigar, simply put it in the ashtray and let it go out on its own.  It is best not to crush the cigar and try to smother it as it will probably start to burn unevenly and create much more smoke than before.  When your'e done, just rest the cigar in an ashtray and enjoy the finish...