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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 becasue 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 experienced 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
Of course you are welcome to pick cigars up and feel them for consistency, proper humidification, etc...  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... 




         
   

Thursday, March 12, 2020

CIGARS 101.7: Manufacturing & The Art Of Rolling



The cigar rolling process is as much an art as it is science.  There are many intricate processes which must come together precisely to create a premium cigar; it is impossible to teach the process with just words, pictures and videos.  It is also impossible to appreciate the complexity of cigar making without feeling, hearing, touching and smelling the process in real life.  Regardless, we will attempt to educate you about the art of cigar rolling and help you appreciate the artistry and the talented men and women who bring it to life. 


UNPACKING, SORTING, STEMMING, & MORE SORTING
After aƱejamiento, the leaves must be unpacked, inspected and sorted.  Once again, leaves are sorted by texture, color, size, priming levels, quality, etc...  Perhaps you are noticing a theme here; tobacco is ever changing and it must be sorted, tested, and selected at every stage.  This precision will help ensure blend consistency and the highest quality standards: there are no shortcuts to making great cigars!



After aƱejamiento, the tobacco will be too dry to work with, so it will be re-humidified (mojo) in order to be handled during the stemming process.  Wrapper and binder leaves will have the entire stem removed so that each leaf will produce two separate halves: each half will be able to wrap or bind one cigar.  Wrapper and binder stemming can be assisted by a machine, but the process still requires dexterity and a skilled operator.  


The thicker/lower part of the stem will be removed from filler leaves, but the length of stem removed will vary based on the priming level and/or desired effect of the component.  Stems are actually an important part of premium cigar filler.  Stems add "fortaleza": body and strength.  Many people mistakenly think a stem in a premium cigar is a sign of bad quality, but there are important and nuanced reasons for them being there!



After unpacking, sorting, mojo, and stemming, there will be more sorting and testing!  The leaves needed for the current rolling project will be set aside to finalize blend proportions and other leaves may be put aside to age for future projects.




BUNCHING
Every premium cigar, depending on size and blend design, will usually include three to five filler tobaccos.  The filler leaves will often come from different countries, regions, farms, seed varietals/plants, and priming levels.  In addition, the filler leaves can come from different vintages/crops and have undergone distinct fermentation processes and aging/aƱejamiento.  The cigar maker or master blender will have determined the exact proportions of each leaf component that will go into a particular cigar's blend; these components will be allocated to cigar rollers (by weight) to begin production.



The first step in cigar rolling is bunching the filler tobaccos together and applying a binder around the bunch.  Many larger factories have a division of labor where bunchers/binders are separate from the rollers who apply the wrappers.  There are also many factories where the buncher and wrapper are the same person.  Regardless of the factory's labor structure, bunchers and wrappers are all considered highly skilled cigar rollers.



While whole leaves are used in premium cigars, the bunchers will have to tear and partition leaf parts to create the precise proportions/recipe that the blend requires.  For example, too much ligero can make a blend too strong or effect the burn rate; not enough ligero can make the flavor seem flat.  Every leaf component and proportion plays an integral role in the flavor and burning characteristics of the cigar!  In addition, there are many bunching techniques, some are more complex while others lend themselves better to certain types of tobaccos (ie. density and oiliness).



At this point you should understand the challenges of creating a perfectly consistent product: even minor inconsistencies can be expected within a box of cigars, or a particular production run.  The biggest challenges will occur when trying to replicate a brand's flavor profile, year after year.  Weather, soil, and climate changes will effect the raw materials that go into a cigar.  All of these complications make wine and spirits manufacturing seem simple by comparison: blending liquids is much easier than blending leaves! 


Adding more complexity to the process of bunching, each cigar vitola is designed to express itself in a certain way: some start smooth, build in body, increase in spice, change in the middle or at the end, etc... So, every cigar is a complex sculpture meant to burn, taste, smell and develop in a specific way!  Once the roller sculpts the bunch, they will apply the binder leaf to the outside, then place the cigar in a mold.   
        


MOLD & PRESS
Cigar molds, made of either plastic or wood (traditionally), are shaped to the exact dimensions of the vitola being created.  The bunch is placed in a mold then put in a press for approximately 30-45 minutes, then rotated.  This happens several times to avoid having any seems on the bunch which could potentially show through the wrapper leaf.  The bunched cigars will typically stay in the press until they are ready to be wrapped.  







WRAPPING
Hand wrapping a cigar is one of the most impressive artisanal parts of cigar making to watch.  It takes a great amount of dexterity to stretch the wrapper just right, roll the bunch, continue pulling the wrapper taught, apply the goma, and create a perfect looking cigar body.  While cigar wrappers are applied at high levels of humidity so they will be pliable, they are still delicate and rollers must use precision to trim out blemishes, veins, spots, or any other imperfections from the wrapper leaf.  Some very large wrapper leaves, if expertly trimmed, can be used two wrap two cigars, so precision is important.  Furthermore, the process of rolling figurados is more complex than a straight body parejo, so there are many challenges and skill levels required to make beautiful cigars.  




HEAD & FOOT FINISHING
The crowning achievement of cigar rolling is head finishing.  After all of the effort that went into creating the cigar, finishing the head is especially important.  A simple head will close the cigar and keep it from unraveling, but there are many different types and styles of head finishing.  More intricate finishing techniques, like Flag & Cap, will provide extra wrapper layers to reinforce the head and maintain its integrity when in the smoker's mouth.  Cigar heads can either be simple and functional or an elevated expression of the cigar maker's artistry.  Similarly, the foot of a cigar can be cut flat or finished in an artistic and technical manner. 





QUALITY CONTROL
After the cigar is made, they are typically placed in bundles of fifty.  Factory managers will inspect each cigar by hand and sight: they will select cigars from the bundle and gently squeeze the body to ensure consistency and check the vitola measurements.  In addition, every bundle must be weighed and be within an acceptable weight range to know all of the cigars were rolled to spec.  The inspector/manager will also need to confirm that any left over component leaves are within the acceptable range: too many leftovers mean the recipe has not been followed.  Many factories will also put cigars in a suction machine/draw tester to ensure they are not plugged.  Lastly, there will be people testing the finished product to make sure quality is on point.  Due to the complexities and challenges of producing perfectly functioning products out of rustic leaves, cigars are regularly removed from production, thrown out, or separated to be sold as seconds.  





CIGAR AƑEJAMIENTO
Cigars that pass quality control inspections will be too humid to be smoked by a consumer: if you do smoke one, it will taste very different than the intended final product.  Finished cigars need time to settle down to 70% humidity and allow all of the tobaccos to marry: this process can last three to six months for most premium cigars.  The process of cigar aging is called cigar aƱejamiento and it will last until the cigar is smoked.  




BOXING & BANDING
Finally, every premium cigar will get its own dress and boxing when they are ready to be shipped to retailers.  Special cigar bands, cedar sleeves, box labels, cellophane, and assorted embellishments will be applied and used in packaging.  But, not before another sequence of quality control standards and selecting processes take place.  Cigars will be inspected, from foot to head one more time and then they will be sorted by color so the box you open is as consistent and beautiful as possible.  





This is the art of cigar rolling, in brief.  It is an extraordinary journey for a bunch of leaves that will return to dust when properly smoked!  

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

CIGARS 101.6: Air-Curing, Fermentation, & AƱejamiento



AIR-CURING
After harvesting/priming, the mature tobacco leaves are delivered to air-curing barns, usually located adjacent to the fields.  The leaves are tied in pairs and hung on lathes in giant barns designed to circulate air and dry out the leaves.  Air-curing times vary for different varietals [and priming levels] of tobacco, but this process will take approximately two months.  Temperatures and humidity will be constantly monitored to ensure the tobacco transforms properly.





Air-curing will fix the sugar levels, halt the maturation process, and release moisture and chlorophyll from the leaves.  Air-curing is complete when the leaf and stem turn completely brown and the leaf exhibits leather-like elasticity when stretched.  But keep in mind, these leaves are far from done; they are full of ammonia and cannot be smoked without causing an unpleasant reaction.  And now you know why cigar tobacco is called dark air-cured  Click here to learn more about air-curing and other related curing methods...




FERMENTATION
After air-curing the leaves will be sorted by size, texture, priming level, and other criteria.  Now the leaves are ready for their biggest and most important transformation - fermentation.  Fermentation is a natural organic process that accounts for the majority of change and distinction in cigar tobaccos.  Its like a natural slow cooking process where the moistened tobacco heats up under its own weight and off-gasses ammonia and other impurities.  Fermentation can last weeks or months, depending on the varietal/priming/texture.








Every pile of similarly grouped tobacco leaves will be intricately assembled, allowed to increase in temperature and then disassembled and re-assembled: effectively rotating the hot spots.  This will continue until all of the leaves are thoroughly fermented.  Fermentation is as much an art form as it is a science!  Every cigar manufacturer has a different technique, temperature specifications, piling technique and approach to the process.  But two things are certain, fermentation expels what you don't want in the tobacco and exposes its true organoleptic potential.  Click here if you would like to learn more about fermentation...  

MADURO FERMENTATION
While the term maduro can simply refer to a color designation for wrappers, it is also the process of fermenting tobacco more vigorously and for a longer period of time: this will yield a richer and sweeter leaf.   Click here to learn more...




AƑEJAMIENTO
After fermentation the leaves will become darker and they will again be sorted by texture, size, color, priming level and other criteria.  Then they will be packed up and stored to age until they are ready to become part of a premium cigar.  The name for this aging/storage process is aƱejamiento.  






AƱejamiento can last months, but typically it will last for years while the tobacco continues to age, mellow and express its flavors.  When the tobacco is ready, 'it will let you know' and only then can it can be rolled into a premium cigar.   Click here to learn more...