Updated: May 15, 2021
The subtle intricacies of cigar smoking don't stop until the cigar is completed. Even little things like the way you light your cigar or your choice of accompanying drink can affect the flavor of your smoke, so make sure you know your smoking tips!
Smoking a cigar is not like smoking a cigarette. You want to take your time, relax, and slowly enjoy the flavor and aroma. If you smoke too fast you can overly heat the cigar, which can develop a burned or bitter taste in the smoke and is often irreversible. One or two puffs per minute should be enough to keep it lit, so smoke slowly and thoughtfully. You just want to smoke often enough that the cigar does not go out too much because constantly relighting a cigar can affect the flavor as well.
Smoking cigars is like falling in love. First, you are attracted by its shape; you stay for its flavor, and you must always remember never, never to let the flame go out! -Winston Churchill
The Cut & the Cutter
Handmade cigars are not ready to smoke out of the box. You must cut the head of the cigar (the end that you smoke out of) before lighting it. V cutters are recommended for thick cigars with a ring gauge of 50 or more because the v-shaped cut is easier to smoke out of. Cigar scissors can be used for any type cigar, but are a little harder to master because you need to rotate your wrist as you cut. A guillotine cutter is the most common as they are easy to use - just snap once quickly at the end.
If your cigar is tapered to make it easier to smoke do not cut too much of the head off so that you lose the benefit of the taper. In general you want to make a minimal amount of cut - maybe 2-4 mm or about half the length of your pinky nail. You will know you have cut too much if the end of the cigar starts to unravel. Once you have a fresh cut you are ready to light!
Light it Up
You want to light the cigar delicately, holding the flame about half an inch away from the end of the cigar and calmly holding it while the tobacco heats. Rotate the cigar clockwise to evenly toast the edges (kind of like a campfire marshmallow!). Once you have a good outter ring you can direct the flame towards the middle of the cigar and start toasting the entire foot. Go ahead and bring the cigar to your lips and gently draw as you finish toasting and make sure that you have an even red ember across the entire foot. Congrats you just had a beautiful light!
If you are using matches make sure that the entire head is burned before you start lighting the cigar to prevent the sulfur from affecting the flavor. If you are using a lighter make sure that the fuel is high quality butane. Torch flame lighters are easiest to use because they have a find point in the flame to work with.
To Label or Not to Label
Whether or not you remove the cigar label is a matter of personal preference. Personally we like to keep it on because it does not affect the quality of the smoke, it gives a more luxurious feel, and it can be a good conversation starter with other aficionados.
If you do decide to remove the label, wait until after the cigar has been lit for a few minutes so that the binder has time to warm and will be easier to remove. This will help prevent tears in the wrapper and look more seamless.
Taste-buds Affects Flavor
There are a lot of factors that can affect the flavor of a cigar, so it isn't surprising that there are a lot of factors that can affect your taste-buds and as a result the flavor of your smoke.
What you eat and drink before or during a smoke can affect your perception of the flavor. If you eat something sweet you will be less likely to pick up on sweet notes in your cigar, and it may taste more bitter. Drinking something acidic like lemonade or coffee alongside your smoke can be an enjoyable balance to the alkalinity of a cigar for some people, while others do not enjoy the coupling. This is why cigar and food or drink pairings can be such a fun and unique experience!
Some other interesting flavor facts: if you smoke when you are very full your taste buds may be dulled. Also, if you smoke while congested this may affect flavor. Even the pH in your mouth can affect flavor. So if a cigar tastes "off" don't throw the whole batch away before trying another cigar again later. You can try to cleanse your palette (which is a fancy way of saying to bring it back to a neutral pH) with a glass of water, milk, or plain bread.
As you smoke ash will develop on the end of the cigar. While it can be a fun measure of cigar quality (the longer the ash the higher the quality of the cigar), you don't want to wait too long and risk getting ash on your clothes. It can also affect the airflow if it is left on for too long.
You will want to remove it before it gets to be about an inch long. Do not tap the cigar like you might do with a cigarette. Gently roll the cigar over the ashtray until it breaks off.
Thanks for reading and happy smoking!
-The Don Collins Team