The Chili Parlor

As an ongoing feature of the “Dessert” section of our menu, we’ll attempt to raise your cigar knowledge quotient. We’ll be bringing you articles discussing how cigars are made, selecting the best cigars, matching particular cigars with the right food and drink, and rating different cigars.

To get the most out of any discussion, it helps if you’re familiar with the language being spoken. So, we thought the best way to start a series of articles on cigars is offer some of the lingo common to cigar aficionados.

Getting the Most Enjoyment
Out of a Premium Cigar

You wouldn't pay $60 - $100 for a bottle of Dom Perignon, crack it open while you're watching a Saturday afternoon Mets Game of the Week and drink it out of a plastic ballpark souvenir cup. There are some experiences that merit a modicum of ritual or at least a little respect. And so it is with a fine cigar. In fact, we're convinced that your cigar experience will be greatly enhanced by paying attention to the proper cutting, lighting, smoking and even disposal of your cigar of choice.


Most premium cigars are sealed at the mouth end (or head) with a cap of tobacco. To smoke the cigar, you have to make an opening at the head. There are a number of tools designed to make this cut and experimentation and personal preference are the best guides. However, this said, let's dwell on cutters for a moment.

Like everything else, cutters run the gamut from small, cheap guillotine styles to very expensive and fancy cigar scissors. There are cutters that will do the job perfectly well in all price ranges but, there are several criteria that must be followed. The cut must be clean and level. An uneven or ragged cut runs the risk of damaging the wrapper and can hamper the draw. Likewise, piercing the cap can compress the filler and interfere with the flow of smoke through the cigar and cause the cigar to overheat. Remember the cap seals the cigar but it also keeps the wrapper from unraveling. For this reason, cut the cap right at the shoulders of the cigar. This will leave enough of the cap so as not to ruin the wrapper while opening the cigar head enough to ensure a free draw.

You can certainly pinch off the cap with your fingertips or if your orthodontist was an artiste and you've got extremely even teeth, you can bite it off. These methods usually yield a somewhat uneven cut and often leave the party with a cigar unraveling as steadily as the replacement twine for your weedeater. A sharp knife, and it's got to be very sharp, will work but there are tools that are made specifically for cutting cigars. Cutters that make a wedge shape in the cap are not recommended because they also, can compress the filler and cause poor draw and overheating. I think the simplest, most inexpensive and best cutter is the guillotine type. Guillotine cutters come in single and double blade versions, the double blade being superior but the single blade is still better than the tools mentioned above.

The main points are: make a clean level cut, remove just enough cap to create good draw and whatever use use, make sure it's sharp.

The two most important things to remember when lighting a cigar are; take your time and make sure you do a thorough job. Cigars may be lit using a butane lighter or a match. Don't use a gasoline lighter, it will adversely affect the taste and avoid matches with a high sulfur or wax content for the same reason. There are long, slow burning matches designed specifically for cigar smokers available in fine tobacco shops but regular wooden matches will work just fine.

After cutting the cap off the cigar, hold the cigar horizontally in direct contact with the flame. Revolve the cigar until the end is charred evenly over its entire surface but be careful to avoid scorching the wrapper. Now put the cigar in your mouth, hold the flame about half an inch from the end of the cigar and draw slowly while revolving the cigar. By drawing on the cigar, you will cause the flame to "jump" to its end and revolving it will assure uniform ignition. Once satisfied you've lit the cigar properly, blow on the end to make sure you have an even ignition. If necessary, return the cigar to the flame, drawing and revolving until the entire end has caught.

An older, well-matured cigar will burn more easily than younger cigars. While smoking, take your time. A premium cigar should not be dragged on or puffed to frequently. And remember, it's not a cigarette, don't inhale the smoke. By the way, don't be too anxious to remove the band from your cigar. Bands are often glued to the wrapper and its removal may cause damage. After you've smoked about a third of your cigar, the band has warmed sufficiently to loosen the glue. At this point you may remove the band, but don't try to slip it off the cigar like a ring off a finger. You may still damage the wrapper. Instead, peel the band off.
As in lighting your cigar, smoking your cigar should never be hurried. Puff just enough to keep the cigar lit, maybe an average of one minute intervals. A premium cigar is a contemplative pleasure. You should allow the cigar to burn at its pace, not yours. Again, never inhale. Draw the smoke into your mouth hold it there for just a moment and then exhale. While you watch the smoke rise, contemplate its taste and aroma and the taste it has left behind in your mouth. The smoke is not a by-product of burning tobacco, it's the absolute source of the pleasure to be found in cigar smoking.

Try to keep the head of the cigar as dry as possible. The tars and nicotine will build up in the saliva and ruin the taste of the best cigar. So, don't keep it jammed in your mouth. A cigar that takes 45 minutes to smoke shouldn't be in your mouth more than a total of 3 minutes. It's the smoke you want to taste, not wet tobacco.

It's quite normal for a fine cigar to go out, especially once you smoked over half of it. Generally, you can re-light a cigar up to an hour after it has gone out without a loss of taste. Left much longer than an hour and you will begin to taste a difference and left over night, it's a lost cause. You could re-light the cigar by applying a flame to the end and puffing away but, you'll probably be out of breath before you get it re-lit. The correct thing to do is clean the ash off the end of the cigar by rolling it an ashtray. Now re-light it the way you originally lit it up, slowly charring the end, then draw slowly on the cigar. This should be sufficient to heat the natural oils to the point that they rekindle the fire. If your cigar has not burst back to life at this point, applying flame and drawing for a few seconds will definitely cause it to re-ignite.

The Fond Adieu

As the man said, "Your taste is all in your mouth.", and so, the proper time to put down your cigar is when it no longer tastes good to you. There are some helpful guidelines however. The further down a cigar you smoke, the stronger it tastes. This is because of the way the cigar has been made. A premium, hand made cigar is rolled in such a way that the lighter end of the leaf (the end farthest from the stem) is situated at the foot (lighting end) of a cigar and the strongest part of the leaf (the end closest to the stem of the tobacco plant) is nearest the head. As you smoke further down a cigar, you are smoking a stronger, richer part of the leaf. Most experienced cigar smokers willingly put aside the cigar when they've smoked it down to the last third. Frankly, most cigars have pasted their peak after the first third has been smoked. There are many aficionados, who are quite satisfied to part with their cigar at this point, knowing they've had the best it had to offer. In the end, it's all up to you.

When you've reached the decision to abandon your cigar, it's not necessary to stub it out like a cigarette, you'll just create lots of smoke and increases the exposed tobacco and thus unpleasant fumes. When you're finished, just rest the cigar in the ashtray and let it burn itself out, which will happen quickly and produce the least amount of odor. Cigar stubs should be gotten rid of soon after they've gone out. Old cigars will leave the smell of stale smoke in the room if left too long.

Final Word

Always take your time with a cigar whether lighting it or smoking it. Use a sharp implement to cut the cap. Don't puff on it like a steam engine and put it in your mouth only when you're ready to draw. When you're finished with it, don't crush it's life out, lay it to rest like an old friend.

Oh yeah, two things not to do! Don't roll a cigar near your ear. It tells you nothing about the cigar but speaks volumes about you to anyone who does know about cigars. And never warm the length of your cigar before smoking it. Over a hundred years ago, warming burned of the unpleasant tasting gum used in the making of some cigars. That was then, this is now.

Enjoy your smoke.

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