The Chili Parlor

Archive: July, 1998
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Common Cigar Terms

The binder encloses the filler and ultimately gives the cigar its shape and size. Leaves used as binder usually have the tensile strength to hold the cigar together. Often the ability of the binder leaf to hold the cigar together is more important to the manufacturer than the taste it adds to the smoke. In the best cigars, like Havanas, care is taken to make sure the binder leaf’s flavor is complementary to the filler tobacco. Premium cigars use all natural leaf binders with no chemical additives. Less expensive, machine-made cigars often use binders made from leaf particles mixed with cellulose.

Most cigars fall into this category. The flavor and strength of tobacco leaves are determined by the soil and climate in which they’re grown. And it doesn’t take much to alter those attributes. Manufacturers use tobacco leaves from different parts of the world in one cigar to effect the desired flavor and strength of their cigars. The outstanding exception to this practice is Cuban cigars. The filler, binder and wrapper used in genuine Cuban cigars are all made from Cuban grown tobacco plants.



Without cutting a cigar open, the wrapper is the only part of the cigar you can visually inspect. Color refers to the shade of the leaf of the wrapper and can range from light green to black. There are seven basic colors of wrappers which can be found in about 65 different shades. The seven basic colors are:
Claro Claro or Candella - Light greenish brown, they can taste slightly sweet. Also known as AMS, American Market Selection.

Claro - Pale ginger or yellowish brown color, the color of the classic mild cigar.

Colorado Claro - Light tawny brown, sometimes called natural.

Colorado - Reddish-brown, offers rich flavors and subtle aromas. This color normally indicates well-matured cigars. Also known as EMS, English Market Selection.

Colorado Maduro - Collage brown, very aromatic with rich flavors.

Maduro - Dark brown, oily and silky with strong flavor and mild aroma. Sometimes referred to as SMS, Spanish Market Selection.

Oscuro - Blackish brown, strong with little aroma.
Filler makes up the most volume of a cigar. Hand-made cigars usually use strips of tobacco cut to the length of the cigar call long cut (long filler), while machine-made cigars use cut-up pieces of tobacco leaf known as short leaf (short filler). Usually a cigar is made up of 2 to 4 different styles of tobacco leaves.

Handmade cigar
If a cigar says “made by hand” or in Spanish “Hecho a Mano”, this means the tobacco leaves were picked, sorted and bundled by a person, not by machine and the cigar was also hand rolled using some simple tools.

The length of a cigar is measured in inches or millimeters.

A cigar where most or sometimes all of the cigar manufacturing was done by machine. This can include; picking, sorting and bundling of leaves as well as grinding the filler tobacco or rolling the cigars.

Premium or Super Premium
First, it must be handmade. When just starting out, stick to well-known brands with established reputations for quality construction and tobacco. Some of the brands that meet this criteria are:Arturo Fuente, Baccarrat, Bauza, Canaria D’Oro, Credo, Davidoff, Don Diego, Dunhill, El Sublimado, Fonseca, Griffin’s, H. Upmann, Hoyo de Monterrey, Joya de Nicaragua, La Unica, Macanudo, Montecruz, Nat Sherman, Oscar, Partagas, Primo del Rey, Punch, Ramon Allones, Royal Jamaica, Santa Damiana, Savinelli, Te Amo, Troya and Zino.

Ring Gauge
This refers to the thickness of a cigar and is determined by “ring gauge” just like sizing a ring for your finger. The thickness is expressed in 64ths of an inch, so a 64-ring cigar would be one inch in diameter, a 32 ring would be half an inch etc. Most cigars are between 38 and 50 ring.

Cigar shape is determined by the length balanced against the ring gauge.

Sometimes also referred to as “body”. A cigar’s strength can run from mild to full-bodied. This is one of the most important things to know about a cigar as this is what will determine your “taste” in cigars. You can’t tell how strong a cigar is simply by where it was made. If you are just beginning to explore the world of cigars, start with mild, and work your way up.

In a quality cigar, the wrapper is the most expensive element. When making a purchase, a cigar smoker inspects a cigar for its texture, appearance and aroma. A quality wrapper should be smooth, silky and aromatic or the smoker will reject the cigar as inferior.

Making a Selection

Unfortunately, unless you’ve got a very magnanimous friend, you can’t taste-test a cigar. Selecting premium cigars is one way to put the odds in your favor of selecting a cigar that will be an enjoyable experience.

Refer to the partial list of premium cigars found under the heading “Premium or Super Premium” above, or you can find more complete lists in magazines like Cigar Aficionado, Cigar Monthly or Cigar Lover’s Quarterly, make a few notes and you’re ready to head toward the tobacconist’s shop.

Cigar Boxes
More often than not, the tobacco shop will display cigars in their original boxes. This is the first and best place to gather information on a cigar you are considering.

Once you’ve found a Brand name cigar, look to make sure they are labeled “Handmade” or “ Hecho a Mano”. Being handmade doesn’t necessarily mean quality, but you definitely won’t get quality unless it’s handmade. Continue researching.

Is the cigar box made of cedar? Must be a winner right? Not necessarily. While cedar boxes connote quality, aging, and craftsmanship, and many of the finest cigars do come in cedar boxes, many equally fine and well known brands come in paper boxes.

There are also two basic methods of packing cigars. One is the round pack, the other is square pack. Here’s a very basic (and sometimes too simplistic) rule of thumb.

Less expensive, machine-made cigars are square packed. Cigars are packed into the cigar box so tightly, they take on the square conformation of the box. This doesn’t affect short-filler cigars as much as it does the longer leaves of handmade cigars which can be crushed and adversely affect the “draw”.

Most premium, handmade cigars are round packed. They are not packed so tightly and tend to preserve the round shape of the handmade cigar. This is sometimes called the 8-9-8 method. This allows for 25 cigars to a box. Packed 8 on top 9 in the middle and 8 on the bottom with the middle of the box slightly bowed thus taking away the pressure that might square off the cigars. Remember however, a round cigar doesn’t guarantee a good smoke. Padron Anniversario is a fine cigar whose method of packing leaves them almost square.

Cigars that are individually wrapped in cedar or put into glass or metal tubes don’t necessarily mean quality either. The cedar wrap won’t protect the cigar from being crushed and if the wrap touches the cigar it can add a slight cedar essence to the other flavors meant for the cigar.

Additional Clues

Usually the box will state whether the cigars inside were handmade or machine-made. However, if the box doesn’t specifically state one or the other, there are additional things to look for. If you see the words “short-filler” or “contains all natural tobacco product” move on. These phrases are dead giveaways that the product you’re holding is machine-made.

Take a look at the binder used. Remember, filler in all handmade cigars is made from a tough, intact, leaf of tobacco. Machine-Made cigars use filler made from ground tobacco bits mixed with cellulose, pressed into long sheets and cut to size.

The head of a cigar is also a good way to tell handmade from machine-made. Any cigar with a plastic tip attached to the head are machine-made. Even without a plastic tip the head can give a machine-made cigar away. Look for a pre-punched hole in the head. If you find one, put it back, it’s not worth your while.


You can usually find the name of the country from which the cigar originated on the box. Further, imported cigars also carry a tax stamp telling you where it came from. Country of origin used to mean much more than it does today. At one time, Honduran cigars tended to be strong, cigars from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and the Canary Islands were mild and Cuban cigars were full-bodied. Today, some of the most full-bodied cigars (outside of Cuba) come from the Dominican Republic, and cigar production ended in Jamaica with hurricane Hugo.

What You Need To Remember When Purchasing Cigars
  • Try to stay with “Handmade” not “Machine-made” cigars
  • Pay attention to how cigars are packed, Square or Round pack
  • Checkout the cigar box to determine brand, machine or handmade and the country of origin but don’t try determine a cigars strength based on origination.
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