The cigar shop can be a wonderful place full of discussion. It's filled with such a diverse selection of people, from all walks of life, that the atmosphere can indeed become quite lively. Cigar culture, in general, is very inclusive. It's one of the things that make the cigar community so great. Etiquette in such an environment is essential but not complicated. If anything, cigar shop etiquette is more about being open to ideas and meeting new people.
To enjoy a cigar requires little else than finding one you like and taking the time to appreciate its quality. That’s it. There are no established degrees or a need for further training for anyone to show up to a cigar shop and embrace the culture. Cigars are a hobby. They are meant to be enjoyed. The atmosphere is intended to be relaxing. The conversation should be engaging, friendly, and accepting. Some choose to focus on their own thoughts, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's about embracing the moment and enjoying a bit of peace that comes from sitting down and relaxing.
Above all else, cigar shop etiquette is about enjoying yourself and allowing others to do the same.
Like any interest group, cigar culture and the cigar shops can be enormously inviting. Along with the culture comes various levels of education regarding every facet of cigars imaginable; from the tobaccos the cigar is made from to the technique in smoking it. It’s all readily available to anyone who wants to embrace the finer points of appreciating a cigar.
The Difference Between Body and Strength
If there’s going to be one lesson to get out of the way quickly, it’s the difference between a cigar’s body and a cigar’s strength. The cigar’s body ranges from mild to full and denotes the cigar’s flavor. Most cigars tend to hover around a medium body. The cigar’s strength refers to the cigar’s amount of nicotine. You can have a cigar with a mild body that’s strong with a great deal of nicotine and a cigar with a full body, tons of flavor, that has just a little nicotine. It’s all a matter of preference.
Tobacco itself originated in the Americas, though the exact location is still unknown. Tobacco today is grown all over the world with each geographic region lending its own flavor profile. While Cuba is undoubtedly the best-known tobacco crop for cigars they are far from the only producer of high-quality crops. Others include the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Africa, and the United States.
Typically, cigar composition is broken down into three categories:
Wrapper – the wrapper is the outer layer of a cigar and has an enormous impact on the cigar’s flavor profile. Specifying the exact type of wrapper can be a little confusing as there are generally two classification systems that overlap slightly. Wrappers are classified by their color ranging from the lightest to the darkest.
The most formal classification system places a cigar wrapper into seven categories. To classify them from lightest to darkest they are candela, claro, Colorado claro, Colorado, Colorado Maduro, Maduro, and Oscuro. A candela wrapper will be slightly greenish, a Colorado wrapper will be reddish-brown, and an Oscuro will be black. The other color variations lie appropriately in between.
A more common classification system, at least in the United States, breaks the cigar wrapper classification system down into four categories. Again, the classifications are organized by color going from lightest to darkest. They are the Connecticut wrapper, the Corojo wrapper, the Habano wrapper, and the Maduro wrapper.
Wrapper color tends to denote a certain flavor profile and not strength.
Darker wrappers tend to be sweeter while lighter wrappers tend to be dryer. Finding a wrapper you prefer is a matter of trying out the various types grown in the different regions and deciding what's right for you.
Binder – the binder leaf does have a certain flavor profile that tends to depend on its geographic origin. Binder leaf is essential in its ability to be flexible and hold in place the filler leaves. Binder leaves are more about function and the cigar's construction quality. Poor binder leaves will leave you with a cigar that falls apart or doesn't burn evenly.
Filler – the majority of a cigar is made up of filler leaves. They provide a great deal of the flavor and come in so many variations it's mind-boggling. The flavor profile tends to come down to geographic origin and amount of time the tobacco has been fermented and aged. If fill leaves are used the tobacco is referred to as "long filler" and if partial leaves are used the filler is referred to as "short filler." Generally, long filler is preferred but, again, it's all a matter of taste. On top of all of this is the standard practice of blending different tobaccos to provide almost infinite flavor profiles. This is generally why no two types of cigars will taste the same and why some cost more than others.
Cigars come in an enormous number of sizes and shapes. The two dimensions that are most commonly associated with those shapes is the ring gauge and the length. The ring gauge is denoted by its diameter in increments of sixty-fourths (1/64) of an inch. The length is denoted by inches. Generally speaking the larger the cigar’s ring gauge and length are the milder the cigar’s flavor profile will be and the longer the cigar will take to smoke.
The two most common categories for cigar shapes are the Parejos, which are “regularly” shaped cigars and Figurados which are “irregularly” shaped cigars.
Arguably the most common cigar shapes are the:
Robusto: a 5x50 (length and ring) cigar that is most typically used for profiling new flavors when blending is performed by the manufacturer.
Corona: a 5.5x42 cigar that allows for a slightly warmer smoke. More of the wrapper will be experienced in the corona.
Toro: a 6x50 cigar that has experienced a significant surge in popularity over the recent years due to its stable construction and length of smoking time provided.
Cutting a Cigar
Almost all quality cigars are capped on one end in order to prevent the cigar from unraveling and denote which end is the head (the end to smoke from). Cutting the cap is a matter of preference, and most cigar shops will provide all three methods to any patron. They are the guillotine (a straight cut), the punch where a hole is "punched" into the cap, and the v-cut (just like the straight cut but a "v" shape). It's best to take care when cutting the cap as not doing so can affect the way the cigar burns.
Lighting a Cigar
Of all the "tip" and "tricks" that will get bantered around a cigar shop in due course of a cigar smoker's lifetime, there are only two primary "need to know" pieces of information in regards to lighting a cigar. They are the need to toast a cigar before lighting it and the need to rotate the cigar while lighting it. Toasting the cigar merely means to blacken the end of the cigar evenly, notably including the edge and thus the wrapper. Rotating the cigar while lighting it helps to ensure a uniformly lit cigar which is the desired end result. An evenly lit cigar will burn evenly.
If you really want to deep dive into cigar smoking right from the start then you're inevitably going to get into flavor profiling and thus to retrohale. To really peg down what you do and do not enjoy you'll either stick to one particular cigar or you'll need to keep a journal. A journal will include a list of cigars you smoked and information regarding the brand, series, and size. In addition, you'll likely want to include your thoughts on the flavor profile. While you certainly can, and should, determine the flavor from the regular smoking of a cigar you might also want to retrohale. Retrohaling is the act of exhaling a small amount of smoke through your nose. Do not take a deep inhale and retrohale all of it. That will be somewhat unpleasant. Take a small amount of smoke into your mouth, and practice will determine just how much, and exhale it through the nose. This will provide you with a much more nuanced breakdown of the flavors. It's common to do this for each third of a cigar.
All of this is a quick gloss over and an intro into cigar culture and cigar shop etiquette. The further details of cigar flavor profiles alone has filled many books. You'll find that patrons of the cigar shops like to trade "sticks" and stories of fabled rare and "awesome" cigars that they stumbled upon. It's a culture, and in some regards it's a family.