The journey of a seasoned cigar smoker is a long, hard-fought, continuously evolving, and ultimately rewarding one. And for the aspiring “cigar samurai”, the whole process can seem a little daunting. So many of the most helpful cigar tips come from experimentation, and often these lessons are taken for granted – leaving a continuous cycle of newbie cigar smoking pitfalls to go on forever!
Fear not, we’re hear to sort through the madness… Cigar newbies, this is your guide to becoming a cigar-smoking master!
Disclaimer: practically everything in the cigar world is subjective, and there are many opinions on how things should be done. This is simply my advice!
Essential cigar tools
Before you go off theorizing on the proper relative humidity settings and how to build an insulated man cave smoking room, let’s discuss the tools of the trade. These are the basics, if you’re actually serious about this hobby, you’ll want to get these tools ASAP.
Sure, you can cut your cigar with anything sharp, use a kitchen knife if need be – but that’s not the point (pun?). You want a decent cut on your cigar, it’s the first step towards smoking! There are 3 basic forms of cigar cutters: guillotine, punch, and v-cut. I will tell you straight away, start with the straight cut, double guillotine. With a double guillotine cutter, the blades move from both sides (as opposed to just one), making for a cleaner, even cut! Punch cutters often make for a tough draw – they can be good, if you find a quality model. V-cutters are not very common, some claim they make for a better direction of the smoke to your palate; they also have an interesting advantage of retaining a similar surface area while keeping the cigar’s head primarily intact (avoiding unravelling).
There are many ways to light a cigar, almost all are acceptable, with the exception of lighter-fluid-fueled lighters such as a Zippo (foul odor affects taste). Butane lighters are the preferred method, because they burn clean. I recommend the torch, as it is the most wind resistant and easiest to use. There are single, double, and triple flame torch lighters (sometimes even quadruple!) – get yourself a triple, they are simply the quickest lighting mechanism.
Your lighter will need to be fueled! It is often recommended to use the same brand butane as your lighter. You can break this rule, just be sure to get a very high quality butane – lighters break easily enough as it is, do yourself a favor and spend a few extra bucks on the good stuff.
This is your baby, your basestation, from which all successful smokes are launched! Right away, any seasoned smoker will tell you, buy big or buy twice (or three times, or more!). New smokers often buy a humidor for the amount of cigars they currently smoke – thing is, once you start storing these stogies, it’s addicting! Buy a humidor at least three times larger than you’r initial guess, you’ll thank me later.
Season your humidor before use. This means leaving a small, shallow bowl (or two) of distilled water at the bottom of the humidor for a day or two. When the RH (relative humidity) reaches 80, you’re ready to add cigars…
There are actually a few essential tools required for your humidor – without getting too detailed, you will need:
- Humidification device (humidity beads recommended)
- Hygrometer (digital strongly recommended)
- Distilled water
Take care of your humidor, and it’ll take care of your cigars.
SEE ALSO: How to Use Humidity Beads
Travel humidors are exactly what they sound like, they are used to store cigars on the go–usually holding between 1 – 20 cigars. Larger travel humidors often have their own humidification devices, but these are really not necessary unless you’re keeping your cigars there for more than a day (e.g. actually traveling…). People often over-obsess about their humidity, but cigars can actually be left out for a day (sometimes more) and some even intentionally “dry box” cigars for a better burn.
Long story short, buy a travel humidor that holds at least 5 cigars. This will save you some serious cash at cigar bars!
Now that we have the basic tools out of the way, it’s time to focus in on the most fun aspect of the cigar hobby – buying cigars! Okay, so maybe smoking the cigars is the most fun aspect, but this is a close second… Considering you’re reading this article, I’d say you’ve already developed a taste for the leaf. You’ve smoked a cigar on poker night every month or so, but now you want to know what’s really out there.
Any seasoned smoker will tell you, you need to get out there and start trying a wide variety of cigars, it’s the only way to know what you like. What you won’t hear quite as often is this: there are literally hundreds of thousands of cigars out there – no one will ever smoke them all. And what I mean by that is that it’s worth the effort to do your research. See what people are saying about a cigar before you buy a bundle of them (better yet, wait at least a year before buying bundles). Find sources that you trust and study their likes and dislikes – the Cigar Dojo app is your ultimate resource here, but more on that later.
Some of the most popular/helpful tips thrown around the cigar stratosphere include:
- Quality over quantity – I’ll take a good $10 stick over ten crappy $1 sticks any day
- Price doesn’t equal quality – sometimes people misunderstand “quality over quantity” for “high-priced over quantity”. This is where research comes in handy
- Marketing doesn’t equal quality – Just because a cigar looks great, doesn’t mean it’ll taste great!
- Try cigars – Get your hands dirty and experiment! Different sizes, shapes, regions, wrappers, age, and strength all play a role in a cigar’s performance.
- Do what you do! – Smoke what makes you happy, plain and simple, that’s what this cigar game is all about!
Where to buy your cigars
This can seem quite daunting at first, but buying cigars boils down to two outlets: online retailers and B&M’s (brick & mortars, aka your local shop). There are pros and cons to both of these options. First off, the B&M is the ideal option, being able to walk into a humidor and feel and smell the cigars is a major plus! You also gain the knowledge of the shop’s staff, have a lounge to smoke in (usually), and supporting local business is always great as well. On the downside, not everyone has a B&M within a reasonable distance. Local shops often don’t have the selection you’re looking for, and they tend to be overpriced (not all, of course).
The goal is to try a wide variety of cigars, we’ve established that. There are a couple of good ways to accomplish this: buy a good sampler (or two, or three) online, or go to your local shop and create your own sampler. The latter may be more expensive (with less cigars), but you’ll probably have a more solid selection. Online samplers, on the other hand, can be great – but you need to be careful. Often, retailers will offer incredible deals like, “20 cigars for $20!” and you’ve just wasted $20 on cigars I wouldn’t give to my worst enemy. Samplers may also use a singular good cigar to increase the appeal of an otherwise lackluster group of smokes. Look at the value of each cigar in a sampler and see if you’re really getting a deal before buying. That being said, a few good samplers can be the best way to give your humidor a jump start, getting you well on your way to a nice collection!
Recommended online cigar shops
- Smoke Inn
- Famous Smoke Shop
- JR Cigar
- Neptune Cigars
- Thompson Cigar
- Cigars International
- Atlantic Cigar Co.
- Small Batch Cigar
Cigar buying strategy
Okay, so you want to try a wide variety, but what’s the best plan of attack? In my opinion, once you’ve tried a few hand-rolled cigars and decided to delve into this hobby a little, go straight to the top! Hold up, what? Most will argue exactly the opposite, but hear me out… When I get into a hobby, whether it’s cigars, bourbon, or beer, I think it’s best to first get my feet wet, then see what it is I’m ultimately aspiring for – i.e. what does this whole cigar thing really have to offer? Granted, you probably won’t even appreciate what your tasting, but that doesn’t matter – you’ve tasted the best and now you can work your way back up to the top, with an end-game in mind!
For me, it was a Padrón 1964 maduro. I had only tried maybe a handful of cigars at the time, and I could hardly believe I was spending $20 on a cigar, but I simply couldn’t deny the sheer mass of flavors my taste buds were experiencing! I actually had that “aha moment”, I could even taste the flavors on my tongue the next day! “So this is what cigar smoking is all about,” I thought, needless to say, I was hooked.
What’s next? Assuming you have your cigar tools, start filling that humidor! Find out whether you like natural (lighter) or maduro (darker) cigars better. Do you prefer strong cigars or mild? Do you like full flavor or mellow, subtle flavors? Long cigars or short cigars? Thick cigars or skinny cigars? What flavors are you looking for – chocolate, pepper, coffee, cream, earth, fruit, nuts, floral? The list of flavors you can find in a cigar could go on forever. Pay close attention to the cigar’s region as well, certain climates often produce similar flavors, for instance, Nicaraguan cigars are known for their full body and spicy flavors.
Once you’ve had some time to know the cigar scene, what you like, and what brands are worth the money, it’s a ton of fun to start bidding on cigars! The two best sites are Cigar Auctioneer and Cigar Bid. Be careful though, you can end up spending much more than you intended (or what the cigar is actually worth), and I must say, it’s quite addicting…
With the insane amount of cigars out there these days, it can become tricky to keep track of it all. You may smoke a bad cigar and then two months down the line repeat the same bad decision! It’s a good idea to take pictures of your cigars and post them on social media, along with a few thoughts – again, I’m looking at you, Cigar Dojo app… There are also some really cool cigar notebooks that allow you to rate each cigar on a number of factors, take a few notes, and even attach the band – creating a really cool collection of your cigar journey.
People get pretty crafty with their cigars, collecting your bands is a start. Soon you’ll be using these bands to create custom coasters, ashtrays, and tables! There are custom cigar box lamps, guitars, and just about anything else you can imagine. All I’m saying is, cigar crafts are a good way to take your cigar mastery to the next level.
Along with refining your cigar palate, you’ll find there is an equally important skill of cigar pairings. Yes, cigars do make for some spectacular pairings like you’ve never tasted before! Just like with learning which cigars you prefer, the pairings themselves can take some serious time and effort to fully appreciate. Some popular cigar pairings include: coffee, wine, beer, whiskey, water, cocktails, rum, cognac, tea, and even soda pop.
SEE ALSO: Cigar and Drink Pairings Infographic
Cigar magazines and blogs
One of the best ways to brush up on your cigar know-how is reading cigar blogs and magazines. Typically, the blogs will provide more in-depth, up-to-date info (thanks internet!), but magazines are a great companion while smoking on your back porch. Cigar magazines also have the advantage of better photography, though they tend to stray off-topic…
Recommended cigar blogs:
Recommended cigar magazines:
Cigar smokers love sharing everything cigar-related! The finishing touch on your journey to ultimate cigar enlightenment is to share your own experiences and help the next generation of smokers. Get out and see what events are going on at your local shops, join a group or two, and join the herf!
We know this aspect of the cigar journey all too well, here at Cigar Dojo – we created the first social cigar app, which also happens to be the fastest growing cigar app in the world! This is where it all goes down, where you’ll learn more about cigar smoking in a month than most learn in a year. As I mentioned, cigar smokers are social, and we always say, “With Cigar Dojo, you never smoke alone!” This is the best way to see what cigars are hot (and what’s not), as well as follow like-minded smokers to get real-time advice on anything you need to know about cigar smoking. You’ll also find helpful tools such as a cigar shop locator, cigar events calendar, cigar videos, cigar coupons, and much more… it’s like the Swiss Army Knife of the cigar world!
Okay, so we have a great app, and it’s totally free… but let’s wrap this thing up, shall we?
Support the cause
You may not realize this, but our rights as cigar smokers are being stripped away on a daily basis – slowly but surely, cigar smoking is becoming a lot less “friendly”. Most of today’s harm to our favorite hobby stems from a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 22, 2009 – the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. Regulations being proposed against premium cigars include (but are not limited to) the banning of walk-in humidors and requiring manufacturers to submit their blends for “testing” before they can be sold, i.e. ending small batch and limited edition cigars, as well as thousands of cigar shops across the country. This is serious stuff! New cities pass laws banning smoking on what seems to be a daily basis.
SEE ALSO: Cigar Tax Rates State by State
Fortunately, there are groups such as Cigar Rights of America, which focus entirely on putting a stop to such ridiculous, anti-freedom legislation as the one set into motion by our commanding chief. Joining the CRA consists of a $35 (1 year) membership, as well as signing a petition to help exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation.
There are lots of other great cigar-related charities and causes that are great to join, including Cigars for Warriors – which sends thousands of premium cigars and accessories to American Service Men and Women serving in combat zones every year. It’s important to get involved with causes such as these – cigar smoking is all about enjoyment, and it feels just as good to share the experience with others.
Pitfalls and etiquette
Sometimes it’s most helpful to go straight to the point! Here is a list of cigar pitfalls, etiquette, and quick tips to help you avoid those terrible “cigar sins” you may regret later…
- Buying a small humidor – aim for 3 times your initial guess or, at least 100-count
- Cheapo samplers – if it sounds too good to be true, it is! And then some…
- Expensive accessories – don’t spend all your money before you know what you like. Most of the time, there’s an affordable alternative that works just as good
- Settling too soon – there is a never-ending wealth of cigar-knowledge out there, who knows what you’ll miss if you stop exploring
- Obsessing over RH – keep it under 70 and above 60, you’ll be fine
- Cigar snobbery – you’ll always know more than someone and someone else will always know more than you, get over it
- Obsessing over Cubans – there’s no magic, Cuban recipe. Other regions of the world are just as good, many argue better than Cuban cigars
- Purchasing “2nds” and “imitation cigars” – these cigars are cheap for a reason! You shouldn’t be in this hobby to “save money”. A cigar typically lasts one hour, you should be enjoying that hour to the fullest!
- Smoking “off the truck” – I know it’s tempting to try your newest selections, but give them a couple weeks in the humidor and you can thank me later
- Catalogue purchasing – Of course the cigars sound and look amazing in these catalogues, it’s their job! You’ll find better deals and better cigars elsewhere
- Box purchases – stick to 5-packs, samplers, and singles for at least a year
- Salvaging cigars – if a cigar isn’t smoking up to par or you don’t have time to smoke the whole thing, toss it! Life is too short too smoke bad cigars and that’s exactly what an old, salvaged cigar is
- Nubbing is optional – don’t feel obligated to smoke a cigar to the bitter end! Stop smoking when it’s no longer enjoyable
- Always make a purchase at B&M’s and cigar bars – i.e. don’t “bring your own” and take advantage of their lounge. It is acceptable to BYO to cigar bars, but make sure to indulge on a drink or two
- Go easy on the sniffing – the beauty of a B&M is being able to see, touch, and smell the cigars before purchase. Don’t go overboard with it!
- Treat your cigar like a lady – never mash a cigar like a cigarette, cigars are classy! They deserve some respect. When a cigar is done, simply lay her down
- Don’t ask to try someone else’s cigar – if they want you to try it, they’ll offer you a puff. Typically, this is only done with family and close friends
- Let the ash fall where it may – ash is good, it insulates the ember burning in your cigar, keeping it chugging along smoothly. If the ash looks about to fall, give it a light tap, if it doesn’t fall, let it stay
- Don’t chew your cigar – I know it looked cool when Clint Eastwood did it, but he was smoking crappy Italian sticks! You’ll get tobacco in your teeth and it’s not respectful to the cigar
- Don’t ask for free cigars – instead, give someone an unexpected “bomb” of free cigars
- Don’t smoke too fast – you’ll heat the cigar up and it’ll taste tarry and burnt
- Don’t get “cut happy” – cut the cigar at the shoulder of the head, if you cut too low you’ve unravelled your cigar and you’re in for a bad smoke
- Toast, toast, and more toast – don’t underestimate the power of toasting your cigar, that thing should be fully ready to go from the moment it hits your lips!
- Avoid “gas station” and “liquor store” cigars – sure, some liquor stores have walk-in humidors, but most don’t. This is a waste of money
- Save your best for the right occasion – don’t get too anxious and smoke that cigar you’ve been aging for your long-awaited promotion before its prime! Match your cigar to the situation at hand
- Smoke ’em if you got ’em – cigars are meant to be smoked, it’s the best part of this whole hobby! In other words, don’t let your collection take precedence over the actual smoking of the cigars