All About Cigars

Cigars 101


What is a Cigar?

Cigars have been around since at least the 1700’s.  They were one of three ways to enjoy tobacco – pipes, snuff and cigars. The name itself comes from the Mayan word for smoking – sikar – and were originally known in Europe as sigars.  Though cultivation of tobacco was attempted in the Seville region of Spain in the late 1700’s, Europeans demanded a higher quality product.

The American Civil War saw the enjoyment of cigars in the United States increase dramatically until the turn of the century, when it reached its pinnacle of popularity – the cigar had become the symbol of status among the American elite.

Entire books have been written regarding the selection, smoking and storing of cigars. We hope the information provided here is interesting and informative.  If you have a question or comment not covered in this section, please send us an e-mail at  [email protected].

Without knowing much else about cigars, you already understand that cigar smoking is — more than any other leisure, pastime or pursuit — one that has little tolerance for the fumbling beginner.  Cigars are the domain of the powerful, the successful and the self-assured.  So, how does one move effortlessly into this world of unforgiving connoisseurs?

Cigar Basics

Cigar Anatomy

It always helps to know which end is which and what everything is called.  The majority of cigars come with one open end (the foot) which is the end that you will light.  The other end – the head – is the end that you must cut, and through which you will draw air and delicious smoke.  To make life easier, the band is most often placed near the head.

A cigar is composed of three types of tobacco; the Filler (the guts), the Binder (which holds the filler together) and the Wrapper (which holds everything together).

The Filler

A cigar starts with complete long tobacco leaves from any part of the tobacco plant.  The roller selects leaves, usually of different origin and classification, depending on the taste and aroma he is working to achieve.  The top of the plant usually produces the strongest flavor, while the bottom produces the tobacco with the best burning properties.  The roller will blend leaves from different plants in order to duplicate the mixture precisely from cigar to cigar, as well as maintain the much more difficult year to year consistency.  This also determines the cigar price, depending on the cost of various tobaccos used.   Filler is the inner bulk of the cigar and can be either cut-filler or shorter pieces or long filler running the full length of the cigar.

The Binder

Binders usually come from the bottom part of the plant, where the leaves are thicker and have more strength.  Usually, these leaves have little or no flavor. When the roller has skillfully arranged and gently persuaded the filler leaves into the proper size and shape, he then wraps the filler with a 1 1/2 to 2 inch wide strip of binder leaf in a spiral down its length.  This binder significantly affects the taste, bum rate, and aroma.  A binder leaf must have good tensile strength since it has a structural role in constraining the blend of filler leaf wound up on it.

The Wrapper

The wrapper is the most important and expensive part of a cigar.  Typically grown under a gauze tent (shade) to prevent the leaf from growing too thick, the wrapper must be smooth and have very few veins.  The majority of a cigar’s flavor is derived from the wrapper.  Now, the roller cuts a strip about 2 inches wide out of the leaf he has chosen for the finest leaf on the cigar.  This strip of tobacco is almost transparent and has elasticity about itself.  This wrapper is stretched on to the cigar to ensure leak-free seams in the wrapper.  A roller uses vegetable gum to seal the top of the head and then affixes a small bit of leaf to the head to finish off the product.  Handmade cigars are rolled on table tops and when finished are placed in temperature and humidity controlled rooms, aging for anywhere from a few weeks to 12 years.  Then, they are sorted by color and size and sent for packing.

Wrapper Color:

  • Claro       (Light Green)
  • Natural   (Med. Brown) or Cameroon if grown inAfrica
  • EMS        (Reg. Brown) known as English Market Selection
  • Maduro   (Dark Brown).
  • Blends: The two basic blends used in high-grade cigars are Olor and Cubanito.

Olor:  Is a hybrid obtained from crossingConnecticut Valley strains with Havana.  It is grown mostly in the Olor province of theDominican Republic and is cured a year longer than other tobaccos for a mild, aromatic smoke.

Cubanito: This is a direct descendant of the original Havana grown in Cuba, and is grown inNicaragua, Honduras and Mexico.  It furnishes a rich, full-bodied smoke.

Overview of Size, Shape, Color And Taste

Because cigars are made in such a variety of sizes, shapes and colors, it is often difficult for a new cigar smoker to get a complete understanding of the how these factors affect the taste.  Worse still is trying to understand the jargon that is used in the cigar business.

Here are a few terms you should know:


Cigars are measured by their combination of length and “ring gage” (diameter). The length is always measured in inches and the ring gage is always measured in 64ths of an inch.   For example, when a cigar is listed in a catalog as 6-3/4×42, the translation is ?6 and 3/4 inches long and 42/64ths (about 2/3) of an inch in diameter?.

Names of Specific Sizes:

Based on length and ring combinations, cigar sizes have fairly well defined names.  The 6-3/4×42 example used above is called a Lonsdale. If the size were 7×47 it would usually be called a Churchill.  Note that the naming convention of specific sizes is applicable only to “traditionally-shaped” cigars – those with cylindrical shape and a round “head”.


Since the vast majority of cigars are made in the traditional “round” shape, those with any other shape are known as Figurados, or “Cigars with an unusual shape.” Unlike the round cigars, which have a name associated with a size (remembering that a Churchill is around 7×47), the names associated with Figurados tell you little about their size, only the shape.

Within the Figurado family, there are the following five shapes:

  • Torpedo  (tapered head)
  • Bellicoso  (angled head)
  • Pyramid   (wedge shape)
  • Perfecto  (tapered head and foot)
  • Culebras  (3 braided cigars)

Of these, the Torpedos and Pyramids are usually big cigars, the Bellicosos are usually medium sized, and the Culebras are 3 small cigars that are twisted together. Perfectos can be any size.


Cigars range in color from pale green (uncommon these days) to tan to reddish-brown to chocolate-brown based on the following factors:

  • How the plant was grown (in the sun [darker] or in the shade [lighter])
  • The part of the plant the leaf came from (top [darker], middle or bottom [lighter])
  • The number and duration of fermentation cycles the tobacco went through     [more=darker]


Most tobacconists will describe a cigar’s taste as ranging from “mild” to “full-bodied.” Therefore, one might conclude that taste and strength are synonymous.  Maybe, but not always.  Some have no taste whatsoever, some are revolting and some will knock you on your butt.

In addition to allowing more complex blending, the size of the cigar governs several other aspects of how it smokes.  The first and the most obvious of these is how long the cigar will last.  A large cigar, say 7.5″ by 50 ring, can burn for upwards of 90-120 minutes.  Lighting a big cigar demands a certain commitment of time; depending on the circumstances this can be very pleasant or very frustrating.

Another effect of the cigar’s size is the taste and heat with which it smokes.  It is ironic that some beginners tend to be intimidated by large ring gauge cigars, when in fact these fat cigars usually smoke cooler and easier than thin cigars.

Even though a cigar might be made in one country, it doesn’t mean that the wrapper, binder and filler tobaccos necessarily came from there.  Often the tobaccos come from such far-flung places as Sumatra,Camaroon, Mexico, Connecticut and so on. Cigars which are made from all local tobaccos are called puros. Cuban cigars tend to be puros, as well as some Mexican and Honduran cigars.  The word puro literally means pure in Spanish, but has a very specific meaning when applied to cigars.

Is The Size Of A Cigar Important To The Taste And Aroma?

In general, a cigar smoker likes a particular size so when considering the quality and consistency of taste and aroma of a cigar, unless you’re smoking the size you’re accustomed to, your sense of comparability is liable to be thrown off and it will be difficult to judge that cigar fairly.  In other words, the same cigar blends in different sizes taste different – if there’s a big difference in ring size and length.  This is because a big ring gauge, say 50 or 52, produces an immense volume of smoke compared to a 28, 36 or even a 42 ring*. Naturally, taste and aroma are strongly influenced by this.

To a lesser extent, length also influences taste, but not so seriously as ring size. Besides, if you start with a 7 inch cigar when you’re used to one 5 1/2 inches long, it’ll become 5 1/2 inches long soon anyway ­although, believe it or not, the 7 inch cigar at 5 1/2 inches will taste a little different than the one that starts at 5 1/2 inches.

Thus, if a manufacturer excels at making a great cigar 42 ring x 6 1/2 inches, it does not necessarily follow that the same brand in other sizes will be as good or as consistent.  You’ll have to try a box of each.  But if you’re not accustomed to smoking a certain size that you might be curious about, maybe you should enlist the cooperation of a friend who does smoke that size regularly.


Ask your tobacconist for a recommendation for a high-quality handmade cigar.  What you’re looking for is a relatively mild cigar but flavorful enough to be interesting. Generally speaking, in a given cigar of a given manufacturer, the darker the wrapper, the heavier and stronger the flavor.  There are other color naming variations but they tend to be less common than these three.  There are no standards for these colors and each manufacturer seems to use slightly different terminology in describing the color of their wrappers.

A cigar should be close to the same firmness over its entire length.  Hard or soft spots mean the cigar is filled inconsistently.  Also, make sure the outside of the cigar is free of damage.  Before manually inspecting cigars, be sure that your tobacconist doesn’t mind patrons handling the cigars.  If you are allowed to handle the cigars, be respectful of the tobacconist’s property.  Remember, someone else will be buying it even if you don’t.

Ring Gauge

* 1 Ring = 1/64″ in diameter, thus a 50 ring cigar is a bit more than 3/4″ in diameter.