CIGARS 101

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Your informative guide on everything cigars from where they come from to how to cut and light.

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DON'T SMOKE ON AN

EMPTY STOMACH

(And Other Things I Wish I Knew When I Started My Cigar Journey) 

 

1.

Most cigar smokers are excited for new people to be interested in cigars and are happy to offer help and advice.  Don't be intimidated. 

2.

Cigar Lounges are great places to smoke and learn.  It can seem a bit scary walking into a lounge for the first time, like the lunchroom in high school.  Everyone seems to have their group and it easy to think its full of cliques and everyone is holding a "you can't sit with us" sign.  In my experience the opposite is true.  A cigar lounge is one of the friendliest you go. People are very welcoming and excited to welcome newcomers into the fold. 

3.

It's ok not to like every cigar you smoke.  Do you like every glass of wine you try or every new dish?  No? Neither do I, and cigars are no different.  

4.

Don't be afraid to try different strength cigars, just because you are new smoker doesn't mean you will only enjoy a mild cigar. 

5.

The best size cigar for you is whatever size you feel comfortable with and enjoy smoking.   

6.

There's no prize for finishing your cigar first or last.  I'm a slow smoker, others finish a cigar very quickly, one way is not better than the other.  

7.

Ladies, don't let anyone tell you something is a "woman's cigar" or "not a cigar for a girl". Women can and do smoke the same cigars as men every day.  Experiment and try many different cigars to discover what you like and never limit yourself based on gender or someone else's opinion! 

8.

Your cigar will go out.  You will cut too little or too much off.  You may not light a cigar evenly. You might even inhale.  Guess what?  It's ok.  It happens to all of us. Laugh it off, ask for help and don't let any mistake impact your good time!  

9

While we're on the subject of your cigar going out, when I started smoking, I used to say I spent more time lighting my cigar than smoking it.  I couldn't seem to keep a cigar lit. If you feel like this, be patient, in time you will find a rhythm and one day you'll realize you are not having to relight as often. 

10.

There is no best region for cigars. Great cigars come from Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Cuba, and many other places. Don't let anyone tell you that great cigars can only come from a specific place.  There are talented craftsmen and great manufacturers worldwide, many of whom left Cuba searching for a better life for their families and make cigars in the Cuban tradition with tobacco seeds from those original Cuban plants. 

11.

Try a cigar more than once.  Just because you don't like a particular cigar doesn't mean you will never like it.  What you may be eating, or drinking can affect how a cigar tastes. Your palette will evolve. My favorite Micallef Cigar blend, the Migdalia, was one of the first cigars I ever smoked, and I didn't like it at all.  I came back to it a few months later and know I love it.

12.

Size matters. The same blend can taste different depending on the size of the cigar.  Even though the same tobacco leaves are used for every size in that blend, the ratio of wrapper to binder to filler changes depending on the size of the cigar and therefore the taste will change.  

13.

Sugar to the rescue.  If you find yourself feeling a little queasy or lightheaded from smoking too much or too fast, take a hit of sugar.  Soft drink, hard candy, straight sugar, all of it works and it can get you feeling right fast. And remember to eat, smoking on an empty stomach is never a great idea.  

HOW TO BEAT THE SMOKE

Cigar smoke is not as strong or “sticky” as smoke from a cigarette or campfire. You can (mostly) beat it.  First, where you smoke matters, some lounges are better ventilated than others, and many have great outside areas.  At home you can create a great space outside or invest in a ventilation system if that’s within your budget.   

 

What you smoke matters. Some cigars have a stronger smell than others. Experiment.   

 

Regarding clothes, a lot of lounges provide a coat rack outside of the smoking area, it can be a good idea to leave any unnecessary clothes there.  Another approach is to wear something over your clothes. Ever heard of a smoking jacket?  It’s evolution dates back to the 1850s when men would retreat after dinner to smoke cigars and pipes, they would done a jacket over their dress clothes, the jackets purpose was to absorb the smell of smoke. I’m not suggesting you go full Hugh Hefner with a robe and ascot, you may want to set aside some apparel to smoke in, things that are easily washed or dry cleaned.  Stay away from harder to clean items when planning to smoke, like suede, fur and leather.   

 

About your hair, this is really a note for the ladies. If you wear your hair in a bun or updo, it will help tremendously.  Also, a hat can do wonders to keep the smoke out of your locks.   

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CIGAR GROWING REGIONS

 

NICARAGUA

This Central American country produce high-quality Cuban-seed and Connecticut-seed tobaccos, including shade-grown wrapper. The country is currently the leading exporter of cigars to the United States. The tobacco produced here tends to be medium to full bodied with strong, spicy flavors and heavy aromas. Most of the factories in Nicaragua are centered around the city of Estelí, including Micallef Cigars S.A. 

DOMINICAN

REPUBLIC

The most developed of the tobacco producing countries that can sell in the United States. Dominican tobacco became widely popular in the boom of the 1990s. The primary growing region is near the city of Santiago in the northern half of the country. Located in an agriculturally rich area, this small city is also home to most Dominican cigar factories. Most Dominican tobacco is derived from Cuban-seed varieties. Although not as strong as other countries on this list, it can be quite full-flavored and lends itself to the creation of unusually complex blends. 

MEXICO

The San Andres Valley is famous for a sun-grown variant of Sumatra-seed tobacco. Mexican leaves are used widely as binder and filler in cigars produced in many countries. This tobacco-type also serves widely as a maduro wrapper because it can stand up to the cooking process. While most tobacco grown in Mexico is exported to other cigar producing countries the cigars manufactured in Mexico are usually made with 100-percent local tobacco. 

ECUADOR

Ecuador produces high quantities of high-quality tobacco, for both filler and wrapper, as well as both shade and sun-grown tobacco. Growers there have been using both Connecticut and Sumatra-seed varieties for years. In each case, the tobacco is usually milder and less robust in strength than the tobacco from the counties from which the seed varietal originated. There are not many cigar factories based in Ecuador but the country exports most of its tobacco to cigar manufacturers based in other countries.

PANAMA

Panama is another smaller player in the world of premium tobacco growing regions. While it doesn’t produce near the quantities of the major growing regions, it does produce very high-quality tobacco. Its tobacco is often described as aromatic and medium bodied in flavor and strength.

BRAZIL

UNITED STATES

Premium cigar tobacco did not gain momentum in Brazil until the 1960s after the Cuban Embargo. It has gained even more popularity in recent years due to its use as a wrapper leaf. Specifically, the Mata Fina wrapper leaf has become more widely used in the maduro process. Its natural sweetness and lack of strength produces an excellent and versatile wrapper leaf. Brazilian tobacco more than any other, has a bit of a you love it, or you hate it type of taste. 

PERU

Peru is a newer country on the scene in growing tobacco for premium cigars. With a similar climate to Ecuador, it has some ideal growing conditions for tobacco. While Peruvian tobacco is not used in many blends on the cigar industry as of today, the future of Peruvian tobacco seems bright.

HONDURAS

Honduras is home to near perfect climate conditions for growing premium tobacco. In the southeastern part of Honduras lies the most significant premium cigar tobacco producing region in the country; the Jamastran Valley near the town of Danli. These areas are the epicenter of cigar production as well as a primary growing region for the country’s best tobacco. 

INDONESIA

Sumatra tobacco comes from the series of islands that make up Indonesia. The tobacco can be referred to as Java or Sumatra. Sumatra wrapper leaves are often a shade of dark brown. Most of the wrapper leaf grown there is used in the manufacture of small cigars. It is a bit of a rarity to find a cigar which uses Indonesian tobacco. 

CAMEROON/CENTRAL AFRICA REPUBLIC

This area of West Africa is known for a high-quality wrapper leaf. In recent years, due to shortages in supply there are not many Cameroon wrapped cigars coming into the market. The Cameroon leaf originated from Sumatra seed imported from Indonesia. It is prized for its neutral characteristics, which make it an ideal wrapper to use with full-flavored filler tobaccos. Cameroon wrappers are a greenish brown to brown, with a distinct grain to the leave, often referred to as “tooth.” 

UNITED STATES

North of Hartford, Connecticut, the Connecticut River Valley produces some of the finest wrapper leaf tobacco in the world: Connecticut shade. Connecticut shade grown wrapped cigars have long been the most popular cigar in the United States. The fine, brown to brownish-yellow leaf has a high degree of elasticity, and it creates a mild-to-medium-bodied smoke that is ideal for beginners. Another style, which is growing extremely popular, Connecticut broadleaf, produces a dark, almost black leaf that is ideal to be used in the maduro process. It is heavier and has more veins than its shade-grown counterpart.  

CUBA

Cuban tobacco was once acknowledged as among the finest in the world. Now they are just one of the tobacco and cigar producing countries along with the other countries on this list. The only thing special about Cuban tobacco is that it is not available in the United States due to the trade embargo. Cuba’s best tobacco-growing area is the Vuelta Abajo, part of the Pinar del Rio region in western Cuba. In general, Cuban tobacco is strong and full-bodied, balancing spicy and aromatic flavors. Most factories of premium cigars are in or near Havana, Cuba’s capital city. 

CIGAR CONSTRUCTION

 
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WRAPPER

The wrapper is the outer leaf of a cigar that quite literally wraps around interior tobaccos. In addition to a cigar’s band and its vitola, the wrapper is one of the first things you will notice when see a cigar. They can vary by color, thickness, and texture. Cigar-makers are very particular about wrapper leaf selection. Leaves are often rejected and become binder or filler if they are not visually appealing. The wrapper leaf is easily the most expensive part of a cigar.

 

BINDER

Just under the wrapper leaf is the binder leaf. This is the part of the cigar that encases the filler tobaccos. The binder serves as an aid for a smooth, consistent burn as well as maintaining a cigar’s structure and integrity. It is a vital part to the structural integrity for any cigar.

 

FILLER

In the center of the cigar lies the filler tobaccos. These tobaccos are important to enhance the flavor as well as aiding in combustion. Filler tobacco, unlike binder and filler can have multiple leaves and different origins of tobacco. This is also where a cigar blender can amplify the complexity of a cigar. He can do this by placing different tobaccos throughout the cigar to make the flavor transition as it is smoked.

Binder going on cigar
wrapper selection
Wrapper leaf going on
Cap going on cigar
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CIGAR ARTISANS AND WHAT THEY DO!

 

The premium cigar is a 100% handmade product from seed to finished cigar. Throughout the production of cigars, there are many different roles that are traditionally held by women, while others are held by men. With many roles making up the process a breakdown of the cigar production can be a helpful way to understand how a cigar is made! While every cigar factory runs slightly differently, the following are the roles at Micallef Cigars S.A. in Estelí, Nicaragua.

BLENDERS

In charge of running the factory and putting together the different tobaccos when creating a cigar. Joel & Edel Gomez Sanchez are the master blenders for Micallef Cigars. 

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VAULT OPERATOR

Responsible for storing and caring for the bales of raw tobacco. This role is primarily held by men due to the strength necessary to move heavy bales of tobacco. These bales can way anywhere from 100 to 140 lbs.

RAW TOBACCO SELECTION

Women at the factory carefully sort through the Raw Tobacco and divide it into three categories: wrapper, binder, or filler.

BUNCHEROS

In this role, primarily done by men, the binder is applied to the cigars. They are molded and pressed using a great deal of strength. 

Each cigar is draw tested before the wrapper is applied on the cigar. This check is done to make sure the construction is correct on the cigar. Both men and women do this job at Micallef Cigars.

Women apply the carefully chosen wrappers and self-produced caps to the cigars by hand. Women are primarily in this role at Micallef Cigars due to simply having smaller hands.

DRAW TESTING

ROLLERS

COLOR SORTERS

The women then sort our finished cigars by color because they can see the subtle nuances in color than men cannot. This is done so each cigar in a box matches the shade of the rest of the cigars in that box.  

Cigars are banded, placed in cellophane, a UPC code is applied, and then cigars are placed in boxes ready to be shipped. This role is primarily done by women, with some exceptions.

Primarily done by women at Micallef Cigars, these workers help run the factory in a more “behind the scenes role” at the factory. While it may be less glamorous, it is vital to our operations running smoothly.

PACKAGING

FRONT OFFICE

STANDARD CIGAR SIZES & SHAPES

 
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TORO (6”x 52) 

The most popular cigar size in the United States by far is the Toro. It is also sometimes also called a “Corona Gorda” which literally translates to “fat corona". The Toro provides a great cigar experience in a manageable amount of time. 

ROBUSTO (5” x 52)  

A great trade-off between time and taste; a robusto provides big cigar flavor and coolness in a shorter cigar that only takes about 45 minutes to smoke. This shape is traditionally known as a Rothschild and is one of the most popular sizes today. 

GORDO (6” x 60) 

The Gordo is a cigar size that has rapidly gained popularity over recent years. It is the same length as the Toro but much thicker, its name means “fat” in Spanish to just enforce that point event more. The larger ring gauge tends to offer a cigar experience with lots of smoke.

CORONA (5 1/2” x 42) 

Same ring size as a Lonsdale, just an inch shorter. The ring gauges on a corona can vary from 40 to 44. It used to be the second most popular size in the United States, although, like the Lonsdale, it has been losing ground to larger ring gauged cigars.  

CHURCHILL (7” x 47) 

One of the largest size categories, and a term often used erroneously to describe any large cigar. And yes, it was named after Winston Churchill, as this was his favorite vitola. Without a doubt a great size if you have the time to commit to a large cigar.  

 

LONSDALE (6 1/2” x 42) 

This had always been one of the most popular sizes in the United States. However, recently the Lonsdale has been losing popularity to larger ring gauged cigars such as the toro, robusto, and gordo. It is now a size of cigar that many, more seasoned smokers gravitate towards. 

HOW TO CUT

AND LIGHT

PUNCH

Like the name implies, a punch cut punches a hole into the cap of the cigar. This gives the smoke a narrow passage to travel when smoking. It simply uses

a razor sharp ring to cut through the cap of the cigar and create a passage for smoke. It is easy to use but can only be used on cigars with a Parejo shaped cap (rather than a torpedo or a cigar with a tapered head).

STRAIGHT CUT

The straight cut is the most popular cut and for good reason. Using one or two blades a straight cut slices
across the end of the cigar providing ample surface area for smoke to flow through. Just be careful not to
cut below the cap!

V CUT

The straight cut is the most popular cut and for good reason. Using one or two blades a straight cut slices
across the end of the cigar providing ample surface area for smoke to flow through. Just be careful not to
cut below the cap!

DIFFERENT TYPES OF CUTS

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PUNCH

One of the largest size categories, and a term often used erroneously to describe any large cigar. And yes, it was named after Winston Churchill, as this was his favorite vitola. Without a doubt a great size if you have the time to commit to a large cigar.  

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STRAIGHT CUT

 

The straight cut is the most popular cut and for good reason. Using one or two blades a straight cut slices across the end of the cigar providing ample surface area for smoke to flow through. Just be careful not to cut below the cap!

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V-CUT

The V-Cut is designed to maximize the surface area smoke can flow through without causing damage to the cigar. It cuts a channel through the cap of the cigar and is a great way to cut a cigar with a smaller ring gauge. This style of cutter has vastly increased in popularity in recent years.

LIGHTING YOUR CIGAR

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LIGHTING A CIGAR

The foot or tip of the cigar should be lit using wooden matches or a butane lighter. Using these two methods will ensure that harsh chemicals often present in lighter fluid or paper matches do not affect your cigar experience. The full process for lighting a cigar is broken down is broken down in the following slides. Click arrow to scroll right.

 

CIGAR FLAVOR NOTES & PAIRINGS

 

FLAVOR NOTES

In the world of premium cigars there are three terms commonly used to describe a cigar: body, flavor, and strength. They are all very important terms to know when learning how to taste and describe cigars.

 

They refer to three different characteristics of a cigar and will tell you just about everything you need to know about the cigar other than the actual cigar size and the brand.

BODY

The body of a cigar refers to the magnitude of flavor that is produced from the cigar. You can experience the body of a cigar through taste and smell. A cigar that has a ton of heavy flavors can be described as full bodied while a lighter bodied cigar will be lighter with less flavor. As you try different cigars you will start to notice the nuances in strength and flavor. Body is often confused with strength in a cigar, but they are very different. Describing a cigar as full-bodied does not mean it will also be full strength.

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FLAVOR

As you probably thought the flavor of a cigar is simply how it tastes! Now this is where cigars tend to get subjective, each smoker may pick up different flavor notes. There are four basic flavors your taste buds pick up: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. From these basic flavors we can derive the specific flavor notes we get from not only cigars but also things like whisky and wine! For example, the Micallef Migdalia gives some people flavor notes of leather, earth, some sweetness, and coffee. But the beauty of cigars is that you could taste something completely different, and we are both 100% right.

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STRENGTH

The strength of a cigar refers to the amount of nicotine present in the cigar. Like how a high proof spirit has more alcohol, a cigar with a lot of strength will have more nicotine. Over time your body will also build a tolerance to the strength in cigars.

PAIRINGS

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GENERAL GUIDELINES

1. Always have an open mind about new pairings.

 

2. A balance of flavors is always key; you don’t want the cigar or the spirit to overpower one another.

 

3. If you like what you are drinking and you like what you are smoking it is going to be a great experience.

 

4. Major flavors from each item in the pairing should be different but have subtle things in common.

PAIRING IDEAS

1. Bold Sumatra paired with a Cafe Mocha, Bourbon, or a Pinot Noir.

 

2. The Migdalia paired with a double espresso, Non-Spiced rum, or a Bordeaux.

 

3. Reserva paired with a café Cubano, Cognac, or Port.

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CIGAR LOUNGE ETIQUETTE

 

1.

Smoke a cigar. The smoke produced from cigarettes and vapes is very different and the other patrons in the lounge will not want other types of smoke in the lounge.

2.

Buy a cigar. This should be straightforward but it’s a common mistake. A cigar lounge is a business, not your extended living room. It is always common courtesy to buy a cigar or two at a lounge. They do not need to be expensive, and you can smoke something you brought but always buy a cigar.

3.

Keep your smoking area clean. Every lounge should have plenty of ashtrays. Ash falls everywhere but do your best to keep all the ash in the ashtray.

4.

Be mindful of where you blow your smoke. Nobody likes smoke in their face.

5.

The last one is one of the biggest pet peeves for a lot of smokers. Do not ever lick your cigar then use someone else’s cutter or the shop cutter to cut your cigar.

6.

Everyone has a different budget and different taste in cigars, so don’t judge what other people are smoking.

7.

As you can tell, the etiquette for a cigar lounge is primarily about being courteous to those around you! If you don’t know something, don’t hesitate to ask the staff at the shop for help!

HOW TO CARE FOR & STORE A CIGAR

 
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HOW TO CARE FOR AND STORE A CIGAR

Now that you are getting into cigars and learning to enjoy them, you will need to know how to keep them in perfect condition.

 

Premium cigars need to be stored between 65-72% humidity and around 70° Fahrenheit. This range will keep cigars in perfect condition to smoke. If the humidity and temperature are too high, it can cause mold and make your cigars un-smokable. If humidity gets too low, the cigars will dry out and lose their flavor.

 

There are many ways to achieve perfect cigar storage, including a small airtight plastic container, a traditional wooden humidor, or even a full walk-in humidor. These can range from a few dollars for a Tupperware and a Boveda pack (a great budget friendly two-way humidity control pack) or a custom-made humidor which could be thousands of dollars.

 

It is all personal preference, but you have the options to go as simple or luxurious as you would like. As we’ve said many times, cigars are for everyone, whatever your budget.

TRAVELING WITH CIGARS

Cigars aren’t as fragile as you might think and a cigar, while still in its cellophane wrapper, can easily make it safely to your favorite neighborhood cigar lounge in your pocket.

 

If your travels are more extensive, we don’t recommend putting them in a purse or briefcase with other items. In these instances, a plastic bag with a small Boveda pack or a travel cigar case should do the trick. You’ll want to maintain their humidity if you are going to remove them from your humidor for more than a couple hours.

MICALLEF CIGARS AMBASSADORS

 

JOIN THE MICALLEF

CIGAR COMMUNITY

The Micallef Cigars Ambassador group is a community of cigar enthusiasts. Together, we share an admiration for the traditions of hand-rolled heritage cigars and the artisans who craft them. Micallef Ambassadors help shape our priorities, product, and direction. We are grateful for their friendship and humbled by their loyalty.

BENEFITS

  • The Micallef Ambassador program is free to join.

  • Members receive an official numbered membership coin and access to the Private Ambassador Group on Facebook.

  •  Get exclusive content and early access to cigar releases, news and more.

  • Ambassadors receive 25% off on Micallef Cigars swag