The Quintessential Guide to Smoking a Cigar

Courtesy Davidoff

Below, an expert weighs in.

When it comes to smoking a cigar, we all want to look like we know what we are doing. But without some expert instruction, you can really look like a fool while destroying a possibly pricey cigar.

We reached out to Klaas Kelner, Davidoff Cigars brand ambassador and son of Davidoff Master Blender, Henke Kelner. Klaas is part of the third generation of tobacco growers and cigar manufacturers in the Kelner family.

Kelner graduated from college five years ago and went straight into the business. “My father put me in the farms and factories to learn the whole process,” he tells us. Today Kelner is Senior Brand Ambassador for America traveling around the world conducting seminars and trainings. He is responsible for training at the retail level, leading consumer seminars on palate stimulations, and teaching how to enjoy cigars in the correct environments. Clearly we are talking to the right person.

Cigars 101

One needs to be aware that there are a plethora of brands to choose from. Then, there is a wide variety within each brand from various strengths to flavor profiles.

My number one piece of advice is: if you are a beginner, trust the staff in the cigar store. They are the ones that know how to best select a cigar based on your experience and preferences. They help consumers every day choose the ideal cigar. It’s not shameful to ask for help! Fear not, cigar sales people are very friendly people. They love to talk and are eager to assist.

If you are a beginner, I recommend a smoother, softer, smaller cigar. The flavors won't be very strong. It’s like cooking; if you are going to try a new type of cuisine, like Indian, you aren’t going to start with the heaviest, strongest, hottest dish, you ease into the experience and as your palette develops you move into stronger flavors.

A good recommendation for a beginner that is soft and small from the Davidoff portfolio is the ‘Davidoff Signature 2000’.

The Store

The store where you choose to buy your cigars is very important. It should be a certified retailer. Certified retailers strive to keep the cigars in good condition keeping optimal humidity for your cigar, which on average is at 72% humidity. If the cigar is not properly humidified, it is going to be too dry, may crack and not burn properly. If it’s too humid it’s the same situation, it won’t burn evenly. That’s why a retailer often provides one with a Ziploc bag with a self-regulating humidity pack.

I don’t advise purchasing cigars while on vacation on the beach. Most of them are counterfeit and don’t taste the way they are supposed to. Always buy from a legitimate source.

Buying Online

Online is also a place that a consumer can purchase cigars. Davidoff has an online presence and we ship the cigars with proper humidification. If you have a personal humidor, put the cigars in there for a couple of days for the humidity to be optimal. However, nothing beats the experience of buying a cigar in a store since the experience is more personal.

The Anatomy of a Cigar

The head is curved and where you cut the cigar. The foot is the straight part where you will be lighting it. The middle part is called ‘the body’. The filler (ingredients) is what’s inside. There’s the binder that holds the filler together. And the wrapper is the beautiful leaf that dresses the cigar

How to Cut Your Cigar

You have three options: straight cut, V-cut, and hole punch.

The Straight Cut is the easiest. You can use cigar scissors, or the guillotine cutter. There is a single and double guillotine. Double is the most popular.

At the head of the cigar, when it starts to curve, that is where you want to cut. You don’t want to cut too low or too high. The reason is, that is where the cigar roller is using the vegetable glue. It’s 100% natural and not bad for you, but if you cut below that, there is no glue there and the cigar will unravel. Usually a crisp, sharp, fast cut works well. Don’t hesitate! And make sure your cutter is sharp.

Lighting

Again, you have three options: matches, soft flame lighter, or torch.

The most beautiful and romantic? Using matches. How do most people do it these days? Torch—it’s the easiest. Soft flame is like a match, but longer lasting and you don’t have to worry about burning your fingers or the fire going out before you finish lighting up the cigar. It’s still very romantic. A good alternative to matches.

Cigarette lighters and Zippos don’t use very good gas so don't use those.

Davidoff has all of our soft flames made by S.T. Dupont. These are the best. A soft flame is beautiful, but it's like cooking, you don’t hit it with a high flame or you could burn the ingredients. It has less possibility of burning your cigar if you know what you are doing.

You are at a higher risk to burn your cigar with a torch. But if you are outdoors, torches are the most practical as they help you light your cigar evenly in the elements such as on a windy day.

As for lighting the cigar, I advise to hold the foot of the cigar at a 45-degree angle and start toasting the foot. Don't put the flame right on it. Gently roll the cigar so you are toasting all sides of the foot. Make sure the entire foot is lit. People are notorious for lighting only part of the foot. The whole foot should have an orange glow. Once it is 100% lit, you can take your first puff. Then check the foot again and make sure it is evenly lit. You don’t want it to burn sideways.

Smoking a Cigar

Don’t inhale! Move the smoke around in your palate. What is it stimulating? Is it bitter, spicy? Then gently let the smoke leave your mouth. Again, check the cigar to make sure it is not going out or burning sideways. Environment is super important. If you are in a cigar lounge your cigar will burn more evenly, compared to driving with the window down or on the beach where you are exposed to the outdoor elements.

Ashing

When you have an inch of ash, you should ash it into an ashtray. You should not flick ash like you do when smoking a cigarette. That hurts the inside of the cigar. If the cigar stops burning, gently ash and relight. Same if your cigar going sideways; ash it and then light the side that isn’t burning as well to even out the cigar. Using a torch is great for this.

If it is under half an inch of burn it’s not an issue, but if it’s over that, then you need to help it even out. It is acceptable to retouch your cigar with the help of a lighter to even out the burn.

Enjoy the cigar an inch before the band, then remove the band at that point. We use the same vegetable glue for the bands, so sometimes the flame will get close to the band and starts melting the glue so the band is easier to remove. Also, pulling it off before lighting, could damage the cigar. Most people enjoy a cigar to their comfort level. If it is too close to your fingers, just stop. There is at least an inch or more after the band to enjoy.

Types of Cigars

The two most sold shapes you find globally are the Robusto and Toro. Robusto is 30-45 minutes of enjoyment. The Toro is 45-60 of enjoyment. Corona and Panetela are smaller and Churchills and Salomones are larger. I advise not to try a format larger than Robusto if you are a beginner.

There is a lot of meaning behind the label. Cigar companies put a lot of thought and backstories to the label so I personally do not remove it. If you have a $30 cigar and you take off the label, you are losing a bit of the quality and craftsmanship.

Final Thoughts

Cigars are completely different from any tobacco product. You stop, reflect, and enjoy the flavor. It’s 100% natural. A lot of work goes into it. It takes over five years to create a single cigar. Davidoff cigars have over 1500 people in DR making cigars for us. They are all hand made. It can be like destroying a work of art when you smoke a cigar improperly, so always ask for advice, for help, and respect the ritual.