How To Choose a Cigar in Two Steps

Wine. Whiskey. Cigars. Three areas where there are so many different varieties and brands on the market that it’s nearly impossible to find something you’ll like. And what if you walk into a store and they don’t have your brand, how do you find something similar? Thankfully with cigars there are only a couple things you need to remember and look for to understand what you’re getting and find something that you might like.

Step One: How Bold of a Flavor Do You Want?

There’s a lot of variety in the flavor of cigars. My favorite Cuban Montecristo version is almost like sipping an Earl Grey tea. Others can have notes of bourbon and cedar. But that level of detail is something that you really do need a cigar connoisseur to help you suss out.

In general there are really only four words you need to look for to put you on the right path.

Type Strength
Connecticut Light
Corojo Medium
Habana Medium
Maduro Strong

These usually refer to the kind of tobacco leaf used in the wrapper of the cigar.

There are three main components: the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. The filler is what makes up the majority of the bulk of the cigar and is typically a blend of different parts of the plant. The binder is there to give the cigar its shape and typically provide no taste of their own. The wrapper is the most important from a flavor perspective, and is the outermost leaf used in the cigar.

The four categories of wrapper mentioned above should give enough of an indication of the flavor profile of the cigar that you won’t get surprised. If you’re looking for a nice mild cigar then stay away from anything marked “maduro,” for example. And if you’re getting a gift for someone, unless you know that they prefer something that’s the equivalent of a Guinness beer, stick with the corojo varieties.

For more information on wrappers check this article out.

Step Two: How Long Do You Want to Smoke?

Cigars come in all shapes and sizes, but the shape usually doesn’t impact the flavor all that much. My beloved Montecristo comes in many sizes and I usually pick up a “petite corona” and “cigarillo” size box whenever I’m overseas, since the length of the smoke usually matches the length of a walk with my dog.

Once you’ve selected the tobacco type you’d prefer, figure out how long you want to sit and smoke. Here’s the most popular sizes and roughly how long they last.

Size Time
Churchill 1 hour+
Toro 1 hour
Robusto 45 minutes
Petite Corona 30 to 45 minutes
Cigarillo 15 minutes

A word to the wise: I rarely go for anything larger than a robusto size cigar. I just find it unwieldy, and honestly I’d much prefer to have a couple of smaller cigars than a single massive gigantic stick. It also gives you the option to call it quits early, for example if your wife catches on that you didn’t actually need three hours to go grocery shopping and notices that your Google location has been at the cigar shop this whole time.

For more information about the sizes of cigars there’s this handy chart and article from my local shop here in Austin, Texas that can help you out.

PRO TIP: Ask the Tobacconist

Now that you have a rough idea of what you want, you can walk into any cigar shop and sound reasonably knowledgeable. If you want a quick light smoke you know you want a cigarillo with a Connecticut wrapper, for example.

From here you can reasonably look through the humidor, find something with these key words, and be relatively happy with your selection. But the best option is to take this basic description and share it with the tobacconist in the shop and ask for something in your price range. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

It’s a rare day that I can’t find something enjoyable in the $10 per stick range, but be aware that the “good” stuff can easily soar past $20 per cigar. For those on a bit of a budget then I recommend going with the store brand cigar if it’s offered, or if they have an unlabeled box of bulk cigars. Just stick with the size and leaf type that you want and you should be able to find something enjoyable.

The more you smoke the more you’ll be able to pick up on things you like and things you don’t like on your own, but this is a good starting point. Leave a comment and let me know what else you’d like to learn about cigars — I’m not a tobacconist myself but I do hang around a lot of them!

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