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Cigar 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Cigars for Beginners

Jan 6th, 2023

Cigar 101

If you’re a newbie to the world of cigars, getting started can be intimidating, especially when there are so many cigar aficionados out there. Perhaps you’ve never even smoked a cigar. Whether you’ve discovered it before or are curious about trying one, there are a ton of different things to consider when first getting into cigars.


The size or shape of your cigar will impact factors like how long it burns, its intensity, and its draw. Cigar sizes are measured in inches and “ring gauge,” aka the cigar’s diameter. A larger cigar isn’t necessarily stronger. Instead, that will depend on whether the tobacco inside is mellow or full-bodied. Still, thinner cigars often burn hotter than fatter cigars.

The cigar’s shape is often referred to as its vitola. The two kinds of vitolas are figurados (cigars without a straight side) and parejos (straight-sided cigars). Some cigars are even box-pressed into a square shape.

A corona is the benchmark size which every other cigar size is measured against. Traditionally, it has a 42-44 ring gauge and is 5.5 - 6 inches. A larger corona is often referred to as a Churchill, while smaller versions are dubbed a Petit Corona.

Step 1: How to Cut a Cigar

You can ruin an expensive cigar by cutting it the wrong way, so before you get to snipping, it’s important to remember that the point of the cut is to make a smooth opening for smoking without negatively impacting the structure of the cigar. You’ll need to cut away part of the cap on the head that closes your cigar to do this, but some of it should still be glued around the end. This will help keep filler leaves together.

If you’re wondering what kind of cigar cutter you’ll need, there are plenty of options, but a double-bladed cutter is the most popular choice for beginners. They’re easy to use and cut both sides of the cigar at the same time. This cutter works on every shape and size of cigar and reduces the likelihood of tearing your cigar wrapper.

  1. Place the cigar head in the opening of the cutter
  2. Sightly close blades so they make contact with the cigar, which keeps everything in place.
  3. Once positioned, make a swift, even cut with confidence.
  4. An alternative way to use a double-bladed cutter is to open it and lay it on a table. Next, place the cigar head between the blades so it’s evenly resting on the table, and clip it from there.

Step 2: How to Light a Cigar

While cutting the cigar is essential so that air can pass through, knowing how to light a cigar is an equally important step. Contrary to what you may think, lighting a cigar differs from igniting a cigarette or candle. It requires more patience, especially if you’re a newbie! Even if you’re a pro, accidents happen. Lighting your cigar the right way ensures that it is evenly lit. This is important so you get maximum flavor from your cigar and don’t spend time dealing with an unevenly lit stogie.

  1. To get started, think about how you roast your marshmallow for s’mores. The cigar should be kept near the flame but not directly touching it. Burning it too hot can ruin the cigar, but if it touches a flame accidentally, get it out of the flame as fast as possible.
  2. Light it using the right tool. Sulfur matches and Zippos can alter the taste of your cigar, adding straight flavors to the smoke. Instead, maximize the essence of the cigar with a strip of cedar, aka a spill. You can also use extra long, wooden matches that don’t contain any sulfur. Or you can buy a cigar lighter, which usually uses butane fuel and has multiple flames.
  3. No one likes an unevenly charred marshmallow, and the same goes for your cigar. Gently draw in the smoke and rotate the cigar so all parts of the tip are heated equally until a glowing ring surrounds the tip with slightly blackened edges. If embers don’t burn evenly, gently blow on the end of the cigar to manifest a smooth, rounded ash.

How to smoke a cigar:

Now that the cigar is lit, gently puff on your cigar. Hold the smoke in your mouth, but do not inhale it. After all, the best way to experience the flavors of a cigar is to let the smoke bathe your senses for a few seconds before blowing it out.

If you’re unsure how to smoke a cigar and how frequently to puff/draw, many people recommend taking a puff per minute. This lets it burn consistently while making for a more comfortable smoking experience. Don’t feel pressured to finish a cigar if you’re still a beginner. This process is all about relaxing and taking your time.

How to Ash a Cigar

After you’ve lit your cigar, you’ll need to ash it at some point. Typically, a cigar’s ash is long and sturdy due to long-filler tobacco. Just like the lighting process, patience is vital here. Rather than repeatedly tapping, wait until at least an inch of ash has developed to avoid the ember falling off. Although it may seem satisfying to tap off ash immediately, doing so can create overheating or cause your cigar to burn too fast.

After enough ash has accumulated, rest it on one side of your ashtray and lightly tap. It’s also possible to gently press the edge of the cigar against the ashtray while rotating your cigar. Just don’t press too hard!

How to Store Your Cigars

The best way to maintain freshness is to invest in a cigar humidor. A humidor helps maintain proper humidity. A too-low humidity level can cause the tobacco to shrink and decrease in flavor and scent, while high-humidity environments can foster mold and cause rotting.

The cigar humidifier is the most crucial aspect of your humidor, as it infuses the right amount of moisture which also creates a slower burn when lit. Most cigar aficionados set their humidor between 62-75%. Another important aspect is the hygrometer, which detects humidity and lets the user know whether it should be increased or decreased. These come in analog and digital varieties, but most cigar connoisseurs will recommend digital over old school since it’s more accurate.

Beyond humidity, the temperature is another major factor. Most cigars should be kept at 60-72 degrees Fahrenheit, and if your humidor doesn’t have temperature controls, you can use a thermometer on more basic models.

How to Buy Cigars

Buying a cigar online is also a lot less scary than it sounds, and retailers like La Aurora cigars have an easy 5-question cigar quiz on that’s curated by their master blenders.

La Aurora sells the original Dominican cigar with medium and full-bodied blends. They carry cigars in all shapes and sizes, for all budgets and flavors, from leather & nutty to coffee & citrus. La Aurora sampler packs are also available to try out if you don't know what your preferences are. The site is surprisingly easy to navigate, making it newbie-friendly.

Consider jotting down what cigars you smoke and noting what you like or dislike about them. As your palate develops, so will your knowledge. With time, you’ll learn more about what makes a stogie enjoyable to you. One day, you might even be able to help others who are just starting their journey.