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The Cigar Aficionado's Guide to Picking the Perfect Cigar

Jan 13th, 2023

Whether you’re new to smoking cigars or you’re a growing cigar aficionado, knowing how to pick the perfect cigar for your specific needs can be tough. While we have plenty of information on how to master all the different steps of being a cigar smoker (how to cut it, toast it, and enjoy it properly), finding out how to select your cigar is the very first step.

Walking into a cigar shop with so many options can be daunting for any consumer, especially if you're nervous about asking the staff questions. For instance, what’s the difference in taste between a mild and intense smoke? Or why is a cigar’s size so important to consider?

Certain factors can help you filter your choices, including cigar sizes, cigar shapes, and flavors. Nailing those initial criteria can be a bit confusing, so if you’re feeling a bit lost, read our guide below on how to pick out the ultimate stogie for your preferences.

Factors to Consider When Picking the Perfect Cigar

  • Body: Choosing the right cigar for you is kind of like choosing a beer. There are light and mellow options or dark and full-bodied cigars for those who want a more intense experience. Like anything else, trial and error is your best bet here, but you may want to consider beer preferences. Dark stout lovers will prefer a dark cigar, while those with a lighter palate opt for a mellow stogie.
  • Shape: When it comes to cigar shapes, there are mostly two types of cigars: figurados and parejos. Parejos are the more classic choice, featuring an open end and a rounded end that needs to be cut with a cigar cutter. Parejo cigar types include the Corona, Churchill, Gordo, Toro, Pantanela, and Robusto. Figurados are much less common and feature a bullet silhouette, with a sharply tapered closed end. Many believe that this concentrates the smoke better, enhancing the flavor. Figurados include the Torpedo, Belicoso, Pyramid, Salomon, and Perfecto - the signature shape of La Aurora Preferidos.
  • Size: Cigar sizes vary, but a smaller cigar won’t necessarily have less flavor than a large cigar. Cigars are measured in length (inches) and width (ring gauge), the latter of which is measured by 64ths of an inch. Length doesn’t correlate with strength - it’s just based on how long you want to smoke your cigar. Newbies are better off with a smaller cigar. For reference, a 6-inch cigar lasts around an hour. Aficionados often prefer a smaller ring gauge since the wrapper leaf is where the real high-quality tobacco is. A Corona has a smaller ring gauge, whereas a Toro and Robusto feature a larger one and produce more smoke.
  • Aroma and flavor: No matter what a stogie looks like, these are the most important factors when it comes to picking the perfect cigar. Shop for blends with flavors that sound appealing to you. Tobacco can carry notes that are sweet, woody, leathery, nutty, creamy, or spicy - there are tons of complex combinations, and when picking them, you can think about the food and drinks that you typically enjoy. Stronger flavors do generally contain higher amounts of nicotine.
  • Price: Although you might want to start with a premium stogie, that doesn’t exactly align with the lowest and best cigar prices on the market. Handmade cigars of premium quality can be bought at a couple of bucks a piece in bundles. Whereas more luxurious and rare varieties can cost $30-40. That being said, there are thousands of popular, sought-after options between $8-$15.

The Anatomy of a Cigar

The main components in a cigar are a filler, binder, and wrapper. Typically, the wrapper leaves are the most premium part of a cigar, and it’s why many connoisseurs opt for a smaller ring gauge, because the wrapper’s flavors are more pronounced. If you’re not an expert, figuring out how to choose a cigar isn’t easy. However, if we look at a breakdown of the cigar’s anatomy, it can help us understand better.

Wrapper: the wrapper is the first part of the cigar that you lay eyes on, and it's responsible for balancing out the blend within. It’s why the price of some cigars is so high. Cigar wrapper types are broken into two different categories: Natural wrappers and Maduro wrappers. Common Natural wrapper varieties are Connecticut and Ecuador Connecticut cigars. They give the cigar a tan or light golden hue and have notes of cedar, chews, and almonds with a toasty and spiced finish. Maduro wrappers are fermented to achieve a dark brown, sometimes even black color, and sweet flavor packed with richness. Look for wrappers that are smooth and clean without signs of gaps, tears, or cracks.

Binder: A cigar binder is what holds together the filler and keeps the wrapper leaf on, providing a cigar with its shape. Forming the middle ring of the tube, the binder needs to be strong enough to keep the filler cohesive, but its taste must also be compatible with the wrapper and filler. Additionally, the leaves need to burn properly and evenly. Binder leaves need to be strong and elastic, allowing for good ventilation throughout the cigar. After being applied to the filler, vegetable gum is used to seal it.

Filler: Although most of a cigar’s flavor is attributed to the wrapper, the filler uses the highest number of tobacco leaves and is generally named after its place of origin. While blends from different countries are popular due to the complex and unique flavors they provide, a cigar made with tobacco from just one country is dubbed a “pure cigar.” The construction is key here since leaves pressed too tightly will stop air from passing through the cigar. High-end cigars only use long filler, or whole leaves, whereas cheaper cigars are made with short filler or remnants of chopped-up leaves. Still, short-filler cigars can be filled with flavor.

Red Flags to Avoid in Cigars

There are some warning signs that a cigar is low-quality, over or under-humidified, or moldy. The proper level of moisture is essential; too-moist cigars have the potential to split and are hard to keep lit, whereas dry cigars create an acrid smoke and remove the subtle flavor nuances. For reference, 60-75% humidity is an ideal range.

  1. Mold: Mold shouldn’t be confused with plume, which are harmless white spots that appear on the wrapper leaf. On a cigar, mold looks green-blue in color and has a texture that’s pasty, fuzzy, and/or sticky.
  2. Over-humidified tobacco: One sign of an over-humidified cigar is that if you give it a slight squeeze, it feels soft or squishy, Cigars should only have a small amount of “give” and too much softness means too much moisture and makes it prone to mold.
  3. Under-humidified tobacco: Old or under-humidified cigars are fragile and dry. This creates a less pleasant smoking experience since dry cigars burn a lot hotter, and the essential oils within start to evaporate a lot more.