It’s often repeated that over 200 pairs of hands touch a cigar before it reaches your humidor. While this stresses the labour intensive nature of premium cigar production, it also emphasizes the personal, artisinal side of the cigar. From growing to rolling, every step is shaped by a blend of personal tastes, experience and expertise. The act of cigar smoking is much the same. It’s a personal ritual, shaped by preference and experience, and although there are no set rules, the tips below may help elevate the experience, and maximize your enjoyment of the thing crafted by those 200 pairs of hands.
1. Take a Cold Draw
The cold draw is self explanatory. After you cut the cigar’s cap but before you light up, take a puff just like you normally would and hold it for a moment. The flavour won’t be the same as a burning cigar, but the cold draw will provide a preview of the flavours to come. Especially spicy blends will have a kick, milder blends will taste neutral and young cigars may have offensive ammonia-like flavour in a cold draw. If you experience an offensive flavour in your cold draw, it’s best to allow that cigar additional rest in your humidor. Additionally, a cold draw will let you know if the cigar has a tight draw, or is plugged. As draw issues may be a result of excess humidity, a cold draw may save a tight cigar from being lit and wasted.
2. Toast the Foot
Lighting a cigar is the most important step to ensuring that your cigar burns correctly from start to finish. The cigar could have perfectly rolled and stored, but incorrect lighting technique may cause the cigar to canoe, tunnel or burn unevenly.
Toasting the cigar is not a universal practice, but slow toasting of the foot of the cigar can get the ash burning well at the start of the smoke. This gives your cigar a better chance of burning evenly all the way through. The purpose of toasting is to set fire to not only the filler, but binder and wrapper as well. Without toasting, you’re likely to only ignite the filler and immediately start an uneven burn.
How do you toast a cigar?
To toast, hold the cigar at an angle (45-60 degrees) over the flame and keep the foot of the cigar a few inches above the flame. Don’t let the flame actually touch the tobacco at the foot. Instead, hold it close enough to get the foot glowing, without it truly catching fire. Some rotate the cigar until the foot begins to ignite; but if using a torch, you can aim the flame wherever it needs to be.
Once the cigar is lit, clench between your teeth, close your lips and take a few puffs.
3. Smoke slow and Steady
New smokers typically ruin the cigar experience by smoking too quickly. This is the exact opposite of what you want to do. It’s best to keep the cherry as cool as possible, as a hot burn may lead to harsh, over-powering flavours. The rule of thumb is to take 1-2 puffs per minute. If you are smoking too much, too fast, there’s a good chance that you aren’t appreciating the flavours of that premium tobacco. Take a draw and savour it. Smoking cigars is about slowing down and enjoying each moment; it’s not a race to the nub.
It may sound complicated, but Retrohaling is simply the act of pushing smoke out through your nose. The reason for retrohaling is simple. Your mouth can only detect five basic flavours: bitter, sweet, sour, salty, and umami(savory). Anything beyond these is picked up by the nose. Your sense of smell plays a significant role in detecting flavours in food and drink, and with cigar smoking it’s no different.
How do you retrohale?
To retrohale, first draw the smoke into your mouth, then close your mouth. With the smoke in your mouth and while holding your breath, open your throat force the smoke out through your nose. Pressing the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth may help accomplish this. It may also help to use your diaphragm muscle to help you channel the air from your mouth through your nasal passage.
Developing this technique takes a bit of practice, so start by blowing out most of the smoke from your draw (70-80%) before closing your mouth and attempting to retrohale the remaining smoke. Ultimately, there’s no set rule, find the level of retrohale that’s most enjoyable and comfortable for you.
On occasion, a perfectly enjoyable cigar may take an unexpected turn with acrid “off” flavours. As these flavours become more prominent you may be tempted to call it a day, but there’s one thing you may try before such drastic measures. These off flavours may be caused by a build-up of residual tobacco oils which have collected in the filler of the cigar. Purging is the simple act of blowing through your cigar to clear the filler of excess material. Try it and you’ll be amazed at how easily this improves the profile of your smoke. If you’re relighting a cigar that has gone out, it’s common practice to purge while holding a flame to the end.
What’s your cigar smoking tip? Give us your thoughts below!