So you want to learn more about cigars? Well, welcome to one of the finest and most classic traditions. Cigar appreciation goes way back, and there’s a rich history associated with it. From iconic images of a long cigar hanging from Winston Churchill’s mouth during WWII to Michael Jordan partaking after winning yet another NBA championship, cigars are indicative of heroic feats and celebration. But they’re also simple enough to be enjoyed on a nice evening out on the patio.
If you’re new to cigars—or even if you’re not—there’s a lot to learn. You don’t have to know all of the ins and outs to enjoy one. But learning about and understanding the intricacies is part of the fun. Not only that, the more you know about cigar types, the more likely you’ll be able to identify the types and styles you enjoy most, which will allow you to get the most out of your cigar appreciation.
The benefit of joining a cigar club is that you’ll be exposed to all sorts of cigar varieties–by shape, color, size, and brand. You’ll try lots of options to discover what you enjoy. As you wade into the pool of cigar knowledge, don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, smoking a cigar is about enjoyment and celebration. Take everything in at your leisure, and learn as you go.
First, let’s talk about the anatomy of a cigar. Cigars are primarily made of three key elements: the wrapper, the binder, and the filler. There are other features as well–the cap, the foot, and the band. Alll of these differ in some way on every cigar, making each smoking experience unique.
While other tobacco products use rolling papers, cigars are wrapped in a tobacco leaf. The wrapper is the outer layer of the cigar in which all of the other tobacco has been packed and rolled. Wrappers are perhaps the most prominent part of a cigar, as it’s the first thing you see. As a result of this, cigar producers take great care not only in the selection of their wrappers, but also in their processing.
Leaves that are produced as wrappers must be free from blemishes, smooth, and otherwise attractive. But it’s not all aesthetics: it also has to taste good. In fact, wrappers are responsible for the majority of the flavor you taste when you smoke a cigar.
The extensive process it goes through—from the conditions under which it’s grown, to the way they’re aged, to their fermentation—all result in a wide array of colors. The wrapper’s color can make it striking or fairly common looking. While the color doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the taste (that’s a result of its growth conditions and fermentation), it does impact its aesthetics.
Wrappers are most commonly named for the areas in which they’re grown (for example, the Connecticut Shade or the Ecuador Habano). In many cases, very popular seeds have made their ways around the world. While many of these particularly well-renowned wrapper leaf plants started in Cuba, they’re now grown in places ranging from New England to Honduras to Indonesia.
Ultimately, wrappers fall into one of two categories: Natural (or light-colored) or Maduro (dark-colored). Natural wrappers range from very light tan to naturally golden. Maduro wrappers get their color primarily from the fermentation process, which allows them to fall into a range of colors, ranging from dark brown to jet black.
Some wrapper leaves are identified by their colors—and there are seven colors on the spectrum. You can read about those leaves, the colors they represent, and their flavor profiles below in the color section. Here are other, additional wrapper leaf varietals that are also common.
This Honduran leaf, formerly of Cuba, is a popular wrapper in the United States. It’s medium brown, and moderately spicy.
Another Cuban seed but grown in Nicaragua, the Habano has a powerful flavor profile. It’s spicier than the Corojo, and may not be enjoyable to those who are just beginning to experiment with cigar appreciation.
Before the Corojo and Habano, there was the Criollo. It may not be as popular as it once was, but it used to be well known as the Cuban cigar wrapper. It offers a little bit of spice, but that is balanced nicely by some present sweetness.
Rosado leaves are Cuban and are a beautiful red-brown. Unfortunately, they’re also one of the rarest leaves to find, though they are now grown outside of Cuba. Spicy and earthy, they pack a flavorful wallop.
No, we haven’t slipped and started talking about coffee. But like the beans that come from the same region, these leaves are sweet and mild. Because they’re light, they’re commonly used for cigars that want to let the binder and filler tobaccos shine.
These leaves grown in Central Africa aren’t especially easy to work with, given a lower amount of aromatic oils and less elasticity. Even still, cigars wrapped in Cameroon leaves are known for being full-flavored and smooth.
Tucked beneath the wrapper is binder tobacco. If you haven’t paid close attention to a cigar or deconstructed one, you may not have even realized it was there. While the wrapper provides aesthetics and flavor, the binder leaf is designed to provide structural integrity to the cigar and help it burn evenly, while also determining shape and size. In fact, most binder leaves don’t impart any flavor at all. They tend to be thicker and of a lower grade than the rest of the tobacco in a cigar.
This isn’t always the case, though. Some high end cigar producers will use blemished wrapper leaves as binders, imparting additional flavor profiles into the smoke.
Binder leaves are chosen by rollers for several qualities: their strength, their elasticity, their absorbency, and how easily they can be lit and burned.
Ultimately, binder leaves may come from three parts of the tobacco plant. Binder leaves chosen from the top part of the plant—which receive the most sun—tend to result in cigars that are on the pricier side. These are commonly the blemished wrapper leaves, mentioned above. Those taken from the middle are usually stronger and more elastic, while the most common—leaves taken from the bottom of the plant—impart almost no flavor.
At center stage is the filler tobacco. Filler is what provides the bulk of the cigar, and it’s—obviously—what’s rolled inside the binder and wrapper leaves. The quality of the filler, as well as the skill of the roller, play a big role in how easily air passes through the stogie as you smoke. When packed too tightly, oxygen can’t pass through the tobacco. This results in a cigar that’s difficult to smoke and won’t burn evenly. Alternatively, filler that’s packed too loosely can burn fast and hot, making it too uncomfortable for a smoker to enjoy.
The filler is usually a blend of tobaccos, designed to complement—or in rare cases even outshine—the flavor of the wrapper. The flavor profiles derive from several factors, including the country and climate in which the tobacco was grown, the tobacco strain, and the process through which it was cured and processed.
Additionally, like the binder, the part of the tobacco plant the filler is harvested from also impacts flavor. Lower leaves are milder, middle leaves are stronger yet not full-flavored, while leaves from the top of the plant—again, where they have the most access to the sunlight—are full of spice and bolder flavors.
The head of the cigar contains the cap (this is the part you put in your mouth). The cap contributes greatly to the shape of your stogie. For example, in a standard shape, the cap rounds off at the shoulder: you’ll notice a seam that seems apparent in the wrapper. A torpedo shape, on the other hand, tapers dramatically to a point.
The cap is the portion of the cigar you cut before you smoke it. When you cut, it’s important to make a clean, fast snip to maintain the integrity of the wrapper as you smoke. From punch cutters to wedge cutters, there are multiple ways to cut a cigar to achieve a desired draw, and you should experiment with different cuts to determine your preference. For traditional cigars, you generally don’t want to cut below the shoulder—about the size of a dime. For a torpedo shape, cut the cap bit by bit and take draws to see how much airflow you’re getting.
Opposite the head of the cigar is the foot—this is the part you light. On most common cigar shapes, the foot is flat, allowing for a nice, even burn (as long as it’s lit correctly). Other cigar shapes may taper the foot. This allows you to get more flavor in the first few draws, thanks to the additional wrapper leaf. To achieve a good light, we recommend using an efficient torch lighter. Not only are they fun and high-tech, they’re efficient and allow you to burn evenly across the foot.
The cigar band is more style over substance. It’s not part of the natural part of the cigar, and you certainly don’t burn it. Rather, it’s part of the brand—it’s what helps set the cigar apart from others in the shop or in your humidor. Originally, they were used as identification on Cuban cigars imported to Europe, but today you’ll find them on almost every cigar in the shop.
Many bands may be simple, small, and bear the name of the producer. Others may be much more intricate, using a wide variety of colors, emblems, paintings, and other decorations.
Some aficionados collect cigar bands as mementos of their favorite smokes. That’s ultimately up to you, but you’ll certainly notice a difference as you peruse the different producers and find many intricacies that make each band unique.
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of a cigar is its color. There’s a wide array of color available in most cigars, and they’re all due to the wrapper (as it’s the outermost feature of the cigar). As mentioned above, the wrapper leaf is chosen for a variety of reasons, such as its smoothness, its perfect, blemish-free nature, and of course, its color.
The color of a wrapper is determined by many things. For example, where it’s grown, the strain of tobacco, and how much sun it receives will all have an affect on its coloration. More than that, however, the color comes from the effects of processing and fermentation.
Ultimately, there are seven main colors that define the majority of cigars.
Candela (or Double Claro)
Candela is a light green/brown. It’s a result of its very fast drying process. The high heat traps the chlorophyll of the tobacco leaf. They’re sweet, but the flavor is also very light.
Claro leaves are picked early—usually from plants grown under cheesecloth to limit sunlight exposure—and air-dried. They’re not particularly flavorful (but do offer a very mild sweetness), so Claro wrappers tend to be common in cigars that want the filler blend to shine.
These reddish-brown leaves are grown in direct sunlight and are given longer on the plant before they’re picked.
Sitting right in the middle of the color spectrum, Colorado wrapper leaves are brown to brown-red. They’re usually grown in shade, and offer a lot of flavor to the cigar. Despite their full flavor, their aromas are often very light.
You’ll notice that there are technically three versions of the Colorado wrapper. The Colorado Claro is obviously the lighter of the three, like Colorado Maduro (below) is the darker.
The last step before a fully dark Maduro, the Colorado Maduro is a heavy shade of brown, sometimes with tinges of red.
Maduro leaves take a pretty distinct departure from their Natural (lighter) brethren. Maduro, which translates to mature in Spanish, are cured for an extensive period of time. The curing process usually entails either a pressure chamber or a longer fermentation in above-average heat. This process results in leaves that are deep red, dark brown, or sometimes even black.
More than just color, Maduro wrappers offer a lot of flavor to their cigars as well. Cigars wrapped in maduro leaves will likely be bold and have more sweetness than their Natural counterparts.
Oscuro (or Double Maduro)
Wrappers simply don’t get much darker than this. These wrappers come exclusively from the top of the tobacco plant, and they’re fermented for a particularly long time. Oscuro wrappers may not be smooth as other wrappers, due in large part to the extensive processing. They are very sweet, and very rich. They may also be called “black” or “negro” wrappers.
Cigars vary a lot in sizes, but they’re all measured consistently using two factors.
First, their length, which is always given in inches.
Second, their ring gauge. This is the cigar’s diameter, and is measured in 64ths of an inch. We’ll look at common lengths and sizes for different shapes of cigars below.
Given the wide variety of sizes available, cigar shapes also vary. A lot. From brand to brand, you’ll find a lot of differences that make it both exciting and daunting to choose your next smoke.
Despite that, cigars are primarily categorized into two shapes: parejo and figurado.
Parejo cigars are by far the most common. They are straight-sided, have an open foot, and need to be cut before smoking. Below is a list of common parejo shapes and their “vitola,” or measurements.
The Corona is perhaps the bar for all cigars. They’re very common and very popular.
Length: 5 ½ - 6 inches
Ring Gauge: 42 - 44
Also called a Corona Gordo, Toro cigars are bigger and packed with flavor.
Length: 5 ⅝ - 6 inches
Ring Gauge: 46 - 50
Short and fat, Robusto is a favorite cigar in the United States.
Length: 4 ¾ - 5 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 48 - 52
Obviously named for the widely known and oft-quoted British Prime Minister, the Churchill is a larger Corona style and is long—allowing for additional seasoning of the filler tobacco during the smoke.
Length: 7 inches
Ring Gauge: 47- 50
Extra long, the double corona looks long and thin, but the extra length allows for a longer burn that—like the Churchill—allows the smoke to season the filler tobacco for additional flavor.
Length: 7 ½ - 8 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 47 -52
Thin, yet elegant, the panatela is a favorite cigar for its cool burn and big taste.
Length: 5 - 7 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 34 - 38
The Lonsdale was crafted specifically for those who enjoy a longer smoke than a Corona allows, but still provides the balance of wrapper-to-filler that a Corona offers.
Length: 6 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 42
Named for its inventor—one of the wealthy European banking magnates—the Rothschild offers a nice ratio of high filler to high wrapper for full flavor.
Length: 4 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 48
Figurados encompass just about every other shape. While most cigar rollers produce parejos, many are also adding figurados as a means to experiment with taste, smoke ability, and enjoyment.
Pyramids have an open foot but with a head that’s tapered to a point. Traditionally, you cut the head bit by bit to get just enough of a draw from it to suit your tastes. Sizes of pyramids range, but you’ll find average numbers below.
Length: 6-7 inches
Ring Gauge: 52 - 54 (at the foot; narrower at the head)
Torpedos are very similar to pyramids. In fact, the cigars that many producers call torpedoes today actually are pyramids. Torpedoes are tapered at the head but actually feature a closed foot.
Length: 6 ½ inches
Ring Gauge: 52
The Perfecto is a shapely blend of the Torpedo and Parejo styles: a bulged middle and closed foot, but a rounded head. Perfectos come in all different types of sizes.
Length: 4 ½ - 9 inches
Ring Gauge: 38 - 48
The Culebra is one of the most unique cigars on the market today. It’s technically three cigars in one. Three panatelas are underfilled, rolled, then braided (yes, you read that right), and banded together and sold as one cigar. While it technically can be smoked as one cigar, it’s not meant for that. Instead, they’re meant to be separated and shared for a special occasion. Culebras aren’t particularly common, but if you find one, keep it in your humidor and share with friends when you’re celebrating.
Length: 5 - 6 inches
Ring Gauge: 38
Diadema cigars are almost comically large, as they’re designed for a long, uninterrupted smoke. These depend greatly on the producer—they may have a closed foot or an open one, though the head is usually tapered but not to a point. They are also sometimes referred to as Presidente cigars.
Length: 8 ½ inches+
Ring Gauge: 52+
WHY SHAPE MATTERS
Obviously there are a lot of different shapes and sizes. But does shape really make a difference in a cigar? In many ways, yes. There are obvious aesthetic cues—many of the figurado shapes are iconic and interesting, certain to catch your eye when you’re browsing. The same goes with parejos: unique styles make for dramatic-looking stogies. Just hearing the name of the Churchill conjures the image of a commanding Winston with a lengthy cigar at his fingers.
But shape and size matters for other reasons too. The shape does, ultimately, have an impact on the flavor of the cigar. Generally, parejos will burn longer than figurados. While this does depend on the smoker, the straight sides allow for a more consistent smoke across the cigar.
Figurados and their tapered heads are meant to create a funnel into the smoker’s mouth, concentrating flavor. This is why cutting in small increments is so important—that, and cutting too far up will compromise the wrapper and may cause the cigar to unravel. A tapered foot, too, changes the ratio of filler-to-wrapper that’s smoked, changing the flavor profile across the burn of the cigar.
The size of the cigar also affects the burn rate. For example, a long, wide cigar smokes cooler than one that’s short and thin. Not only does this change the experience of smoking the cigar, it also has an impact on the flavor of the tobacco as it burns. A slower, cooler burn results in different flavors than a hot, fast one. At the same time, that slower burn lets the smoke from the cigar season the rest of the tobacco inside the cigar, altering the flavor profiles over time.
Because shapes do have an effect on flavor, different cigars that are rolled with the same blends of tobacco may still fit different palates. Cigars with the same blend of tobacco, but rolled in torpedo and perfecto shapes, will taste different when they’re smoked. Parejos tend to be the perfect example of flavor profiles intended by the blender.
Learning more about cigars and the cigars you smoke makes for a more in-depth, complete smoking experience. And it allows you to pin-point, describe, and identify what you like about certain cigars, be it the size, blend, brand, or shape. When you sign up for a cigar subscription from Klaro Cigars, each new cigar will fall somewhere in line with the variations described here, and you’ll be able to idenfity qualities and preferences you like, and options to try next.