How to smoke your “first cigar"
By Matthew Balman
Pandora's Cigar Box
Edited by Quentin Beroud
First things first: why the quotation marks? Well, when I say ‘your first cigar’, I’m aware it probably isn’t. But I’m not talking about the tin of cafe cremes you and your mates gathered round in wonder after you’d all chipped in two quid and sent Johnny into the newsagents because he had the hairiest chin. Nor am I referring to that wedding when someone dishes out the sticks and you’re peer pressured into coughing your way through it and end up “forgetting” it on the side when Summer of 69 starts playing. I’m talking about the first cigar that might spark a different answer than the standard ‘no’ when the doctor asks if you’re a smoker. Your first cigar.
My cigar voyage did not start in the most glamorous way. I was at work, tasked with topping up a self-service bar for the guests, and they had these small, cellophane covered, pre-cut, undoubtedly machine-rolled cigars. I knew nothing about cigars, or even cigarettes for that matter, but in that moment something enchanted me about what it could be like, so I nicked it! Months past and at one particular FNDs (Friday Night Drinks), whilst stood outside with the smokers, I asked my flat mate if he could show me how to smoke a cigar. He agreed and I’ve never looked back.
Whether you’ve chosen to start cigar smoking as a means of relaxing or learning & development, your journey starts here. Below are my insights and some of the things that I wish I’d known before swiping that stick.
Which cigar to start with is a big one! The go to cigar that 99% of the community suggest is the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No.2. It’s mild and creamy but that doesn’t mean it lacks flavour, it is super balanced and obviously comes highly recommended for beginners for a reason. That said, why not go to a local cigar retailer and ask for some advice? You would if it was your turn to take a wine to your mate’s dinner party and didn’t know which one would compliment the veal. They won’t offer you a strong Maduro or a Bolivar as it’s in their interest to look after you as you’ll return once you’ve enjoyed their suggestion, just the same as a wine shop.
TIME & PLACE
Don’t rush it. Take your time. Don’t start a cigar if you think you won’t be able to finish it! I can’t harp on about this enough. One of the best things about smoking a cigar is that it takes time. It forces you to relax and devote yourself to something you enjoy. We could all do with a bit more of that, right?! You need to be in the correct mind frame to enjoy the cigar that you’re about to light up. Where you smoke also matters. There was a study where people were given exactly the same popcorn at home and in the cinema and 100% of them said that the cinema popcorn was better. It’s the same thing with cigars for me. The cigar can be led by your mood, feelings, stress levels etc etc.
Now we’re getting technical… Straight, V or Punch cutter? Baby steps: let’s go for the straight. Which one is the ‘straight’ cutter, I hear you ask? Think of a gangster film; it’s the one that can fit Jimmy the Snitch’s pinkie finger in when he’s disrespected the boss. You won’t forget now, will you. Nor will Jimmy come to that. Poor Jimmy.
From the very simple one-bladed ones (akin to a french guillotine) to double-bladed wonders that can cost more than that first cigar of yours you’re about to light up. Most cigar shops or online retailers will have a budget-friendly one they can include in your order – they might even throw it in for free.
Now we’ve picked the right tool, how do we use it?!?
A cool trick I saw member Josh do on his first meet up was to put his straight cigar cutter flat on the table, and stood the cigar with the cap (rounded end) inside the cutter. Doing this ensures that your hand doesn’t shake whilst doing it freestyle. It also ensures that you don’t ‘spot’ one area to cut and get it wildly wrong due to either of your hands moving (the one with the cutter or the one holding the cigar) . You also don’t end up with the kind of angle that looks more Shard-worthy than anything else. A clever tip (no pun intended) I think and now my go-to way of doing it.
Matches, soft flame or jet? It’s a big question in cigar circles. The purists love the match. And not just any match, the longer the better! This is great if you’re smoking inside. If, however, you’re braving the British elements then you may prefer a Jet lighter rather than going through a ream’s worth of matches. I bought my first jet lighter for around £20 in a tobacconist’s in Covent Garden. Whatever you do, don’t Zippo it! You might think you look like a 70s Clint Eastwood, but you need to use a butane lighter if you’re going down that road as the other gas is scented and will affect the cigar.
Even once you have the lighter, it’s very much not a case of point and press play! The lighter needs to be far enough away from the cigar to not burn the sides of the cigar and to gently heat through and burn all of the base before you take your first puff. Once you’ve found the Goldilocks zone (not too hot, not too cold), keep the cigar there and rotate it gently from side to side. Some then stop and waft it in the air (think conducting a choir) before returning it to the flame. Once the whole foot (base) of the cigar is lit then I blow on it to ensure it all glows red before adjusting it with a little extra heat to the areas that need it. So now it’s lit, you’re all set, right? Just puff away happily like Thomas the Tank Engine. Not quite! Read on for the final (and maybe most crucial) step.
Well firstly… exhale. What? I know! Some say it’s best that once you’ve lit your cigar to bring it to your mouth and blow gently out through the stick. The reason, they suggest, is to blow out any bitterness gained from the lighting process so it doesn’t draw it further down into the cigar when you take the first draw. Do it once, see how you feel, adopt the habit if you feel like it works for you.
Now, back to the inhale… DON’T! It’s not a cigarette and thus must not be treated as such. This is the thing most people get wrong with cigars. Take the smoke into your mouth over a couple of inward puffs, sit on it a few seconds and then exhale. This takes practice and you’ll get it wrong when someone makes you laugh mid-puff but there we go, all part of the process. At least you’re laughing, right?
After reading the above it must seem like Cigars are a world of rules and regulations, but remember that these are just the things I would have liked to know before I started cigar smoking. They are also all part of the ritual, and taking your time and care over these steps will hopefully mean you get the most enjoyment out of that stick. But, at the end of it all, if you want to light your cigar between your teeth while inhaling like they do in the movies, then go for it! If you want to light it with a zippo because you don’t want to splash out on a lighter for a hobby that may not take off, do it! Drink your red wine chilled and your white wine at room temp, who are we to judge!
Not feeling it? Just stop. I’ve only had to do this with two cigars but I’m glad I did. Remember, this is supposed to be fun. If you’re not getting any enjoyment out of it because you’re too cold, or not enjoying the flavours, then just stop. If, however, you are feeling a little light headed, which can happen, may I suggest a little bit of high percentage dark chocolate to help. Drinking water is also good for this.
Let it die gracefully, don’t stub it out! This, for me, is a little bit of tradition where I like to pay my respects to the time and hours spent getting that cigar from tobacco seed to the perfectly rolled stick in my hands in the UK. They say that 300 pairs of hands ‘touch’ your cigar before you do. So once I’ve taken my last puff I leave my cigar in the ashtray to burn out with dignity rather than pummelling it into the bottom of a pub’s glass ashtray!