ABCs of Cigar Buying
For most smokers of cigars, pacing down the displays at their tobacconist’s can be a pretty daunting affair. You scratch your head, squint at the labels, and raise one eyebrow at the number printed next to a brand. All of these names and numbers can puzzle any buyer out of their wits. What could be double corona size for one company could just as well be another company’s Churchill.
There is hardly any mystery involved here once you embrace the fact that the lexicon of the cigar universe can be quite puzzling, and that’s putting it lightly.
There, however, exists a set of guidelines, and these guidelines provide basic criteria you can use for deciphering the cryptic origin of nearly any kind of hand-rolled cigar.
If you are wondering that this could be some sort of complicated method involving complex deduction skills – you need not worry.
The parameters involved make it easy and simple. These parameters are – brand, color, shape or size.
It’s the designation given by the manufacturer to specific lines of cigars produced by them. Partagas, Montecristo, Punch, Davidoff, Macanudo – only to name a few of the very well known names in the world of cigars. These names can be found on a cigar’s band that is wrapped over the ‘head’ portion of the cigar, or its sealed end.
However, it is important to note a few factors relating to the brands, and that is: origin.
Depending on your location of residence, even some of the renowned names from the cigar world can be a source of disorientation. There are brands that were originally produced in Cuba. But in 1959, following Castro’s Revolution; a lot of the cigar manufacturers ended up fleeing, believing they could drag their brands along with them. The Cubans debated that these brands belonged to Cuba.
As a result, you get a Punch that is made in Honduras, and one produced in Cuba. These dual origins are an issue that even Ramon Allones, Romeo y Julieta, Por Larranage, Fonseca, El Rey del Mundo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Partagas, H. Upmann, and La Gloria Cubana are affected by. The type of cigar can be discerned by a tiny Havana or Habano etched over the band of a cigar.
The shade and hue of the exterior wrapper leaves is what this parameter refers to. In earlier times, the terminology used for these wrapper leaves were vast – there were anywhere from a dozen to exactly two, of terms in use for the ones grown in Sumatra, Brazil, Cuba, and the United States. The makers of a cigar in the US usually describe the hues in 8 to 10 separate shades.
Currently, there are about 6 major grades of color that are in use. And it is worth mentioning that the wrappers grown these days are not limited to the countries mentioned earlier, but they are also produced in Nicaragua, Cameroon, Honduras, and Ecuador as well.
The six shades:
Claro – Light tan in color, Claro is generally grown under the shade of tents. It has neutral flavors, and that is one of its prized qualities.
Claro claro – A light green color, and often referred to as candela. Heat is used to cure the leave in order to fix the leaf’s chlorophyll. They usually taste a bit sweet. Currently, this variant is not as popular as it used to, although there was a time a major part of the cigars in the American market were available with a wrapper that was light green.
Natural – This one is somewhere from a light brown to a brown shade. It is usually sun-grown.
Colorado – From brown to a reddish-brown tone; this one, much like Claro, is grown under shade. It boasts of a flavor that is rich paired with an aroma that maintains its subtleties.
Oscuro – It means dark, and is also called black in the countries that produce tobacco. Apart from leaving them on the plant, they are also matured or sweated for the longest periods of times, as opposed to other wrapper leaves.
Maduro – The word is derived from the Spanish term for ‘ripe’ and the logic behind this being the extra and prolonged lengths of time required to produce a dark-brown and rich wrapper. The typical characteristics of a maduro are that it needs to be oily, silky, and a strong, rich flavor with a mild aroma.
Now that you have spotted the brand, and identified the wrapper, its color and characteristics that you prefer smoking, let’s have a look at how to choose a size along with the shape.
There’s a word in Spanish called vitola, which appropriately covers both ‘size' and ‘shape.' However, in English, we end up elucidating both the size (length and girth) and also the shape. Majority of the cigars are sold in boxes that come with a mark on the front elaborating on the cigar's shape; H. Upmann Lonsdales, Partagas 8-9-8, or Punch Double Corona – to name a few.
As you learn about shapes, it becomes easy to assume or ascertain the size, for example – being aware of small facts like a double corona not being a short cigar.
The absurdly unnecessary amount of confusion surrounding the size and shape of a cigar is rather unfortunate. In fact, after some generations of nearly all manufacturers, each one of them starts deciding individually the size names that should be paired with which girth and length – and they maintain absolutely no logic behind their assignations and definitions.
This wayward convention surrounding the naming of cigars has led to the same terms, like Churchill, being in use by different cigar makers for cigars of all different sizes. Even if just one statement could be made regarding the cigar standards of and in different countries, then it should be that the Cuban standards tend to lean towards some uniformity. But of course they have one body that governs Cuba’s state-owned tobacco company.
However, the basic measurement standard is pretty much the same and the only dissimilarities come from how they are expressed – whether it's in the U.S. customary or in the metric systems. For length – it has been listed in centimeters of inches, while the diameter or ring gauge or girth is measured in 64ths of millimeters or an inch.
So, when you learn the size of a classic corona is 6 by 42, what it actually translates to is this: the length of the cigar is 6 inches, and its width or thickness if 42/64ths, but a lot of manufacturers these days manufacture their coronas that have a diameter of 44, instead 42.
If you are on the lookout for common factors or denominators to be used as a point of beginning for shapes, then it is worth knowing that there are two categories all cigars could be divided into – figurados, the ones with irregular shapes, and parejos –‘parejo’ meaning parallel in Spanish refers to the straight sided ones.
Parejos or the straight-sided cigars are the ones the majority of the smokers are familiar with. And parejos have 3 basic categories – panatelas, coronas, and Lonsdales.
Traditionally, a corona (6” by 42 diameter is its classic size) has been quite a benchmark for the cigar manufacturers against which most of the cigars end up being measured.
Coronas come with a closed ‘head’ – this is the end that is used for smoking; and an open ‘foot’ – which is the end that is used for lighting and is usually rounded.
A robusto is measured at 5” by 50 diameter, a Churchill is 7” by 47 diameter; a double corona is 7.5” by 49 for diameter. A standard sized Panetela is normally 7” by 38 for diameter – while generally longer than a corona; it’s drastically thinner than one. Panatelas also have a closed head and an open foot. A Lonsdale is generally thicker than a panatela but longer and slimmer than a corona.
The figurados, the irregular shaped cigars, encompass nearly each type of shape for cigars that are beyond the ordinary. Here’s a list of some of the major varieties:
Pyramid – This has an open foot, which widens from a pointed and closed head.
Torpedo – The head is pointed, the center has a bulge, and the foot is closed.
Belicoso – A pyramid shaped cigar that is small and instead of a point it has a head that is rounded
Perfecto – These resemble the cigars you see in cartoons – they are the ones that have a bulge in the center and the two ends are closed and rounded.
Diademas – A gigantic cigar is about eight inches or even longer. Usually, it comes with an open foot, while sometimes it comes with a closed one or a perfecto tip.
Culebra – A culebra is formed by braiding 3 panatelas together.
Bear in mind that even with all of the "classic" figurado shapes, there exist variations among the cigar manufacturers. There are some that will call a cigar a torpedo, but it will resemble pyramids, then there will be some that would refer to one as a Belicoso, but that too will resemble a pyramid.
Confusing? Unfortunately, it is.
Sadly, it’s rather self-defeating when it comes to discussing a “normal” or “classic” range for any cigar that’s on the market these days. Even the most basic designations of a shape can differ to such great extents they hardly make any sense. It would be futile to assume just because you fancy a Churchill from one manufacturer, in no way implies you’ll get a cigar of the same shape or size of that name from some other cigar maker.
There also exist other classifications that you should definitely know about, as they are a reference to the packing style adapted by the manufacturers. A classification of 8-9-8, for example, refers to how the cigars have been stacked – which means, inside the box, they have been stacked into 3 rows; 8 on the top row, 9 in the middle one, and 8 on the bottom. This generally comes packed in a particular box with rounded sides.
Then there is Amatista which refers to a packing that is of 50 cigars in a glass jar, originally this was a packaging done by H. Upmann, and it was solely developed for the smokers who were on the lookout for a smoke that was "factory fresh."
And finally – There are tubos. Tubos are cigars that come packaged in glass, wooden, or even aluminum tubes – a tube that is tightly sealed will prolong the freshness of the cigar for extended periods of time.
These pieces of information will make you go from the usually pacing down the aisles to stopping for a few seconds and looking at specific cigars with a look of contemplation and going, "hmm." It might even propel you to try out different types of wrapper colors, sizes, and even shapes.