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Cigar Terms Dictionary

This is a dictionary of terms you’re not likely to use outside the realm of fellow cigar connoisseurs, but which are fun to drop into a conversation when you want to impress friends.

Aging Room—Also called Marrying Room (which gives one cause to ponder); the room, usually cedar lined, where the completed cigars are permitted to rest, so their various tobaccos can reach a constant humidity level while their flavors blend.

A.M.S.—American Market Selection, a term used to define the light and relatively mild Claro Claro, Jade, or Candela type of wrapper that once was very popular in America and elsewhere.

Artificial Head—No, this is not an anatomical part of a politician. It is a method of using a separate tobacco cap for the head of a cigar, but making it appear as if it was a part of the wrapper leaf. This is done by cutting a flag-shaped piece of tobacco and inserting the pole of the flag into a small slit in the wrapper, then proceeding to make the head in a normal fashion.

Barrel—The body of a cigar. Also called a cañon.

Belicoso—A relatively thick cigar, usually of 52 ring gauge, with a shaped (i.e., Panetela) head. One of the easiest cigars to clip for smoking, even while under the influence of potent liquors.

Biddies—A term for a small East Indian cigar. Also used by Agio as a brand name for one of its 100-percent tobacco miniatures.

Binder—The leaf that is rolled around the filler to hold it together.

Booking—A method in cigar making where the leaves of the bunch are folded in half, as if they were pages of a book. Booking the bunch is not desirable in cigar making, as it tends to produce a heavy concentration of all the filler leaves along the folds (or spine of the book), impairing the smoker’s ability to get a complete, evenly distributed taste of every tobacco in the blend. This linear concentration can also cause a cigar to burn unevenly down the side (see Tunneling).

Box Press—The old-time Cuban art (now practiced in other cigar-making countries as well) of pressing or squaring off cigars so they are not round. The original purpose of box pressing was to keep cigars from rolling off the table. (When I wrote the original US edition of this book there was nowhere else in the world where you could have read this information. So if you see it in a book that was published after August 1996, you know the source from where it came.)

Buckeye—A term used to designate a small cigar-making (i.e., a “Mom and Pop”) operation.

Bunch—The group of leaves that comprise the filler and binder before they are rolled into a wrapper.

Bunchbreaker—The person in a cigar factory who makes bunches.

Bunchmaker—Same as a Bunchbreaker.

Burros—Cuban term for the bales of tobacco in which leaf fermentation takes place. Also called pilones.

Butt—The small tied ends of a hand of tobacco. Can also be used to describe someone who doesn’t agree with your choice of cigars.

Cabinet Box—A thick cedar box in which all the wood is exposed and not covered with stickers or labels. Ink stampings are used instead.

Cañon (pronounced “cahn YOWN”)—The body of a cigar between the tuck end and the head.

Cap—The piece of tobacco that forms the covering for the head; the end that you will ultimately clip.

Casing—The process of spraying newly-arrived hands of tobacco, dry from storage, with water, so that the re-moisturized tobacco becomes pliable and easy to work.

Chaveta—The flat rounded blade used by cigar rollers to trim the various tobacco leaves during the construction of a cigar. Today’s chavetas are usually handmade out of old saw blades.

Cigarden—A landscaped backyard environment that has been specifically designed for cigar smoking.

Clear Havana—An American term used for a 100-percent all-Havana cigar.

Corte Caracol—Spanish for “seashell cut”; the technique of hand-cutting a rounded circle of tobacco and leaving it attached at the end of a wrapper, so that the end of the leaf can be used for the head without having to remove it from the wrapper. (See Finished Head).

Criollos (Cree-OH-yoss)—A Cuban term for descendants of the original Spaniards, but it is also a strain of Cuban tobacco from which filler blends and binders are derived. A third definition is the name given to the harsh cigars smoked by Cubans locally.

Culebra—A twisted cigar, usually three, corkscrewed into a rope-like shape. Culebras originated in the nineteenth century as a means to stop workers from stealing the cigars they were rolling. It was decided to allocate three cigars per day to each worker, and to have them twisted together while they were still wet. In that way, it would be easy to spot which cigars were not supposed to be leaving the premises. Today, these interesting shapes can be found in brands such as the Cuban H. Upmann, the Dominican Davidoff, and the Swiss-made Villiger. People in law enforcement might appreciate this crime-prevention smoke.

Curly Head—The twisted end of tobacco on the head of a cigar. It had its origin as a “quick fix” by cigar rollers who were making cigars for their personal use, so that they would not have to bother cutting and affixing a separate cap. However, today the curly head is found on a variety of premium cigars, including certain shapes by Davidoff, El Rico Habano, and Cohiba.

Cutting Board—The laminated hardwood table of the bench on which cigars are made. Also referred to as la tabla.

Desbotonar—Process of trimming the suckers off of the tobacco plant so that more strength goes into the main leaves.

Dress Box—A cedar plywood box, in which you rarely see the wood because of the total coverage by labels and colorful border trimmings.

Dry Cigars—A term for the non-humidified Dutch and Swiss cigars that are so very popular on the European Continent. Usually made with Sumatra, Brazil, and Java tobaccos. In Europe these cigars are sometimes referred to as small, light, or specialty cigars.

Dutch Cigars—Also referred to as “dry cigars,” most of these normally small-sized smokes are made from Indonesian (Sumatra and Java) leaf, while a percentage are also made from Brazilian and Cuban tobaccos. All Dutch cigars are made with short filler and one of their benefits is that they require little or no humidification.

E.M.S.—Stands for English Market Selection. A rich brown in color, it was named after the wrapper color that was preferred by British smokers and is now quite popular in America as well.

Fancy Tail—Another name for the curly head.

Figurado—Any cigar with a nontypical shape, such as a Torpedo, Pyramid, or Culebra.

Filler—A blend of tobacco that forms the thick center of a cigar and provides much of its taste.

Finished Head—A technique of utilizing the wrapper leaf to continue on up around the cigar and form the head or cap of the cigar, without having to cut a separate piece for the cap.

Flathead—A cigar in which the head is flat.

Foot—The end of the cigar that you light. Also called the tuck end.

Frog Stripping—The act of hand stripping the lower portion of a stem, leaving approximately one-third to one-half the upper tobacco leaf intact, with two gradually tapering “legs” of leaf on either side, so that it looks like a frog that has been squashed by a truck. This technique is used in the making of long filler cigars.

Frontmark—The name of a cigar’s shape that is printed on the outside of a box. Thus, a “frontmarked cigar” is a boxed cigar of a designated shape.

Full Cut—Same as a guillotine cut.

Fuma—Another name (although not so widely used anymore) for the curly head or pig’s tail of a cigar. It comes from the phrase that came to symbolize the twisted “signature” head of the cigar maker’s smoke: La Fuma de Tabacalera (the smoke of the cigar maker). The name “fuma” stuck.

Galera—Of Cuban derivative: the huge room in a cigar factory where cigars are rolled.

‘Gar—An informal slang term for cigar.

Guayabera—A traditional loose-fitting four-pocket shirt worn by cigar makers throughout the Caribbean. The long sleeved version of the guayabera is considered formal enough to wear to a wedding without a tie.

Half Wheel—Also known as a media ruedas. A bundle of fifty cigars, tied together with a cloth band or a ribbon by the cigar roller and placed on top of his table for inspection. These half wheels are tagged with the cigar roller’s identification and the date they were rolled.

Hand—A hand of tobacco is a group of similar leaves, usually twenty, that have been tied together at the bottom of their stems. A hand of tobacco can measure anywhere from fifteen to twenty-one inches in length.

Handmade—A cigar that has been bunched and rolled entirely by hand.

Handrolled—A cigar in which the wrapper has been rolled onto the bunch by hand. Sometimes loosely used to designate a handmade cigar.

Head—The end of the cigar that is clipped.

Hecho a mano—Spanish for “made by hand,” denoting a handrolled cigar.

Hybrids—Basically, cross-pollinating the characteristics of one type of tobacco with those of another, thus producing a third variety with—hopefully—the best combined characteristics of both.

Homogenized Tobacco—An artificially produced tobacco that is used as a binder and occasionally as wrapper on many lower-priced European cigars as well as in a number of mass-market humidified cigars. Homogenized tobacco is made by mixing powdered tobacco with pure cellulose, fibers, and water to create a pulp, which is pressed into long, thin sheets which are dried and then wrapped in rolls. These rolls of tobacco are subsequently fed into cigar-making machines.

HPH—Highly Prejudiced HackerScale, a system of measuring cigar strength (not quality) on a scale of 1 to 3, with #1 being the mildest and #3 being the strongest.

HTL—Homogenized Tobacco Leaf, an artificial tobacco process now owned by General Cigar.

Keep—British term for a private cigar locker.

La Tabla—See Cutting Board.

Lieberman—A hand-operated bunching device that utilizes a rubber sheet to roll the filler up into the binder. Named after the inventor.

Marble Head—A cigar that has a rounded head.

Marrying Room—See Aging Room.

Mass-Market Cigar—A generic term for a relatively low priced cigar that is made in extremely large quantities by machine.

Miniature Cigars—The term sometimes used for Dutch-type small cigars such as cigarillos, whiffs, etc. Outside Europe, these are often called “dry cigars.”

Mulling—Another term for fermentation, or the aging of tobacco leaves to bring them to color. It has nothing to do with hot, spiced Christmas wine.

Mulling Room—A fermentation or steam room, where the tobacco leaves are allowed to “sweat,” which is what you should be doing in a steam room.

Natural Head—Using an attached part of the wrapper leaf to form the head, without having to cut off a separate piece.

Parejo—A straight-sided, cylindrical shaped cigar, just the opposite of a figurado.

Perfecto—One of the all-time classic shapes: a straight cigar with a reverse flare, or tapered end.

Pig Tail—Same as curly head, in which the tobacco covering the head is twisted at the tip.

Pilones—See Burros.

Plume—The crystallization of oils from the tobacco of a cigar; it takes on the appearance of a light grayish-white dust on the surface of the wrapper. The formation of plume is activated by the dark, moist confines of a humidor over a long period of time. It is not harmful; some even believe it is beneficial to a cigar’s taste. Not to be confused with mold.

Puro—In Havana it means any high-grade export-type cigar, but outside Cuba, the term has come to mean a cigar whose filler, binder, and wrapper are made with tobaccos that are all grown in the same country. For example, a cigar made with 100 percent Honduran tobacco is a puro. It would not be a puro if it had an imported US grown Connecticut wrapper.

Premium Cigar—A generic term for a high-grade, 100 percent tobacco, long filler, handmade cigar.

Priming—The different levels of leaves of a tobacco plant. The lowest primings are the mildest tobaccos, while the top primings contain the strongest flavors. “Priming” is also used to describe the act of harvesting these leaves off a tobacco plant.

Private Label Cigar—A cigar that is made for just one company and which is sold exclusively by them.

Pyramid—A cigar that gradually goes from a very narrow ring size at the head and flares out to a large foot. Often incorrectly referred to as a “torpedo,” which it is not.

Ring Gauge—A unit of measurement divided into 1/64ths of an inch, and used to calibrate the diameter of a cigar. Thus, a cigar that is a 32 ring is 32/64ths of an inch, or ½ inch thick.

Rueda—The same as a wheel (see below).

Sandwich Filler—A technique in which the filler is composed of “chopped” short leaf tobacco, which is rolled in long leaf outer filler leaves. Sounds more like a burrito than a sandwich.

Scrap Filler—The leftover tobacco cuttings used in the manufacture of inexpensive cigars. Not to be confused with short filler, which can be smaller cuts of premium long filler leaves, so that cigars can be machine made for economy.

Serones—A bag made of woven Cana palm tree leaves and used to transport dried tobacco from the fields. Each serone is filled with roughly sixty kilos (about 103 pounds) of tobacco.

Shaded—A term used to describe the sorting out of cigars by color, prior to boxing.

Smokeasies—A derivative of the old American Prohibition “speakeasy,” where illegal (at the time) liquor was served, but in this case, it is term originally coined by the author to generically describe any room or facility that caters strictly to cigar smokers, permitting them to light up and relax without incurring the wrathful glares of less-sophisticated individuals.

Smokers—The term loosely applied to a “cigar smoking event.” It can be a dinner, or a cognac or whisky and cigar-tasting event combined, or simply a randomly scheduled gathering where people from all walks of life get together to smoke a cigar, without regard to race, creed, religion or politics. There aren’t many other conclaves that are so broadly open to humanity as this one pastime.

Sticks—A semi-slang term for cigars, used among manufacturers and distributors when describing the number of cigars they want, as in, “Send me one hundred sticks of your new Hondurans.”

Stogy—A long thin, inexpensive cigar, often with a twisted end. Originally invented about 1827 by a US tobacco merchant named George W. Black in Washington, Pennsylvania, as an inexpensive smoke for the teamsters and settlers heading west. Because it was believed they looked like the spokes of a Conestoga wagon wheel, frontiersmen began referring to these cigars as “Conestogas,” then “Conestogies,” and finally the name was shortened to “stogy.” Today, this term is often used incorrectly to refer to any cigar, no matter what the shape or price or in what direction of the country the smoker may be heading.

Straight Cigar—A cigar with the same ring size running throughout the length of its body or cañon.

Super Premium—Not a gasoline, but definitely a high-octane cigar. Normally priced substantially higher than even the premiums, and relying on image as well as good tobacco.

Tercios—An almost air-tight wrapping made of palm fronds that completely encloses a bale of tobacco, thereby intensifying the fermentation process and bringing out more of the tobacco’s natural oils. Originally a Cuban technique, but now practiced in other countries as well.

Toothy—This has nothing to do with the dentist. Rather, it is a term to describe the mini-bumps on a cigar wrapper that gives it a rough texture.

Torcedor—Cuban term for a cigar roller. It means “one who twists” but is used almost exclusively for cigar making.

Torpedo—A cigar in which the body flares (widens) and then narrows near the tuck where it is to be lit.

Tuck—The end of the cigar that is lit. Also known as the foot.

Tuck Cutter—A grooved wooden trough with a spring-loaded slicing blade at one end that determines the length of the cigar.

Tunneling—The unwanted phenomenon of having a cigar burn unevenly down just one side of the wrapper, resulting in a hot draw and a bitter taste. Tunneling is usually caused by improperly fermented tobacco, or a cigar that has not been humidified correctly. Once it starts, it is hard to stop, and I usually recommend starting over with a new cigar.

Vega—Another word for “plantation.”

Wheel—A rounded bundle of 100 cigars, tied by the cigar roller using a cloth band or a ribbon.

Whiff—A Dutch-type cigar that is smaller than a cigarillo.

Wrap Box—This has nothing to do with music. It is a relatively inexpensive cardboard or plywood box for mass-market cigars, in which a series of large labels are used to cover the entire box. Do not confuse this with the more artistic dress box, in which a number of individual border strippings and labels are put on manually for the more expensive handmade premium cigars.

Wrapper—The outer leaf of a cigar that is rolled around the binder.

XL—The designation for a tobacco leaf that is broken or cracked. Not used in Cuba, where the number 17 designates a broken leaf.

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