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Cigars are an organic, handmade product, just like wine. Tobacco, just like grapes is susceptible to and influenced by soil, climate and weather. Premium cigars are hand-made, which adds another variable into the mix. All of these variables make it challenging to maintain consistency. The successful name brand cigars, that have been around for years owe part of their success to maintaining consistency in the quality and flavor of their cigars. This is why it is important for youto choose one of the major name brand cigars to make sure you have a good first experience. You can take risks later.

If this is the first time you are smoking a cigar, I recommend going to a specialty cigar retailer so you can see, touch and feel the cigar before you buy it. After you get accustomed to the different varieties and brands, then you can be safe purchasing cigars on the Internet, as well as from brick & mortar stores.

There are hundreds of different cigar brands, and different cigar lines within those brands. There are different cigars within the product lines. How do you make the right selection from the thousands of cigars that are available? Let’s consider the aspects of name brand, body or flavor, and construction, and then I will give you some specific recommendations.

“Body” refers to the taste, and how strong it is. For example, a light-bodied cigar could be compared to drinking tea with cream and sugar. A medium-bodied cigar could be compared to coffee with cream and sugar. A full-bodied cigar would be like black espresso. Keep in mind that these comparisons are to give you a rough idea. Even if you like to drink black espresso, I still recommend that beginners start with a light-bodied cigar.

The “Foot” is the part you light. Use wooden matches or a regular disposable lighter.

For a better burn and flavor, you first “toast” the foot. I hold the cigar vertical, just like in the picture above, and hold the flame just far enough away so it does not touch the foot of the cigar. I rotate the cigar and swirl the flame. The heat will start to make the foot have glowing embers. When you have glowing embers and smoke coming off the cigar, remove the flame and gently blow out through the cigar. Then puff the cigar and put the flame back to it to finish lighting.

Since we are looking at well-known name brands, the construction should be good. However, this is a hand-made product and people are not perfect. A cigars roller might have a bad day. When choosing your cigar, hold it in your hand and lightly, carefully squeeze it in different areas to make sure there are no soft spots. A soft spot means it’s not rolled correctly and it will not burn properly.

The “Cap” is the small piece of tobacco that closes off one end of the cigar. It makes the cigar look better, prevents the wrapper from unraveling, and gives the cigar a better feel in your mouth. The first step in preparing your cigar to smoke is to “open” the cap. You will need a cigar cutter or a punch. I recommend buying a cutter as a punch won’t work with pointed caps found on some cigars. If you really want to be on the safe side, ask the tobacconist to clip the cigar for you and watch how he does it. When you clip the cap, instead of thinking like you are cutting it off, think that you are “opening” the cigar. You should not cut the entire cap off or the cigar will unravel. You just need to open a little air hole.

Important: You do not inhale the smoke into your lungs like a cigarette. You pull it into your mouth to taste it and then blow the smoke out of your mouth. A cigar is often accompanied by a drink. The top winners in our poll on the subject of drink accompaniments are scotch, coffee and beer. A coffee martini goes well, and rum is one of my personal favorites too.

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