With wisps of smoke, sweet hints of leather and wood, and a warm feeling in the air, cigars offer novices and professionals alike an alluring smoking experience. But if you’ve never chosen your own cigar, their endless combinations of flavors, wrappers, and colors can seem intimidating.
We’ve assembled a basic introduction to cigars that covers their varied shapes, sizes, and colors so you can start your cigar-smoking journey off on the right foot.
The Anatomy of a Cigar
Made to be smoked, cigars are dried and fermented tobacco leaves that are cut and then rolled into a specific shape. Every cigar consists of three parts: wrapper, binder, and filler. The wrapper is the part of the cigar that you see— the outer layer of tobacco leaf. Cigar blenders (someone who crafts the flavor blends of a cigar) consider this to be the most important leaf because of its significant contribution to the look and flavor of a cigar.
Directly beneath the wrapper is the binder, the dense tobacco leaf that binds the filler tobaccos together. The filler tobacco leaves are considered the “guts” of the cigar and have to be expertly bunched so it will burn and draw nicely while smoking. The end of the cigar that we light is called the “foot” and the other end, where we cut the cigar and draw in the smoke, is called the “head” or “cap.”
Types of Cigars
Cigars are described by their shape, size, and color. The length and shape are referred to as the cigar’s “Vitola.” Cigars are measured in two different ways: length, in inches, and “ring gauge,” which is a cigar’s diameter measured by 1/64ths of an inch. For example, a 50-ring gauge cigar is 50/64 of an inch in diameter. You can choose your cigar size based on how long you’d like to smoke it, but a cigar’s size does not necessarily determine its strength— that is based on what tobacco leaves are used.
The second way cigars are differentiated is by their shape. There are two main, distinct cigar shapes: Parejos and Figurados. Parejos are straight, cylindrical, and typically have an “open foot”, which means one side isn’t enclosed by the outer tobacco leaf. These are what you might imagine a traditional cigar looks like. Box-pressed cigars, which have flat sizes, are also a type of Parajo because they’re still straight and uniform.
Figurados are distinguished by their irregular sides and/or shape. You may find Figurados with sharply tapered ends, torpedo-like bodies, or that come to a thick end like a pyramid. Different shapes affect your smoking experience and can change the flavors of your smoke as you go.
More Than A Color
The color of the tobacco leaf wrapper can range from light green and yellow hues to reddish or even black. Each color requires specific processing, drying, and fermentation methods to achieve the desired shades. The color of your cigar may also indicate its flavor profile. Dark cigars tend to be richer and have notes of coffee, earth, or even lean on the sweeter side with notes of chocolate. In contrast, lighter-colored cigars usually gravitate towards nutty, woody, or floral profiles. The vast array of cigars and the different types of tobacco used to blend them can offer an exciting variety of potential experiences.
At the end of the day…
It’s great to know what you’re looking for in a cigar-smoking experience, but enjoying a cigar doesn’t have to include a daunting process of memorizing terms, shapes, or colors. As you explore and continue to learn, these will come naturally but in the meantime, take it one cigar at a time— bask in the aroma, relish the flavors, and enjoy the journey.
Certified Cigar Sommelier
Chaloner & Co. employee