October 12, 1492, Columbus landed in the New World and, according to his log,
was welcomed by natives who brought gifts, including "certain dried leaves
which gave off a distinct fragrance. But Columbus was looking for gold,
not potpourri, and the aromatic leaves were unceremoniously
tossed overboard. Poor Chris just couldnt get a break; not only had
he missed India by more than 10,000 miles, but if he had foreseen the promise
of that modest handful of leaves, he might not have died in poverty 14 years
Later Spanish adventurers observed the natives wrapping dried tobacco leaves in palm fronds. Then¡Dios mio! they set fire to the damn thing and drank the smoke from the other end! The first Spaniard to bring this peculiar practice back to Europe, Rodrigo de Jerez, was imprisoned by the Inquisition for witchcraft when neighbors observed him with smoke billowing from his mouth and nostrils.
Still, this new world vice took the old world by storm and in less than 100 years. tobacco was being cultivated in plantations from Cuba to Maryland. However, what was true then is still true todayfor a good cigar, you need good leaves, and the best tobacco leaf tends to come from Latin climes. For comparison purposes only we offer the following gross generalities.
Mexican cigars like Te-Amo tend to be mild but spicy, even peppery. Nicaraguan cigars such as Padrón offer a rich, dark sweetness with subtle spices in medium to full body. Cigars of the Dominican Republic, such as Arturo Fuente, traditionally feature mild to medium body with flavors of wood and leather. Jamaica often provides a tinge of nuts or coffee in milder cigars like Macanudo. Honduran cigars like Hoyo de Monterrey may be characterized by medium to full body with undertones of cocoa, nuts and spice. Finally, the best Cuban cigars such as Cohiba are known to smokers the world over for full-body, yet smooth and spicy flavor. Importation of cuban cigars was made illegal in the U.S. in 1963 (but according to Pierre Salinger, not before JFK had him obtain over a thousand Cuban Upmanns for the presidential stash).
asically a cigar
is just a tube made of leaves, but the quality of those leaves and the size
and shape of that tube (called the vitola) make for an exciting variety of smoking experiences.
Cigars are measured by length in inches or millimeters, and width, designated
by the ring gauge, which represents the diameter in 64ths of an inch.
And in this case, size does matter. Generally, the thicker the ring gauge,
the more complex the flavor; the longer the cigar, the cooler the smoke and
the longer it may be enjoyed.
Like all good things, a cigar has a beginning, middle, and end. The foot is the open end of the cigar that is lit, the middle section of the cigar is called the barrel, and the closed end that is clipped and smoked is known as the head, and is usually finished with a cap, a small oval leaf that closes the head of the cigar. (A cigar should never be clipped below the cap or it may unravel during smoking.) The shape of a cigar is divided into two basic categories: parejo, the most typical shape with straight sides and rounded head, and figurado, cigars that have a more distinctive shape, such as piramides and torpedos with tapered, pointy heads and perfectos which are tapered at both ends and bulge slightly in the middle.
Handmade cigars are created by a cigar roller (or torcedor), an old-world craftsman who assembles the following three different categories of leaf to painstakingly create each single cigar. (Special thanks to La Gloria Cubana in Miami, for letting me wander around their rolling tables with my little Nikon.)
F I L L E R (or tripa) - First, the roller creates a "bunch," a handful of filler leaves comprising
the heart of the cigar. A good bunch
is crucial: a loose fill will burn too quickly and unevenly, a tight fill
will make it difficult for the smoker to "draw" smoke from the cigar.
B I N D E R (or capote) - The bunched filler is then rolled in a smooth, supple leaf called the "binder," forming the rough size and shape of the cigar, which is pressed in a wooden mold for about an hour before returning to the roller's table for the final step.
W R A P P E R (or capa) - After pressing, the cigars are removed from the molds and "wrapper" leaf is carefully rolled diagonally around the bunch and trimmed with the chaveta, a sickle-shaped blade. Wrapper leaves are selected for flavor, appearance and five main categories of color: oscuro, very dark, almost black; maduro, dark brown, colorado, (or rosado), a reddish brown; natural, tan to light brown; claro, very pale tan; and a rare greenish wrapper called Candela.)
A Sample of Popular Brands
There are literally hundreds
of brands of cigars on the market catering to almost every taste and pocketbook. Below are just six of the more popular brands, each originating
from different countries, each possessing their own distinct flavor
and strength characteristics.
Written, designed, illustrated & photographed by Overton Design