That cigars are now “in” is beyond question. Cigar dinners have become as popular as wine tastings. Fromm North America to the Middle East, cigar clubs are opening at an unprecedented pace, an increasing number of restaurants now boast cigar menus and just about everybody, whether they smoke $1 cigars or $70 dollar cigars, is talking about them.
Like wine, cigars also have their own language and in addition to being familiar with their country of origin, the type of tobacco used and the method of rolling the cigar, true aficionados must also be able to evaluate cigars based on their weight, body, aroma, smoothness and balance. More than this, the special language of cigars includes a large variety of names and numbers. The true aficionado must realize, for example, that in order to be categorized as a “Churchill”, a cigar must be between 16.75 and 17.80 centimeters long and must have a thickness or “gauge” of between 47 and 50 (which in every day language translates to 1.70-1.75 centimeters). And thanks largely to the popular magazine “Cigar Aficionado:, cigars now have their own rating scale (95-100 – classic; 90-94 – outstanding; 80-89 – good to excellent; 70-79 – average to good commercial quality; under 70 – don’t waste your money).
In fact, the language used in evaluating cigars is no more or less poetic than those applied to wines. The “Cigar Aficionado” for example, writes that the top rated Churchill cigar of the world, which is produced by Cuban company Romeo Y Julieta is: “an outstanding cigar that is dominated by chocolate and coffee flavors, has a full-flavored finish and lots of spices”. The Churchill of another cigar-maker, Cohiba, was described as “elegant, with a tendency toward a light draw, but filled with perfectly balanced mild flavors of coffee and nuts and an overall flowery character”.
Many will also learn how to gain maximum pleasure from their cigars. One must, for example, master the art of placing a cigar alongside the ear, and then rolling it between three (never two or four) fingers in order to uses the senses of touch and hearing to determine its solidity, texture and humidity content. In order to gain a first impression of the quality of the tobacco, the cigar must then be sniffed. Only then can the cigar be lit and can one reach a final evaluation, determined by whether the cigar has a good taste, undertones of fruits or flowers, a pleasing finish and whether it burns too quickly or too hot.
The health ruse
In many countries, cigars, like cigarettes, must display a government warning against the dangers of smoking. Cigar smokers say that this is unfair. Their claim that cigar smoking is less hazardous to the health than cigarettes, based primarily on the fact that very few cigar smokers inhale when they smoke, thus exposing them to practically no danger of lung cancer. Cigar lovers do not, however, like to cite the statistics of the Surgeon General of the U.S. or of the Ministries of Health in France, Holland and England, all of which claim that cigar smokers are far likelier to develop cancer of the lips, mouth and upper palate than non-smokers.
The dark side of the trade
One of the basic rules of Roman law was caveat emptor, let the buyer beware. For more than 30 years there has been nothing easier than buying counterfeit Rolex watches, Chanel perfumes, and Christian Dior scarves for men and women. The latest sport in counterfeiting and stealing from unsuspecting buyers is in the field of cigars, many producers in the Dominican Republic now specializing in producing cigars that they call Cohibas but that have nothing in common whatever with the superb cigars of that Cuban brand. Here are some guidelines that may prove helpful in avoiding throwing your money away on second rate cigars.
First, it is important to know that genuine Cohibas come in two series – the Classic line that include their Lancero, Coronas Especial and Robusto cigars and the Siglo series of Siglo I, II, III, IV and V. Both styles are available in cedar wood boxes containing 25 cigars. If you should find Cohibas sold in white, paper-wrapped boxes, avoid them, for the company stopped that style of wrapping 15 years ago.
Be aware that Lancero and Coronos Especial cigars are also available in orange and blue printed cardboard cartons. Inside each carton are five cigars, each in its own box. Check each box and make sure that the Cohiba name is printed – correctly – near the top. Some counterfeiters seem careless over spelling, some even print the label upside down.
Another important test is to look at the cap of the cigar. The men who put on the tobacco that caps a genuine Cohiba are artists and the caps of genuine Cohibas are without faults. The caps of the counterfeits are often wrinkled, have a somewhat “off” color and are sometimes not at all tight fitting.
As to flavor, aroma, and the pleasure of the cigar, there is a problem, because if you are smoking a counterfeit you have probably already paid for the box. Genuine Cohibas are extraordinarily rich, tend to be full bodied, draw comfortably and have full flavors of tobacco, cedar wood, chocolate, coffee, spices and herbs. The counterfeits, on the other hand, are mediocre cigars at best, tending to draw either too hard or too easily, far too hot as they smoke, and lacking any finesse at all. The counterfeits can be bought at remarkably reasonable prices. Alas, comparing them to genuine Cohiba cigars is akin to comparing the wines of Romanee-Conti to those made on the Greek island of Samos. If you have never tasted a Samos wine, consider yourself fortunate.