Once you have selected your cigar, you will need to cut the closed end. All Havanas have
a double cap over the head end - this end goes in your mouth. If you attempt to smoke
a cigar the other way around, you will find that half way through it will unravel
and take on the appearance of an exploded stick. There are a number of ways of
cutting the cap, ranging from the use of a thumb-nail, to portable guillotine
cutters (both single and double bladed - see 'Accessories'), from cheap to expensive,
to the more exotic cigar scissors and table-top cutters. The cut should be clean
and level, or there will be difficulties with the draw and a risk of damaging the
wrapper. Cut the cigar so that an eighth of an inch of the cap is left around the
cigar wrapper. It is not recommended that you pierce the cap with a pin, as this
will interfere with the passage of smoke, make the cigar overheat and lead to
unpleasant flavours from residues condensing at the point the cap was pierced. Cap
hole-punching devices do work well as long as the diameter of the punch is at least
a quarter of an inch. Wedge-shaped cutters are also not recommended, as these have
a tendency to cut through all of the band on either side and the cigar wrapper can
then unravel. Whatever you use, make sure it is sharp, and that you expose enough of
the filler leaves under the cap to allow the smoke uninterrupted passage.
When you light a cigar, use either a butane lighter (not one filled with gasoline)
or a match. Anything else, such as using a candle, will tend to taint the flavour
of the cigar, and will ultimately impede the passage of smoke through the cigar
with particles from the flame. Avoid matches with high sulphur or wax contact
(don't use paper matches). Take time and care to light the cigar.
First, hold the cigar horizontally in direct contact with the flame, and slowly
revolve it until the end is charred evenly over its entire surface.
Put the cigar between your lips, hold the flame about half an inch away from
the end, and draw slowly while rotating the cigar. Its end should now ignite.
Ensure an even burn has taken hold.
Gently blow on the burning end to make sure the cigar is fully lit.
Unlike cigarettes, cigars will naturally go out if left unattended. If your
cigar goes out, don't worry. Remove any ash clinging to the previously lit
end by tapping the cigar. Blow through the cigar to clear away any stale smoke.
Re-light as previously described above. As long as the cigar has not been out
for too long, the flavour will not be unduly affected. Continuous re-lighting of
cigars will affect the flavour, and if a cigar is allowed to cool, then on
re-lighting the tastes can become quite tainted and unpleasant (due to condensation
of the smoke in the remaining part of the cigar).
Cigars are made from long filler tobacco leaves (another difference to cigarettes
and machine made cigars). This means that the ash on the cigar, if it is a good one,
should not fall off the moment it appears. There is no particular merit in keeping
a long ash on a cigar, but neither is there any need to continually tap it to
remove any excess ash. In assessing the quality of construction of your cigar, a
long solid cylinder of ash is a good sign.
There is no need to warm the length of the cigar before smoking it. This was done
in the nineteenth century to burn off the rather unpleasant gum used on some cigars
made in Seville. Today's handmade Cuban cigars use a small drop of flavourless,
odourless vegetable gum at the cap end of the wrapper leaf.