Cigars A to Z

The three main components of a fine cigar:

The filler –

The inner core of tobacco, which forms the cigar’s shape and size.

The binder –

A large leaf that is somewhat coarser than the final outer covering.

The wrapper –

Constitutes less than ten per cent of the mass of the fine cigar, but creates that vital initial impression, as it is the part that we see and taste. The wrappers of the finest cigars have a smooth, silky texture coupled with fine thin veins and no blemishes.

Long filler & short filler

Long filler cigars contain half leaves (the central van is removed), which are as long as the cigar itself. Less expensive, machine-made cigars contain short filler tobacco, comprised of shredded or chopped filler leaf or scraps of leaf.

Shapes & sizes

Cigars are measured by length (in inches or millimetres) and ring gauge (i.e. girth, divided into 64ths of an inch or by the millimetre). In 1995, Senor Francisco Linares, president of Habanos s.a., Cuba’s official cigar distributors, visited The Fox Cigar Museum in St James’s Street, where he got the idea of reintroducing the Havana cigar’s original “torpedo” shape, known as “figurado”, i.e. slightly tapered at both ends, a design which was populär until the 1930s, when it temporarily went out of fashion. The result was the Cuba cigar brand, launched in November 1996.

There are countless sizes of fine cigars manufactured around the world, far too many to list here. Cuba alone produces 69 different cigar sizes, 42 of which are for handmade Havanas, each with its own factory name. The best-known sizes are: Churchill (7 inches x47 ring gauge), Double Corona (7 5/8” x 49), Corona (the most popular – 5 1/2” x 42), Lonsdale (6 1/2″ x 42), Tres Petit Corona (4 1/2″ x 40), and Petit Corona (5″ x 42). Sizes vary slightly from one brand, or country, to another.

Strength, flavour & aroma

The strength of fine cigars ranges from mild, mild to medium, medium to full-bodied, to very full-bodied. The flavour of the tobacco leaf itself is influenced enormously by the soil in which it is grown, the climate and humidity. Even the same seed grown in different areas of a country, including Cuba will produce tobacco with different characteristics of taste.

Most experts agree that, in the case of Havanas at least, the bigger the cigar, the better its flavour. Smaller cigars can also be delightful, which is fortunate as there is sometimes a shortage of the larger ring gauges.

Terms commonly used to describe the aroma of fine cigars include aromatic (naturally!), floral, fruity, green, pungent, spicy and woody. A fine cigar can also be described as simple or complex, rich or poor, harsh or smooth, fresh or jaded, lively or dead!

Hand-made Havana cigars

Cubans have been tobacco growers since the 16th Century and today the island produces around 200 million cigars a year, two thirds of which are hand-made and the remainder machine-made. Havanas are exported for the delectation of cigar aficionados around the world. Recently, the global demand for Havanas has outstripped supply.

Of the billion cigars sold annually in the UK, just three million of them originate from Cuba, where the best cigars in the world are made from tobacco grown in Pinar del Rio, due to its ideal climate, rainfall and red loamish earth. Vast tents of white muslin usually protect the fields of young tobacco plants. When the crop is ready, usually in the early part of the year, the leaves are kept in a tobacco barn where they are hung over wooden racks to dry before being sorted into wrappers, binders and filler, depending on which part of the plant they have been picked from.

The actual rolling is done by skilled workers in Havana, who sit in rows at long, narrow work benches, cheerfully working to readings from Cuban newspapers and the world’s classical literature, a tradition begun over a Century ago. Despite the myth (hat all Havanas are rolled on the thighs of beautiful Cuban women, up till the early 1960s all Cuban cigar rollers were men. Today the task is split about 60/40, in favour of women of all ages.

Machine-made Havana cigars

There is a notable difference in the price and quality between Cuba’s hand-made and machine-rolled cigars, although the latter’s mechanised ‘sticks’ can offer consistent quality, even if they tend to be rather uniformly designed and less sophisticated in taste.

Nevertheless, machine-made Havanas are still a fine smoke and some people prefer them to the more demanding hand-rolled Havanas.

Other fine cigars

In recent years there has been a steadily growing demand for non-Cuban quality cigars, especially in London, mainly due to shortages of the larger sizes of Havanas – the result of crop failures and economic Problems in Cuba.

London now offers a much wider choice of fine hand-rolled and machine-rolled cigars, particularly from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Jamaica, some of which almost compare in quality to their Cuban counterparts.

Biting, piercing and cutting

Some smokers, especially the Cubans, bite the ends off the head (uncut end) of their cigars; others pinch off the cap or flag with a fingernail. Most cigar lovers use a sharp (preferably bevelled on both sides so it won’t matter which way round you use it) guillotine type of cutter, leaving a little of the cap to hold the end of the cigar together. It’s important to ensure the hole’s not too small and the filler isn’t compressed, as the cigar is liable to overheat. If the cut is too big or uneven, the end of your cigar may unravel.

You can also use a bullet cutter to remove a small section from the head of your cigar, but this is not recommended for the beginner.

A fairly foolproof method to cut a cigar is to lay the guillotine flat on a table, place the head of your cigar in it like an upright pillar on a stand, and gently but firmly – snip!

The cigar band

The band is the ring of paper wrapped round the cigar near the head (the closed end that you cut off) of a fine cigar and usually printed with the cigar’s brand. Some cigar bands are much sought after. It’s said they were first introduced by Gustavo Bock in the middle of the 19th Century in response to complaints by aristocratic Havana smokers that their cigars were staining and ruining their white gloves. After the turn of the 20th Century, it became the custom for some wealthy Havana smokers to produce cigar bands bearing their portraits, which has since been taken up by companies printing logos on the bands of fine cigars sent out as business gifts.

Unless the band is loose, it is best left on until the cigar has been lit and warmed up. It should then be carefully peeled rather than slid off to avoid damaging the wrapper.


Some experts believe that fine cigars shouldn’t be smoked until two years after they’re made. Most well-made cigars will continue to improve with age for many years if stored properly.

That said, most cigars really 1 3 on the top, divided by a shouldn’t be stored for more than 15 years as they will by then have lost much of their original aroma. Older vintage cigars, such as pre-Castro (pre-1959), if well made and properly stored, may well provide an interesting historical smoke.

Whatever you pay for a vintage cigar there’s no guarantee they are still fit to smoke as it all comes down to luck. The same, of course, applies to fine vintage wines.


The distinctive mixture of different types of tobacco leaves in a cigar that gives it its unique character, including up to four types of filler, the binder and wrapper.


A natural part of the ageing process; the result of oils exuding from the tobacco. It usually appears as a fine whitish powder and can be easily brushed off, unlike bluish- coloured mould which stains the wrapper and spoils a good cigar.


The traditional wooden Container, with a cedar sheet inside, used to package cigars – not to be confused with a humidor.


A wooden box with a sliding top designed to hold 25 or 50 cigars. 8-9-8 is a round-sided box designed to house three rows of cigars – eight on the bottom, nine in the middle and eight on the top, usually tied with a ribbon and covered with special acid-free paper. The flat top, sometimes known as the 1 3-topper, is a flat rectangular box with 12 cigars on the bottom and 1 3 on the top, divided by a wooden spacer.


A circular piece of tobacco leaf placed at the cigar to secure the wrapper; mostly on Havana cigars. Dominican cigars and those from most other countries: are usually secured with a twist of the wrapper which is then gummed onto the uncut end, or tied off as a pigtail, and known as the flag.


A Century ago cigars were enjoyed only at the end of a fine meal, usually in the study or smoking room, leaving the ladies to their own devices. There is now a growing vogue for male and female diners to meet over lunch or dinner where quite often a series of fine cigars are smoked between courses.


Traditionally, gentlemen’s clubs in London and elsewhere always had a smoking room where you could enjoy a fine cigar. Several cigar clubs have opened in Britain’s capital in the last few years, following the introduction of cigar “smokeasies” in North America, as havens for aficionados who wish to mingle with like-minded souls in undisturbed comfort.


The colour (which ranges from light green to darkest brown) of a cigar can affect its taste. For example, darker wrappers indicate a concentration of sugars in the leaf and such cigars often taste sweeter; not bitter, as you would expect. Conversely, a light coloured wrapper usually offers a drier taste.

There are over 65 different shades of Havana cigar wrapper alone. All boxed Havanas are colour matched with the smallest tonal variances, arranged with the darkest cigar to the left and the lightest on the right, and banded by hand at exactly the same height on every cigar. Beware of any box of Havanas containing multi-coloured cigars.


Cigars in good condition should feel firm but springy. If they are too moist they will be soft and spongy; too dry and they become brittle and, eventually, rigid and unsmokeable. They’re best kept in a proper humidor.


A growing number of visitors to Cuba are returning home disappointed with shoddily- made pirate cigars which sometimes contain lumps and holes and even bits of string in them. The only solution to this problem is to avoid counterfeits at all times and only purchase Havanas or other fine cigars from an official, reliable supplier.


The amount of air drawn through a lit cigar. A hot draw is one that is too easy and suggests the cigar has been rolled too lightly and will burn unevenly and more furiously. A plugged draw indicates the tobacco has been rolled too tight, making it difficult if not impossible to smoke. The perfect draw speaks for itself.


The open end of the cigar that you light. With figurado (torpedo-shaped) cigars where both ends are tapered, examine the cigar carefully to find the small aperture, which indicates the foot.


A premium cigar with long filler and a high quality wrapper, made entirely by hand. It’s said that every hand-rolled Havana goes through at least 222 different stages before it is ready to smoke.

HAVANA (Habano in Spanish)

Few places have stamped their name on a product quite äs effectively äs Cuba’s capital has on the world’s finest cigars. A Havana cigar is one made in Cuba only from the finest tobacco grown in the Vuelta Abajo or Partidos regions.


The closed end of a fine cigar, before you cut and light it at the foot. You should always draw on a cigar through the head.


An essential element of the cigar humidor that generates an appropriate level of humidity by releasing moisture, without which a humidor would simply be just another box


A specially crafted box (which can be made from wood, glass, plastic, silver or other material) containing a humidification system that protects and nurtures fine cigars, recreating the humidity of the country in which they are made.


An invaluable device that measures the humidity level in a humidor and reminds cigar smokers to top up the water supply on a regular basis.


Refers to cigars that are made entirely by machine, often from short filler (i.e. chopped pieces of tobacco) instead of long filler (unchopped leaves that are as long as the cigar itself).


Turns fine cigars into soggy, wrinkled remnants. A good enough reason to invest in a hygrometer.


Storing cigars in an airtight bag in a fridge is not recommended, for, at the very least, the cigars will have to be returned to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before you can smoke them. More importantly, the cold will impair the flavour and aroma of a fine cigar. For the best condition, one should keep fine cigars away from extremes of cold or heat in a proper humidor.


The recognised measurement for the diameter of a cigar, based on 64th of an inch. For example, a 48-ring gauge cigar is 48/64ths or two-thirds of an inch thick. The length of a cigar is always measured in inches or millimetres.


High quality wrapper leaves grown under a cheesecloth tarpaulin through which the sun is filtered, creating a thinner, more elastic leaf. The ultimate choice


Blowing smoke rings from a cigar is an ancient art still in vogue in some circles.


Most, thicker robustos and larger ring gauge cigars will last for 45 minutes or longer, depending on how frequently you draw on ; far longer than thinner, shorter cigars.


Another name for a single fine cigar


Wrapper tobacco grown in direct sunlight. Tends to have thicker veins and is coarser than shade-grown.


Some smokers prefer to discard the last third of their cigar as they feel the flavour becomes too concentrated for their palate. Other, stronger palated smokers say this is the part of the cigar that tastes the best.


Cigars that have been allowed to dry out will unravel; as will any cigar whose cap or flag is cut too deep into the main body