How to smoke a cigar like a ‘Master of Habanos’

Ready your cigar cutters, reach for your matches and get ready to relax. This is the definitive guide to smoking a cigar...

Nothing else puffs with the pomp and ceremony of smoking of a fine cigar. A tobacco-stuffed staple of gentlemen’s lives since cigars first hit British shores, esteemed individuals from Winston Churchill to King Edward VII have been known to have a soft spot for a stogie. Even James Bond flamed up his fair share of fictional cigars.

But, just as you would never serve a Saint-Émilion from the fridge, or sully an aged single malt with ice cubes, there are certain steadfast rules to follow when it comes to smoking a cigar. That’s why Gentleman’s Journal headed down to The Connaught Cigar Merchants, an oak-clad and utterly private smoking space in the heart of Mayfair.

From mysterious marques, wrapped in intrigue, to the definitive Cuban cigars rolled for Fidel Castro himself, the destination is run by Head of Cigars, Adam Lajca – one of only 33 Masters of Havana Cigars in the world. “Relax,” he says, beginning us on a rich, smoky journey. “Don’t rush — and let your cigar sommelier take you through the experience…”

#1: Choose your cigar depending on the time you have

Whether you’re a seasoned smoker, or a newcomer to the wonderful world of cigars, choosing each stogie you smoke is a deeply personal decision. Something light, like a short ‘Rafael Gonzalez Perla’, would be ideal as a first cigar, thanks to its delicate, creamy profile. But something longer, such as a ‘Partagas Lusitania’, is a spicier, more velvety option — if you have time…

“One of the main questions I’m asked,” says Lajca, “would be; how much time do I have and what strength of the cigar do I want to enjoy? Towards the end of smoking a cigar, you’ll usually notice more pronounced flavours. It’s like a three-course meal. And that’s why it’s very important to choose a cigar that’s suited to how much time you have — you don’t want to skip dessert”.

#2: Ensure that your cigar was properly stored

You could select the best cigar in the world — but if it hasn’t been properly stored, it’ll smoke badly. “Cigars have to be kept at the correct temperature and humidity to make sure that aromas and flavours develop in correct way,” says Lajca.

And this means you must check. Look for any indication that your cigar has been kept in too dry an environment, such as damage to the wrapper, or if the cigar is rock hard to the touch. For a perfect smoke, your cigar should have been stored at 65% to 70% humidity and between 17 to 23 degrees celsius.

#3: There’s no right or wrong when it comes to cutting

“The cut of your cigar is a very personal thing,” explains Lajca. “Therefore, there is no right or wrong. Most common will be straight cut, because this allows more air to travel through cigar — which will give you a better draw”.

But there are other cuts; including ‘Punch’ and ‘V-Cut’. And your choice comes down to personal preference. Although Lajca reiterates — using a guillotine – or ‘straight’ cutter is the most versatile way to create an aperture to draw your smoke through. Simple and effective, it will suit all shapes of cigar.

#4: Your method of lighting again depends on time

No single part of the process of enjoying a cigar should be rushed, but the lighting should be the slowest. Firstly the foot – furthest from the cap – should be toasted gently in the edges of the flame, whilst rotating the cigar in the fingers. The edges of the foot are of great importance as they must be lit evenly and with precision. 

As for tools, Lajca tells us that “matches or cedar spills are the classic ways. And, if you enjoy the long process of lighting and you the skill to control these flames, it may be the most enjoyable way. But the most effective and accurate way to light your cigar will be by using a torch lighter”.

#5: Proceed with caution — but confidence

Once the foot has been toasted and the edges are smouldering, take a couple of gentle puffs through the cigar whilst holding the match up to the foot. Rotate the cigar with each puff. Once the cigar has been deemed lit, turn the foot of the cigar to face you and blow on it gently.

If there are any dark patches on the foot, continue to gently puff through the cigar while lighting with a match or lighter. Once complete, make sure to give your cigar a moment to cool down, as all this fire can make the foot burn at too high a temperature and create a bitter finish.

 #6: Learn what drink pairs best with your specific cigar

At The Connaught Cigar Merchants, there are countless hand-picked spirits — each chosen to elevate the cigar-smoking experience. From a vintage Karuizawa 1972 to the specially created Connaught Scotch, there are plenty of whiskies on offer, as well as a delectable Darroze x The Connaught Cigar Merchants Armagnac and a dynamite Rum Old Fashioned. 

“There are endless options,” says Lajca, “and almost any drink here can be paired with its most suitable cigar. One of my favourite drinks pairings is Champagne [of which The Connaught Cigar Merchants has many prime bottles, from Louis Roederer Collection 242 to the 170ème Édition of Krug Grande Cuvée]”.

#7: Always smoke your cigar in one sitting

A cigar should never be stubbed out and saved for later – the cold, stale smoke and moisture from the previous smoke will taste vile once relit and the act is disrespecting the cigars themselves.

“I wouldn’t go as far as stubbing,” says Lacja. “Instead, let cigar to rest on the ashtray for ten minutes if you want a break. I would always encourage to smoke cigar during one sitting”.

Want more cigar etiquette? Here’s why every self-discerning cigar smoker should own a smoking jacket…

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