There are two easy ways to buy your first cigar; either online or visiting a store or lounge. Now, online shopping has its pros and cons. The biggest pro is convenience, as you can order one at any time and have it delivered to your door. The biggest con is that you don’t get the “shop experience” to choose the type of condition of the cigar or colour of the wrapper, for example.
Shops are usually managed and staffed with cigar lovers (my personal rule is that if they don’t smoke cigars, why are they working in a cigar shop?). In the UK, Cuban cigar distributors Hunters & Frankau have established an excellent qualification called the Masters of Havana Cigars. This has been in operation for around six years now and is aimed at those working in the retail/lounge market. With a pass mark of 75%, there are only about 40 Masters in the UK (yours truly being one of them, but H&F no longer lists me as a Master as I have moved into my own vintage and rare cigars business).
If you enter a shop and see a member of staff wearing a silver “Master of Havana Cigars” lapel badge, then you are in good hands and should trust their advice. There is nothing like the shop experience for me, as being able to select my cigars based on my own guidelines is so satisfying, the price isn’t everything.
Here, we are focusing on the basics of selecting a cigar (the country of origin will be another article). Now, many of you will be saying, “Hold on, isn’t choosing where the cigar comes from the first factor in choosing a cigar?”. To be honest, yes. But, the whole point of this set of articles is to educate a new smoker.
Boring you with information on countries may not entice you to try your first cigar. Of course, when you ask about a cigar, Cuba is the first country you tend to think of. However, cigars are also made in Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, Holland, France, Germany, Indonesia, Philippines and even China, to name a few alternatives. These other countries have produced cigars to fulfill the different tastes in the global cigar market and where Cuba can’t reach. New World producers have developed their own blends and styles which are agreeable to their consumers. In many countries, New World cigar sales have flourished even when Cuban cigars are available.
I tend to think about these things: size/shape, ring gauge, length and time.