Cigar connoisseurs buy when they fly ....
Winston Churchill. John F. Kennedy. Madonna. Che Guevara. What do these iconic figures all have in common? Their love for a finely handcrafted cigar • that instantly recognisable symbol of prestige, class and the good life.
A bit of wordplay to get us started. The word cigar comes from the Mayan-Indian word sikar, meaning the smoking of rolled tobacco leaves. With the Spanish influence this morphed into cigarro, which is more closely related to the terms we use today; cigar and cigarette.
Cigar tobacco is grown across the globe, from Brazil and Cuba to Indonesia and the Eastern USA. Thankfully, the market-leading cigars this high quality tobacco produces are also available to the discerning connoisseur, thanks to the tax and duty free stores at airports worldwide.
The market has come a long way since the 1400s, when Christopher Columbus is widely credited to have discovered and introduced the product to Europe. Today’s bestselling and most widely available cigar brands include Macanudo, Arturo Fuente, H. Upmann and Ashton (all from the Dominican Republic); Partagas, Cohiba Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo (Cuba); and CAO (Nicaragua).
Within each brand there are many levels of quality, from the everyday variety to the super-premium, ‘births, marriages and deaths’ only rarefied smoking experience. The upper echelons of the cigar world are occupied by such brands as Davidoff, Agio, Habanos and Villiger. Some take cigar smoking very seriously indeed • take a look at Rudyard Kipling’s wry poem The Betrothed to see just how indispensable the practice was to him…
When seeking to buy premium cigars, one must definitely account for taste. A cigar’s outside leaves (or wrapper), come from the widest part of the plant and determines much of its flavour. With such an important role, the wrapper colour is often used to describe the style of the cigar itself. Airport tax and duty free retail staff will be able to advise as to which type of cigar might best suit your unique tastes.
The most common classifications, from the very lightest to the rich, almost oily darkest, are: Double Claro, Claro, Colorado Claro, Colorado, Colorado Meduro, Meduro and finally Oscuro. A slightly simpler classification is also used which essentially gathers the styles into light, medium and dark is American Market Selection; English Market Selection; and Spanish Market Selection.
Another outwardly defining feature of a cigar is its shape. The cylindrical parejo or corona is the benchmark style with straight sides, one open end and the other end capped by a tobacco leaf which must be sliced off, punched through or notched with a cutter designed for the purpose before smoking. Sizes of corona which relate to both width and length include the Rothschild; Carlota; Panatela; Churchill; Presidente; and Double Gordo.
All premium cigars • such as the limited edition, top-ranking cigars of Davidoff, Upmann, Romeo y Julieta and Cohiba • are still exclusively made by hand. Craftsmen take great pains to keep the tobacco leaves and wrapper moist during the rolling process. Once the cigar is laid out to dry the cigars can be laid down to age like a fine wine, for decades if need be. The optimum temperature is 21°C (70°F) at 70% relative humidity. To maintain your cigars in their ultimate smoking condition, custom-made storage such as a humidor is an absolute must as the loss of tobacco oils will diminish its taste.
Airport duty free gift and tobacco shops and jewellers such as Cartier often carry an excellent range of cigar accessories. These include humidors in varnished cherry and cedar wood finishes; one finger or five finger tubes in stainless steel; and cigar cases in silver, brass or expandable, sturdy leather. Select a case robust enough to protect your cigars, perhaps with individual tubes inside, and avoid strongly-scented leather which can adversely affect your cigar’s delicate flavour.
As heavy smoker and cigar lover Sigmund Freud is rumoured to have said, “Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.” A duty free cigar, however, tastes all the sweeter for it. Welcome to the good life.