Cigar Basics

Cigars are made of natural tobacco, gaining their flavor from the soil, sun, blending, and aging process. There is a great art and tradition to growing, blending, and rolling tobacco.

With the factors of making a cigar to consider, the numerous options result in a selection of all styles of characteristics in flavor and body- as much as any food or spirit. The ring gauge of a cigar contributes to the blend as well. A smaller ring gauge can intensify the flavor and concentrates on a higher ratio of wrapper to filler. A larger ring gauge gives the filler an opportunity to give a stronger role, with more surface area for the draw. Many cigars are blended and rolled with the end result of the ring gauge in mind, making the size of the cigar a unique experience of how the blend is enjoyed.

Color does not determine strength, nor does size.

WRAPPER: The wrapper is the outer shell of the cigar. This is the tobacco leaf you see as you hold the cigar, and the outer leaf you will have in your mouth as you smoke. This leaf is generally appealing to the eye, and is cared for to be at its best presentation.

BINDER: The binder is what wraps the filler of the cigar, it is found between the wrapper and the filler. The binder’s purpose is to keep the filler in place, and since it is not seen it does not have to be a flawless leaf (which is more so what the wrapper will be). The binder is rolled with the filler creating your cigar shape. It is then rolled with the wrapper and finished with a single or triple cap. The binder also serves in maintaining a proper burn as you smoke your cigar- bringing together the wrapper and filler tobaccos.

FILLER: The filler is the tobacco that makes up the meat of the cigar. The filler can consist of tobacco from one or many regions. Filler can be “short” or “long” filler. Your finer hand made quality cigars will consist of “long filler” – meaning leaves that are long similar to the length of the cigar. Short filler refers to filler that is broken, chopped up, and short in length. Short filler generally gives an uneven inconsistent burn and creates a different flavor of the blend. Since the leaves are not fully intact, short filler is much less expensive.

CAP: The cap is what keeps everything in place- it is the reason your cigar does not unravel as you smoke. Some cigars have a single cap, others have a triple cap (a Cuban tradition). A “pigtail” is another option you will see as well, where tobacco is twisted into a little pigtail so to speak. This is also a traditional method.

You will see the end of your cap by looking for the little line where that tobacco ends. You never want to cut past this line and into the shoulder, doing so will cause your cigar to fall apart.


When cutting a cigar you want to be sure you are using a sharp, clean tool. A dull blade will cause the tobacco to tear, and a dirty blade is not something you want to contaminate your cigar with, after all this is a tasting experience.

When you are making your cut, it is best to make a small cut as you can always take more away. There are many options of the cut- from the classic guillotine, punch, v-cut, to even doing so with the teeth or nails. Using a tool is best to maintain a consistent clean cut, use the option that you are most comfortable with and most enjoy in the end resulting draw of your cigar.


Wooden matches or a butane lighter are to be used. Lighting cedar is another option, however it must be lit with one of the previously mentioned methods. If using a wooden match, give the flame a moment to move past the sulfur as this is not something you will want to draw into the tobacco.

When lighting, hold the cigar at a 45 degree angle and toast the cigar above the flame. Heat rises and there is no need to drench the cigar into the flame. Let it sit above the flame and get an even comfortable heat. Scorching the cigar is not a flavor you want to invite to the tobacco. A nice even flame/heat will give you the best experience, as well as help you maintain an even burn.

You may either light the cigar from the flame itself (if you turn the foot of the cigar towards you and blow on it, you will see the red of where the heat is and how complete or incomplete your cigar is lit), or you can toast and then place the cigar in your mouth as you draw from the flame below until your cigar is fully lit.


View the lessons I’ve learned on my travels to the cigar factories and fields in Nicaragua and Honduras. Watch videos of the cigar making process and get to discover more about the culture.