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Cigar 101: Terminology And Selection
Like any hobby, cigar smoking has its own special lingo. This can make cigar shopping intimidating for new smokers, or even for longtime but occasional indulgers. But pull up a chair - it doesn't take long to learn to learn the important terms that will put you at ease when talking with experienced smokers, or help you out at your favorite smoking bar.
One outward characteristic of cigars is the exterior wrapper color - an obvious identity marker that enables smokers to recognize their favorites at a glance. Wrapper color is associated with the kind of tobacco used, and also with cigar flavor, with the color of the wrapper generally implying the opposite of what it would mean for beer taste: lighter cigars tend to taste dry, while darker wrappers have a sweet tinge. The colors run from green to black, but here's a basic rundown:
Double Claro cigars, also known as "American Market Selection" (AMS) or "Candela" wrapper cigars, are green, dry-tasting, and generally hard to find today. Claro wrappers are light tan in color, also drier-tasting, and frequently use tobacco grown either in Connecticut or - oddly enough - tobacco from Connecticut seeds planted in Ecuador, while Colorado Claro, medium brown, uses tobacco grown in many countries.
Colorado wrappers are reddish - as the state was, according to post-election maps in 2000 and 2004. Colorado Maduro wrappers are slightly darker than Colorado Claro and are used, most of the time, to wrap African tobacco, or with tobacco grown from Havana seeds in Honduras or Nicaragua.
For a long time the darkest commercially-available wrappers of all were Maduro wrapper cigars, which use tobacco grown in Connecticut, Mexico, Nicaragua and Brazil; cigars at this end of the color spectrum tend to taste fairly sweet. Recently Oscuro-wrapper cigars - entirely black and also sweetish - have appeared on the market again after nearly disappearing during the 1990s.
Cigar sizes and shapes also have their own particular terminology. There are too many gradations to cover here, but cigars basically run a gamut from tiny cigarillos to panatelas (available in small, slim, short and long variations) to medium-sized coronas (ca. 6-7 inches long) to, at the larger end, popular Churchills (seven inches long and very thick), double coronas (slightly bigger than Churchills) and giants (nine inches long). The size has no relationship to taste; it does have implications for overall smoking experience. (Cigarillos are like a pop song, quick and light, while you can get lost in a Churchill as you would in a classic album.)
The shape of a cigar may seem like a fairly straightforward matter - literally. But specially-shaped cigars have gained in popularity in the last few years, including the Culebra (Spanish for "snake," so named because it's made of three small cigars twisted together into a snake shape), the Perfecto (with two tapered ends), and the Torpedo (a fat straight cigar with a pointed head). For shorter, thicker cigars, the name Rothschild or (though this is a misspelling) Rothchild was used for many years, in honor of the famous German banking family, but increasingly cigar manufacturers are renaming these stubby cigars Robustos. Adding to the confusion, some manufacturers use both names, labeling 5-5 1/2-inch 50-ring models "Robustos" and slightly shorter, same-width cigars "Rothschild"!
With these basic distinctions mastered, you can walk into a cigar shop and order a specialty cigar with confidence. But what helps most is experience. You can consult cigar specialty magazines for further information, and to keep up with the taste ratings of new cigars which will give you some idea what characteristics are most important to you.
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