Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes and it can be overwhelming for a new smoker to navigate the cigar world. I remember the first time that I stepped through the sliding doors of a musty cigar shop humidor filled with the intense aromas of wood and tobacco. The smell I recall was very appealing and the sight of rows upon rows of cigars filled me with excitement. But to be honest, these amazing feelings were overwhelmed by something even stronger – fear. The sheer variety of the selection was paralyzing. Where do I even start?
And perhaps more importantly, how do I not look like an ignoramus who just entered a cigar shop humidor for the very first time!?
Fortunately, and this has been my undoubted experience ever since, the tobacconist operating the shop was super down to earth and exceedingly helpful in finding a proper cigar for my taste and budget. I mean, these guys do this for a living and they generally know their stuff. And this is important – they get people from all walks of life to visit their shops all week long, including (of course) new cigar smokers. Literally all the time.
So understand that they are there to help you and there is absolutely no shame in being honest that you are a novice cigar smoker looking for guidance in navigating their humidor. They are proud of their collection and will usually help with no judgement.
In fact, a tobacconist that is uppity or unhelpful to people in this situation will not likely be in business very long.
So my point number one is that your tobacconist at the local cigar shop is your new best friend. If he’s not, go find yourself a new tobacco shop that will graciously accept your business and never look back. Fortunately, I don’t expect you will encounter very many lemons (but do let me know in the comments if you have any horror stories of the terrible tobacconist!).
Next, go find yourself a community of interesting people that also like to smoke cigars. I mean, smoking alone can be a perfectly fine and relaxing experience, especially if you plan to focus intently on the flavors and aromas being put out by your stick. Sure, you can have a meditative cigar session (and I very much encourage that). But realize that cigar smoking is by its nature a social endeavor, much like coffee and beer.
You can enjoy a cup of joe or sap a few cold ones by your lonesome, but if we’re being honest, there is really no comparison to engaging conversation at a coffee shop or having a raucous round of drinks with your buddies or gal pals at the bar. Cigars are the same way and it is important to be intentional about building a cigar family. (Yes, it’s a family)
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Not sure where to start? Well, since you are already at the local cigar shop talking to your new best friend, the tobacconist, why not stick around and patronize with some of the regulars? Now is not the time to be shy! You will find some people you disagree with, and others you maybe can’t stand for more than five minutes. That’s fine. Keep at it because you will eventually find a few people you click with and you can build from there.
Don’t forget to talk to people at work. Talk to your brother-in-law about more than just sports or your kids. Whip out your chic portable cigar case with a few sticks that you know a little something about now (thanks to your new friends), and see who bites. Heck, many of these folks are just as curious as you were, and will actually look to you for comfort in exploring the cigar world.
You are not an expert yet, but that’s fine – embrace that role and build your cigar family.
Next my advice is to EXPLORE and build your palate. Gain knowledge and experience with different styles and blends of tobacco. When someone says the filler is Nicaraguan versus Dominican, it should instantly start to evoke different sensations in your mind and on your tongue. How to attain this professorial level of knowledge? There is no secret to it except practice, practice, practice. Fortunately in this case it means smoke, smoke, smoke! Oh, there is one secret I will share with you and it’s this:
Treat every new cigar, no matter how much you paid, as a reverent experience and keep detailed notes in a cigar journal.
This is similar to the way we’ve chosen provide cigar reviews on this site, which is basically by sharing the detailed notes we take during our own cigar sessions (you can download the FREE template HERE).
So my final piece of advice is to get in the habit of cigar journal-ing. Why? For one, it forces you to contemplate the cigar experience – an experience that you must realize was artfully and painstakingly crafted by a professional tobacco blender to evoke a specific sequence of dynamic flavors, aromas, textures, and other characteristics that make each cigar unique. Savor the appearance and craftsmanship. Document what you see, feel, taste, and smell.
Oh, and while you are at it, keep a collection of the cigar bands. While not the masterpiece of a fine cigar, the bands themselves are detailed and often gorgeous, which does play a role in branding and the whole cigar experience. People tend to associate emotionally with brands after a few positive experiences, so the cigar band plays an underappreciated role in that for veteran smokers whether they realize it or not. I mean, if you removed the band from every cigar in your humidor it would be pretty damn hard to tell many of them apart after a while (on surface appearance, that is).
A cigar journal and band collection will remind you of places you’ve been, people you’ve smoked with, and cigars you’ve enjoyed (or not enjoyed, which is equally if not a more helpful thing to remember!). And over time, you will undoubtedly develop an appreciation for the finer qualities of cigars, realizing for example that the last few times you smoked a Dominican filler it tasted like this, or the maduro wrappers tasted like that. And that’s it. The powers of association that all of our brains are wired to do will take care of the rest. Just smoke willfully, thoughtfully, and pay attention.
And honestly, that is pretty much all you need to get started as a cigar aficionado, as they say.
To sum it up – make new cigar friends, especially at first with your tobacconist (or find a good one), and take detailed notes in a cigar journal to document every cigar experience you possibly can.
And for god’s sake, take a moment to appreciate the fact that someone, somewhere (likely not where you’re from), crafted this exquisite cigar experience for you (yes, YOU!), to smoke and enjoy.
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