Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They also vary by method of manufacture, flavour, strength and country of origin.
In Europe, cigars date back to the arrival of Columbus in the West Indies in 1492, where he found people smoking primitive forms of cigar in the shape of rolled leaves made of aromatic herbs.
Much of the territory in the West Indies, Central and South America were Spanish colonies at this time and the Spanish were responsible for the early development of tobacco, which is why most cigar types have Spanish names.
Parts of a cigar
• The filler is a blend of up to 20 different types of tobacco and is the part of the cigar that gives most of the flavour.
• The binder is made of tobacco leaf, sometimes ground up and reconstituted to create sheets like paper. It encloses the filler and gives the cigar its shape and size.
• The wrapper is the outer skin which is visible on every cigar and is usually made of natural tobacco leaf. The wrapper makes a considerable contribution to the flavour of the cigar.
Cigar tobacco is cultivated and processed specifically for the production of cigars. Most blends consist of dark air cured tobacco varieties such as Besuki or Manilla, and these are fermented to enhance their flavour.
Types of cigars
• Long filler cigars (wet cigars) are generally hand made, large and at the top end of the price range. They are made with whole leaves, laid parallel to each other and wrapped with a tobacco leaf. They are usually from countries with a warm and very humid climate, such as Cuba or the Dominican Republic, and need to be stored in a humidor at around 20 degrees Celsius and 70 per cent humidity to avoid drying out.
• Short filler cigars (dry European cigars) are generally machine made and consist of a large variety of cut tobacco strands. This allows the manufacturer to blend a variety of tobaccos for flavour and, as they have a low degree of humidity, they do not need special storage. Under normal climatic and handling conditions, their shelf life is virtually unlimited.
Cigars are often categorised by their shape and size, with terms such as Corona and Panatela corresponding to the approximate length and width of the cigar, rather than the manufacturer or brand. Other useful terms are parejo and figurado. A parejo is simply a straight sided cigar, while a figurado is any cigar with an irregular shape.