New smokers know that the humidor can be an intimidating place to shop, and nobody likes spending money on cigars they don’t enjoy. That’s what professional tobacconists are there for—to leverage their knowledge about regions, brands, and blends to help you find something you’ll enjoy. They begin by asking questions, all of which are important in finding the cigar that’s ideal for your palate. Here are a few questions to help guide the discovery.
Are you looking for something similar or something new?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with smoking what you know. In fact, that’s the easiest way to make sure you get your money’s worth. One of the first questions we ask in the humidor is “What have you smoked before that you liked?” This leads to another few questions that gives us an idea of your experience level, as well as insight into your taste profile. When making a purchase, you want to approach it as “Am I looking to smoke something new or something similar to what I’ve had before?”
What’s your taste profile?
“Taste profile” sounds scientific, but it’s really as simple as determining what flavors you enjoy. If you’re new to cigars, think about different food and drinks that you enjoy. Do you enjoy spice? Do you like bold flavors, or do you prefer flavors that are more subtle? Are there any flavors that you’re looking for to avoid completely? Just like wine, different tobacco growing regions have different taste profiles, as do different manufactures.
What strength level are you looking for?
As we’ve discussed in the past, the strength of a cigar is the result of several factors and is one of the hardest things to identify in the humidor. This is where a good tobacconist—or Google—really helps out a lot.) Everybody’s tolerance to nicotine is different, and it can even change over time. While medium versus medium-plus can be debated, you certainly don’t want to smoke a strong cigar when you’re expecting a mild cigar. Likewise, you can be let down if you’re expecting a strong cigar but get a medium one instead.
While the above three questions are the most basic considerations when stocking up your humidor, they’ll certainly put you on the right track to having a suitable selection to choose from. However, here are a few more advanced questions that will help narrow it down even further when you’re choosing which cigar to light up.
What time of day are you smoking?
The first cigar of the day is oftentimes my favorite cigar of the day. This is when my palate is fresh and I can appreciate the widest range of cigars. Most people tend to smoke lighter cigars earlier and then progress to stronger and richer cigars as the day progresses. Nine times out of ten, the most expensive cigar I smoke in a day is the first or second. The only time I smoke rich, strong cigars (such as a Liga Privada) is at the end of the day after a full meal.
What did you smoke previously?
While there are certainly exceptions, you generally want to avoid going immediately from rich cigars to lighter cigars. These rich and bold flavors will almost certainly dominate your palate and cover up the subtle complexities found in lighter cigars. If you must, though, I recommend having a bit of food or neutral drink (such as sparkling water) to cleanse your palate between cigars. Remember, cigars can be expensive. So take steps to ensure you don’t waste them!
Are you doing anything else while smoking?
Your environment certainly plays into your cigar experience and should guide your choice. Smoking a cigar on the golf course is a wonderful time, but smoking a Connecticut wrapper in the sun and wind can quickly turn that same experience into a horror story. Timing plays a factor as well. For example, nobody wants to have to ditch half of a $30 Davidoff Nicaragua because they have to get the kids to soccer practice. Looking at your habits and activities while you smoke is essential to helping you land on the right cigar.
Are you pairing your cigar with something?
There are two different approaches when it comes to pairing: complementary and contrasting. Some people enjoy complementary flavors that are similar in taste and build upon each other. An example of this is adding cream to coffee. Other people enjoy contrasting flavors that emphasize certain flavors. An example of this is when you add mustard to a meat and cheese plate. I personally enjoy complementary pairings, so I find that smoking a CLE Habano with a pour of bourbon brings some red fruit notes out of the CLE that I don’t often get. Taste is subjective, and I think everyone can agree that our individual taste profiles differ wildly from one person to the next. Having said that, the guidelines above can be useful to just about anyone when it comes to finding the cigar that’s right for you. Cigars are a rabbit hole that can be as shallow as deep as you want to go—and we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to the art of picking out a great cigar. Each cigar in the humidor represents a unique experience and story, and we hope this helps you make your picks a lot easier!