What is a Cigar?

May 20, 2022

What is a Cigar?

If you’ve been living in an underground bunker for your entire existence, or perhaps you have led a very sheltered life, you may at some point ask the million-dollar question, “What is a Cigar?”

Well, the initial answer is very simple, a cigar is a rolled bundle of dried and aged tobacco leaves made to be smoked. Now that you know the general definition, let’s take a deeper and more precise dive into how this smoking phenomenon began and the artistry involved in creating a fine cigar.

Historians generally believe that the ancient Mayans invented the cigar way back in the 10th century. They would wrap their home gown grown tobacco in a palm or a plantain leave and smoke it.

Christopher Columbus and his crew of explorers were the first Westerners to encounter tobacco in recorded history. Columbus noticed that many locals were smoking this crude form of tobacco and became intrigued, so they introduced the tobacco plant to Columbus through trade.

Legend has it that one of Columbus’ shipmates was particularly drawn to primitive cigar smoking and smoked every single day on the long journey back home.

The art of cigar smoking quickly caught on in a huge way and became immensely popular in Spain and Portugal. This first happened when the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot, made cigar smoking popular back in his home country; in fact, the word nicotine is derived from this man’s name.

Cigar smoking then spread to Italy and other European nations. By this time, Spanish manufacturers had developed the process of wrapping cigars with tobacco leaves as opposed to any other type of leaf that wasn’t tobacco-related, thus vastly improving the flavor, and making it the refined art that is today.

While most European cigars were originally manufactured in Spain, it was not long before the Spanish found that Cuba was the ideal place to grow tobacco. Cuba’s climate and rich, fertile soils produced a far superior product, which explains why Cuban cigars became famous the world over and are arguably considered by many aficionados to be the best tobacco ever grown.

In regards to the American market, Cuba and Key West, Florida, were for eons the main producers of premium cigars. Then in 1962, President  John F. Kennedy proclaimed an embargo on trade between the United States and Cuba in response to ominous actions taken by the Cuban Government, that could threaten world peace. Unfortunately, one of those restrictions was the import of Cuban tobacco.

After the embargo, and during the Fidel Castro regime, every Cuban cigar-making plantation and factory become a state-owned entity forcing many manufacturers to move their operations to the Dominican Republic, followed by the Canary Islands in Spain, Honduras, Jamaica, and Nicaragua. These nations were chosen because the tobacco closely emulated the taste and character of Cuban cigars.

In the 1980s, Jamaica was hit with several devasting hurricanes that ceased production, while the Canary Islands decided to focus their attention on becoming solely a tourist destination. Many of the farms and fields were replaced by luxury resorts.

Cigars are still being manufactured in Key West, albeit in smaller quantities geared towards the locals, leaving the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Nicaragua the main growing regions in the industry. You can also find cigars made in Costa Rica, the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and a few other nations, but not at the same production levels as the countries mentioned above.

There are many types of cigars. The most common one is the Parejo, or a round cigar, which was probably the original shape created by the Mayans. The Parejo designation encompasses many popular sizes such as the Corona, Double Corona, Robusto, and Toro.

Some Parejo cigars, such as the Churchill, Rothschild, and Lonsdale, were named after famous people who smoked publicly, thus making smoking cigars as popular as any other form of tobacco enjoyment.

Figurado-shaped cigars were very popular in the 1800s and still have a loyal niche following. Their irregular shape makes them unique, harder to roll, and costlier than cigars in the round. The tradeoff is that Figurados, which include Torpedos, Belicoso, Perfectos, and Pyramides, add more complexity and nuances to the overall smoking experience

Little cigars are another highly-popular segment of the market and became all the rage throughout the 20th century. Still, a highly popular choice today, these smaller cigars, known as Cigarillos, Petite Corona, and Miniatures, are the perfect size for smokers on the go that don’t have time to kick back and relax with a full-sized cigar.

While there are so many sizes to choose from making a well-made cigar has come to symbolize the luxury lifestyle shared by millions of smokers for thousands of years.

Other Tips for Beginner Cigar Smokers


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