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Keith Lathon, Builder/ Developer (Retired)
Building Tips and Meet the Artisans
Paul R. Williams, Architect: Recognize a Great One
The World's Best

"Cigars create a zone, where thoughts and friendships are cultivated. " Keith Lathon

My Humidor, bought on EBay. Its all good.


How to Find The Best Cigar





Cigars are made of three kinds of tobacco leaf from many different strains of tobacco plant. The three leaves are wrappers, fillers, and binders:

  • Wrappers are the part of the cigar that you see-the long, supple leaves that come from the widest portion of the tobacco plant.
  • Fillers are the meat of the cigar-the rolled-up bunches of leaves in the middle.
  • Binders are elastic leaves which hold the filler bunches together.

The strains of tobacco plant yield vast ranges in flavor and quality of tobacco, the best of which is grown in the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba. Thanks to Uncle Sam, however, no Cuban cigars can be sold in the USA (didn't you see that episode of Seinfeld?), so only quick excursion to Canada will allow you to enjoy what are widely considered to be the best cigars. Fortunately, though, fine tobacco from places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and even Connecticut can still be sold and purchased in the USA.

The most visible characteristic of tobacco is its color, and fortunately, this will tell you a lot about the cigar you are about to purchase. The colors range from claro (light brown) to oscuro (almost black). If this is all French to you, you are a horrible linguist, because these are Spanish terms. If the words still mean nothing to you, don't worry. All you need to know is this: tobacco is either grown in the sun or in the shade. Sun-grown tobacco leaves are more robust, heavily-veined, and darker. This makes for a more powerful, robust flavor generally best suited for true aficionados or your grizzly grandfather with one remaining taste bud. Shade-grown tobacco is more delicate and much lighter in both color and flavor. If you're smoking your first cigar, opt for the lighter-colored claro.


So now that you know what it is that you'll be smoking, it's time to choose from the hundreds of varieties that are available to the cigar buyer. Granted, most people won't know that the cigar you choose is any better than a drugstore brand, but there really is a distinct range in quality. Like wine, cigars can be enjoyed by many but truly appreciated by few. Unlike wine, cigars are solids.


Size is measured in two dimensions: length and ring gauge.

  • Length refers to a cigar's length. (You can read, right?…) Length can range from the baby-sized 4-inch Petit Corona to the monstrous 8-inch Double Corona (it's like smoking a ruler!). The most common cigar sizes are 5 - 6 inches. The Davidoff store in London boasts a cigar a yard long. (They are afraid to light it up, as scientists have predicted that the ashes will crush and kill any passersby.) Generally, we suggest that you choose a 5 - 6 inch cigar, avoiding larger sizes like Churchill or Double Corona.
  • Ring gauge refers to the diameter of the cigar in the center (how fat it is). Ring gauge, the cigar's diameter, is measured in 64ths of an inch. Therefore, a ring gauge of 40 indicates a cigar that is 40/64 inches wide. A ring gauge of 55 indicates 55/64 inches. Ring gauge also affects how much smoke you suck of the end; a larger ring gauge (And thus, wider surface area) means that you're gonna get a deep sense of the flavor with every puff. We suggest that you start of with a smaller ring gauge (ask the salesperson for some recommendations), and work your way up.

Man-made vs. Machine-made

Microchips are best made by machines; cigars are not. As you probably guessed, the highest quality cigars are painstakingly rolled by hand, and it shows. Machine-made cigars, which can be mass-produced quickly and cheaply, are usually made of broken scraps of tobacco leaves that are unsuitable for hand-rolling. Therefore, they smoke less evenly and burn more quickly. It's pretty easy to tell if a cigar is machine made by looking at the wrapper -- if you see lots of seams suggesting that it's more of a patchwork of tobacco than continuous leaves, you're looking at a machine-made cigar. So opt for a man-made. Higher-end machine-made cigars look (and even smoke) like man-mades, but the highest quality cigars are still carefully made by bona fide human beings.



The brand of cigar is its most important quality, at least in a superficial sense. This is not to say that different cigar brands necessarily differ in flavor or quality, but everybody knows that a nice Cohiba is "nice" merely because it's a Cohiba.

Because different brands feature different varieties and sizes, no one brand can be pigeon-holed by any factor other than the general quality that goes into each of its cigars. The most legendary brands, like Cohiba and Monte Cristo, are Cubans and thus hard to find. Instead, we recommend that you start throwing brand names around like Arturo Fuente, Macanudo, Dunhill, Davidoff, and Ashton, which are all legal here in the US.

Note: many Cuban brands such as Cohiba and H. Upmann are also manufactured in other countries, but they're not gonna be anything like their Cuban brethren. It just happens to be that the cigar-making factory also gets tobacco from other countries. So if you find a nice, high-priced Cohiba in your local tobacco store, don't wink knowingly at the manager - he's not selling Cubans.


Cigar Shopping

Cigars are a luxury item, and the service at cigar stores should treat it as such. So here's our advice for how to handle yourself in a cigar store:

  • Expect the employees to be very helpful in helping you choose a cigar. They're trying to get you hooked on a delicious brand so that you become a repeat customer.
  • Do not hesitate to ask to see a cigar up close. Handle it lightly to check that the cigar is kept at a proper moisture level-it should feel supple and not brittle, but it shouldn't drip water all over your sleeve.
  • Do not roll the cigar near your ear or smell it up close. These supposedly sophisticated means of inspecting cigars are not only unsanitary, they are also pretentious and will tell you nothing.
  • Feel free, however, to take a light sniff of the cigar's bouquet to see if it is agreeable.
  • The cigars in the box should be neatly arranged, with the color running from darkest to lightest and the spiral of the wrapper leaves running in the same direction. These measures are checked in quality control at the factories; if things are out of order, the cigars either slipped past quality control or have been messed around with.



Many people think that the proper way to smoke a cigar is to set one end on fire and just suck like crazy on the other end. It's a tad bit more complicated than that.

Before we teach you how to actually smoke the cigar, consider that many people like a nice drink to accompany the cigar's taste. In fact, you might want to consult some of our other SYWs about exactly what drink might be right for you. The most traditional drinks when smoking are port, cognac, bourbon or scotch, and complementary wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The key here is that the drink will stand up to the powerful flavor of the cigar without diminishing it.



Cigars are made with a cap over the head. Most good cigars, therefore, have only one open end. This is NOT the end that you put in your mouth - that open end is where the smoke comes out. So you need to cut the cigar at the head.

Cutters come in different styles, but the most common is the guillotine. The double-bladed guillotine has a hole in the middle, two blades, and two notches where your fingers can grip it. You should absolutely buy a guillotine as your cutter - they're easy, small, and they make a clean cut with less of a tendency to tear the tobacco than other styles. You can also use a knife or your teeth, but cutters are really cheap, and a knife may ruin the cigar.

Here's how to actually make the cut (it's really simple):

  1. Cut the cigar on the tapered part (the cap).
  2. Try to leave about 1/8th of an inch of the cap.
  3. Never cut on or past the cap line - you'll be cutting the wrapper leaf. All hell will ensue.


This can be tricky for a newbie, but our tips will get you through it:

  1. It's best to light a cigar yourself - lighting a cigar takes longer than lighting a cigarette, and it's best not to feel rushed by having a friend reach over with a lit match.
  2. Matches or butane lighters are fine, but if you use a match, make sure the sulfur is burned out first so it doesn't impair the taste of the cigar.
  3. Never use a candle - the wax particles will enter the cigar and taint its flavor.
  4. Hold the cigar in your hand, not your mouth, and rotate it near the flame.
  5. Do not actually touch the flame with your cigar.
  6. When the entire surface is charred and embers appear, place the cigar between your lips.
  7. Gently puff to blow out any foreign particles or odors that may have come from the lighter or match. Check to see that the cigar is lit evenly.
  8. This probably goes without saying, but just in case you happen to have a pompadour with a lot of hairspray: remember to not set your hair on fire.


Now that the cigar is lit, you should be able to draw smoke gently through it.

  1. Draw slowly by pulling in your cheeks. Do not suck or inhale.
  2. Do not smoke the cigar too forcefully or quickly - it will make it taste harsh and burnt. Just puff occasionally, making sure the cigar stays lit.
  3. After a few minutes, you may want to remove the cigar band (label). Some people think it is obnoxious to keep the band on while you smoke, and it's not really necessary to keep your fingers from getting stained. Make sure that you've smoked the cigar for a bit, though. If you remove the band too early, the glue will not have softened and you will risk tearing the wrapper.


People smoking good cigars like to keep the ash on for as long as possible. Indeed, a solid tower of ash is a sign of a well-made cigar. But don't let the ashy end grow too long - this is both pretentious and an invitation for a mess on the floor. Every once in a while, just gently press the ash against an ashtray - the ash should fall off easily without you having to tap the cigar. If your cigar goes out, it's okay. This does not mean you are a bad smoker - just remove the ash and re-light it.

Smoke the cigar for as long as you want - the only time you should stop smoking is when it stops being enjoyable for you. When that becomes the case, just set the cigar down in an ashtray and it will go out on its own. Do not grind it out, as that will produce excess smoke. Just take one last draw, set it down, take a sip of your drink, and revel in your smoothness.



You may not realize this, but you're not supposed to smoke an entire box of cigars at once. Rather, you're going to have to store your cigars somewhere. This is very important, because cigars taste vastly better when they retain some moisture, so your goal is to prevent them from drying out:

  • Experts recommend storing cigars at about 70% humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold and the cigars might dry out. Too warm and you may be greeted by tobacco beetles next time you bring that Corona to your mouth.
  • The most important thing when storing cigars is that they are airtight. Whether you keep them in a box or a plastic bag, try to keep the storage container tightly sealed.
  • Put a damp sponge in the box (or spray a little water into the bag). However, make sure that the sponge is not in direct contact with the cigars.
  • If you only have a few cigars left, you can buy metal tubes that are lined with cedar or leather cases. Again, just make sure that they are airtight.
  • If you decide to become a serious collector, consider buying a humidor. Humidors are special boxes in which you can keep your cigars, and they'll be much kinder to your stash than a plastic bag or standard cigar box. Humidors are usually quite attractive as well as functional, but be ready to pay at least $150 for a good one.

So now that you know how to choose, smoke, and store cigars, the only thing left is to join a cigar club, get a subscription to cigar magazine, and hope that your husband/wife/dog doesn't leave you if you take it too far. While smoking cigars is an expensive hobby to enjoy regularly, we strongly suggest that you save your newfound expertise for special occasions.



 The World's Best: Keith’s favorite Cigar;

                                         THE AVO

Avo cigars have generally scored in the high 80s in Cigar Aficionado tastings, indicative of very good to excellent, though not outstanding, quality. Of the range, the figurados or torpedos are usually rated among the best, cigars such as the Avo Belicoso and the Avo XO Pyramid. In a recent blind tasting of the Avo line in Marvin Shanken's Cigar Insider, the monthly newsletter from the publisher of Cigar Aficionado, nine of 15 sizes tested scored an 87 or above, with four receiving 89s.

In general, Avo cigars are divided into two sub-brands: original and XO. The latter is the richer of the two, with slightly spicier character. Avo Uvezian says that more ligero (the strongest tobacco in blends) is used for XO and that the filler is aged a bit differently than his traditional cigars, although he would not elaborate on the process. The traditional cigars have the light orange-gold band and come in 12 sizes, while XO cigars, which have a darker orange band, the same gold-leaf lettering and "XO" printed on the side of the band, comprise three sizes. They range in price from $5.30 to $7.60 for the traditional cigars to $7.60 to $9.55 for the XO smokes. Uvezian had hoped to introduce other sizes as well as some special blends (including one for women), but his plans were postponed due to the fire. He also had to have a limited-edition cigar for the brand's 10th anniversary in 1998.



Keith's Bakers Dozen Cost Cutter Cigars 

1. Flor de Oliva 10th Anniversary                            TORPEDO                               Rated 90

Nicaragua                     6 1/2 X 52      Price $2.85                  


2. Gispert Maduro    ROBUSTO        Rated 90

Honduras                       5 X 54           Price $3.00   


3. Saint Luis Rey Reserva Especial  ROTHCHILDE  Rated 90

Honduras                     5 X 54             Price $2.95


4. A. Turrent             ROBUSTO         Rated  89

Mexico                          5 X 54           Price $4.00


5. Black Pearl Rojo SUPER TORO   Rated 89

Nicaragua                   6 X 56            Price $3.95


6. Cuba Aliados Corojo Maduro ROBUSTO DeLUXE  Rated 89

Honduras                     5 X 50           Price $4.00


7. Gispert Mapuro   CORONA       Rated  89

Honduras                5 1/2 X 44       Price $2.85


8. Gran Habano Connecticut GRAN ROBUSTO #1   Rated 89

Honduras               6 X 54              Price $3.80


9. Nicarao           MINUTO              Rated 89

Nicaragua            5 X 42               Price $4.00


10. Romeo y Julieta 1875  CEDROS DELUXE #2   Rated 89

Deminican Republic    5 1/2 X 44     Price $4.00


11. A. Turrent    CORONA          Rated 88

Mexico             5 1/2 X 44          Price $3.50


12. Carlos Torano Nic. Selection   PETIT CORONA  Rated 88

Nicaragua        5 X 42               Price $2.95


13. Flor de Oliva 10th Anniversary  TORO       Rated 88

Nicaragua       6 X 50               Price $2.50