Light up and Relax
Struggling to know your H. Upmann from your Cohiba or ring gauge from vitola..? Fear not, here’s a handy introduction to cigars for those novice aficionados among you
Article by Oscar Udeshi
I frequently get asked what cigar one should smoke, that is akin to asking what wine one should drink. There is no universal answer to either question. In the first instance one shouldn’t smoke. Nor drink. That is my public health message done. But if one has decided to have some fun, and decided one wants to try cigars, then read on.
Cigars come in all shapes and sizes, in all colours from a very pale shade like latte to the deepest darkest chocolate like a very strong Italian espresso, and every shade in between – but colour is not necessarily an indication of strength. As it is a handmade product, there will even be variation in a box of cigars between one cigar and the next, and if one purchases a cigar in the UK or the same cigar, say Spain, then one opens up oneself to even more variation. Add to that the same cigar will taste differently if one is smoking it on the street on a cold and blustery night in London, or on the beach with friends in the south of France.
Furthermore, Cuban cigars tend to get stronger the bigger the ring gauge of a cigar (the circumference – known as ring gauge – measured in 64ths of an inch) and some non-Cubans lighter the ring gauge. So for a novice navigating his or her way in the world of cigars, the journey is not an easy one.
If approached methodically, it is easier to find what one likes. Given the way the UK government taxes cigars, there is little incentive for the cigar merchants to sell non-Cuban cigars, as they approach or often exceed the price of good Cuban cigars in this country. Always start with a light cigar (in strength), as one can always go stronger, but not the other way round. And never inhale – it is not a cigarette…
A good cigar merchant has years of experience and caters to all types of smokers, be it the one annual cigar after Christmas dinner smoker to the ten a day hard core smoker who can rattle of the name of every brand and “vitola” (size) under the sun and may have even met a Castro personally – I can only claim to have stood in the same humidor as one of his sons – who was wearing Crocs.
We are very fortunate to have on our shores one of the finest cigar stores on the planet, Davidoff London, run by possibly the two nicest people on the face of the planet, as well as the cigar trade, in the form of Edward Sahakian and his son Eddie. They also run the Edward Sahakian cigar lounge at the Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge, a haven for cigar smokers the world over.
A panatela, or for a braver novice, a petit corona is a good starting point. These names refer to the size. Habanos, the official distributors of Cuban cigars the world over have made for the British market, an EMS Selection Mareva Gift Box. EMS stands for English Market Selection, a term that has been used in Cuba for over a century to identify the quality of cigars designated for the British market, which have traditionally been the best. It contains five identically sized cigars from five different brands, ranging from light to full bodied. There are even tasting notes and they come in a rather handy wooden gift box – just in case anybody wants to get me a small Christmas present. Country of origin and size have now been standardized, one is left with the differences of the brands. Some people may like the light and honest taste of a H. Upmann, and find the Bolivar overpowering and too harsh, wheras someone else may find the Cohiba (the most expensive of the Cuban brands in the Habanos stable) like sucking on a throat lozenge, albeit a rather expensive one, and the Montecristo a wonderful ending to a heavy meal. The Romeo y Julieta in the sampler may be wonderful and complex in London, but can feel a little light and one dimensional in Havana, especially while sipping on a mojito in the mid-day humidity.
One’s preferences change depending on where one is smoking and with whom, and these are by no means fixed in stone over time either. Once one has found a favourite or two of the brands, one should gradually smoke different sizes of that brand, to see how the expression of that brand develops over different sizes (lengths and ring gauges). At this stage, it is best to buy single cigars from one’s friendly cigar stockist, and tell them what one likes about a cigar, and what one doesn’t, they can then advise on the next step on the path to blissful cigar smoking. Happy smoking.
Oscar is the owner of UDESHI bespoke tailors, 8 Davies Street, Mayfair.
Enquiries: Davidoff, 35 St James’s Street, St James’s, London SW1A / 0207 9303079 / http://davidoff.com/
Another historic cigar merchant: J. J. Fox, 19 St James’s Street. St James’s, London SW1A 1ES / www.jjfox.co.uk/