Guide to Havanas
Experimenting with Havana brands will introduce you to their different styles of flavour and allow you to establish your preferences. Once familiar with them you can choose the right brand to suit your tastes on any occasion.
When your mind is made up there is another point to remember. If you smoke more than one Havana a day subsequent cigars should be of equal or fuller flavour. Never follow a full cigar with a lighter one, as you will not taste it. There are cigars for morning, noon and night.
The size, or vitola, of the cigar you choose should be guided by how much time you have available for its enjoyment. A Havana’s flavour develops in the course of smoking, and often its true potential is not revealed until the half way mark, so choose a vitola you will not be forced to part with at its most enjoyable stage. Bear in mind that slow burning, heavy gauge cigars tend to often offer fuller flavours than slender ones, even within the same marque.
Havana’s are delicate products that develop and mature if stored in the right conditions. Their flavours become rounder and mellower with time. Further more a Havana must be in perfect condition at the time of smoking otherwise it will burn badly and taste harsh. Therefore it is essential that Havana’s are stored correctly right up until the moment of smoking.
To keep Havana’s properly they should be stored at between 16 C and 18 C and in a relative humidity (RH) of 65 to 70%. Placing your Havana’s in a humidity that is designed to provide the correct level of RH is the best way to look after them.
A simple and reliable way to test the condition of a cigar is to hold it between your thumb and your index finger and squeeze gently. If it feels firm but springy then it is in good condition; hard and brittle means too dry, soft and spongy means too wet.
The head of a hand made Havana is sealed with a cap of tobacco, which helps to secure the wrapping leaf in place. Before lighting you need to create a broad opening on it, a job efficiently done using a guillotine cutter or special cigar scissors. Make you incision across the shoulders of the cigar, leaving the bottom part of the cap in place to avoid the wrapping unravelling. Piercing as a means of preparing the cigar is discouraged as the small hole it leaves offers a poor draw and can focus heat and oils.
Removing the band at this stage can damage the delicate wrapping leaf. If you wish to take the band off the best advice is to so after smoking for around five minutes, when the cigar has warmed up and the band is easier to remove. Even then the band should not be pulled off, like a ring off a finger, but rather peeled off.
Lighting is about following two simple rules; take your time, and do a thorough job. The whole of the foot of the cigar must be alight before you settle back to enjoy smoking, otherwise the cigar may burn down unevenly. The fatter the cigar, the more time will be needed to light it. Lighting can be done with a wooden match (once the head has burnt off) or a butane lighter, as both of these have odourless flames. Petrol lighters and wax candles should be avoided as their flames release aromas, which interfere with tobacco flavours of your Havana.
If your cigar goes out halfway through you need not abandon it, but simply relight it. This is best done by first clearing any ash from it, and then heating the end of the cigar in a flame. After such priming the cigar will re-light at once.
To enjoy a Havana you should not inhale the smoke. The true pleasure is to be found in appreciating the composition of tobacco flavours and these are best detected on the palate by your sense of taste. Relax with your Havana, and mull over its flavours.
Do not try smoking a Havana that has gone out, as it will only offer a disappointing mixture of hot air and thin smoke. Half-lit cigars need to be coaxed back to full burn with a touch of re-lighting and a few vigorous puffs.
Don’t flick the ash as cigarette smokers do. Allow a long ash to form. Its evenness shows how well your Havana is made.
There is not need to stub out your Havana. Just lay it to rest in an ashtray when you feel you have had enough. It will go out quickly of its own accord. Let it die with dignity.