As the saying goes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. You do not have to travel to Central America nor the Caribbean and watch tobacco plants grow to appreciate and enjoy premium handmade cigars. However, you do have to know what makes a premium handmade cigar different from other types of cigars, and the answer is very simple. A premium handmade cigar is made with 100% tobacco, and does not contain any additives, preservatives, paper, or any other types of hybrid byproducts of tobacco, such as reconstituted tobacco. A premium cigar is a bunch of tobacco leaves wrapped in a tobacco leaf (click here to read the latest official definition).
Cigars that are made by machines are not 100% tobacco, and do not have to be stored in humidors to maintain their freshness. However, since premium handmade cigars do not contain any preservatives, they should be stored in a humidor, ideally at room temperature and 70% +/-2% relative humidity. If you do not own a humidor, do not buy more cigars than you intend to smoke within the period of a few days. Leave the cellophane packaging on the cigars to help preserve freshness. Do not store cigars in your refrigerator. Putting them in a Tupperware container and storing in a cool damp place, like the basement of your home, is a good short-term storage solution if you do not own a humidor.
Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and there are several thousand different cigar brands available in the United States. Finding just the right cigar(s) for you should be an adventure. Be prepared to sample a large variety of different cigars before considering one as your favorite. Buy single cigars or sampler packs, especially when they are on sale. Single cigars are more expensive than when purchased by the box, but you don't want to buy a whole box of cigars that you may not enjoy.
By all means, read cigar reviews to help you select which cigars to sample. But know this, many cigar reviews are written by a vocal minority of hard-core cigar smokers, who seem to prefer the latest and most potent boutique cigars that might not appeal to the silent majority of mainstream cigar smokers. New cigar smokers should start with mild blends, such as those made with Connecticut Shade wrappers and Dominican filler tobaccos. Just ask your local tobacconist for assistance.
One cigar accessory that every premium cigar smoker should own is a cigar cutter. An inexpensive double guillotine cutter costing about $3 is all you need. Premium cigars are either capped or tapered to a point on one end to prevent the outer wrapper leaf from unraveling. The closed end of a cigar is called the head, which must be cut before lighting the cigar. The head of the cigar is the end that you put in your mouth, while the other open end is called the foot, which is the end that you light. Use a butane lighter to light your cigar, but a wooden match will also do the trick. Lighting a large/wide cigar can take up to a minute or more, so be patient and take your time. Puff and rotate the cigar while lighting to make sure that the entire foot of the cigar is lit and burning evenly.
Premium cigars are not substitutes for cigarettes. When puffing on a cigar, do not inhale or swallow the smoke. The enjoyment of smoking cigars is derived from the tastes and flavors experienced on your palate. Take a puff, then blow it out. Again, there is nothing complicated about smoking a cigar. Do not smoke a cigar too fast or too slow. Take a puff every 30 to 60 seconds, relax and enjoy. Smoking a large cigar can take an hour or more, so do not light up a large cigar unless you have the time to enjoy it. Never put a partially smoked cigar back into your humidor or other storage device. It will ruin the humidor and all the other cigars inside.
And now, a word about Cuban cigars. Cuban cigars are again illegal for U.S. citizens, effective September 24, 2020 (refer to Cuban Assets Control Regulations). Legal or not, the best cigars in the world might still be made by Cubans, just not in Cuba! Most premium cigars imported into the United States are made in Nicaragua, followed by Dominican Republic and Honduras. Many consider Nicaragua to be the new Cuba, at least when it comes to cigars. Many former Cubans have been growing Cuban-seed tobacco and making excellent cigars in Nicaragua and other countries for many years, and there is no reason to believe the myth that Cuba still makes the best cigars in the world.
There is much more you can learn about cigars, but the above information is all you really need to know to enjoy premium handmade cigars. All the rest is just a part of the cigar mystique, much of which is considered marketing hyperbole to many mainstream cigar smokers. After all, if you like a particular cigar, does it really matter where it was made, who made it, who else likes it, or anything else about the cigar? However, to cigar aficionados and connoisseurs, venturing beyond the cigar itself to embrace every aspect of cigar culture and/or the cigar industry has made their enjoyment of cigars more than just an activity. For some, it has become a passion, a lifestyle, and even an obsession. But for the average cigar smoker, the quest to discover the perfect cigar while enjoying every puff along the way is what cigars are all about. Everything else is superfluous.