Cigars 101: Cigars for Beginners

If you have just started smoking cigars, or are thinking about starting, there are a few considerations to make your first stick enjoyable. Like many hobbies you'll want to start simple and work your way up. Beginning with a mild smoke will let you build up your appreciation of aroma and flavor, without the risk of overpowering your senses that a stronger, full-bodied smoke provides. Most important is remaining curious, patient, and open-minded. Everyone’s palate is unique, and over time you will be able to identify your favorite brands and strike your ideal balance of strength and flavor. 


There are a lot of nuances to cigar smoking, little details that make it a complex experience. The cigar’s length, ring size, construction, wrapper shade, smell, taste, burn, and price are only some of the factors that determine your enjoyment. Thankfully, there are plenty of affordable, quality smokes on the market that are well suited for newcomers. 

While you could go full steam and buy the biggest, heaviest cigar right away, I would recommend against that- consider these factors when choosing your first cigar. 


Mellow-strength cigars don’t mean bland. They are often full of flavor, which is arguably the most important aspect of a cigar. It’s best to err on the side of caution though, as mellow smokes to give you a smoother, more pleasant smoking experience.


Inexperienced smokers must be careful with the size of their cigar, as it directly correlates to the burn time. However, it’s important to note a cigar’s size doesn’t reflect its strength.

The longer and thicker a cigar is, the more time it takes to smoke- pretty straight forward. Tackle something smaller for your first attempt, but with enough length that you can indulge in the experience. Thinner, shorter sticks burn hotter and faster, and can become overly intense due to the proximity of the heat to your palate. If it’s too hot you won’t be able to experience the same aroma, flavor transition, or taste. Go for a classic shape like a Toro, which will smoke for about 45 minutes. It gives a more gradual increase in intensity and takes long enough to smoke without being overwhelming. 


Look for a slightly wider ring gauge (50 or greater), as they burn at a cooler rate, so you can experience all its flavors and complexity. I’d also recommend sticking with a traditional parejos shape, because they’ll burn evenly all the way through. 


The lighter the cigar, the more mild it is (generally speaking). Many new smokers light up a Connecticut Shade wrapper. They are a light, golden-tan color with a smooth, creamy flavor. For something a touch more woodsy, Cameroon wrappers are another good, mellow, choice. 


Many hobbies start cheap but can quickly become expensive, and cigar smoking is no different. When starting, finding your preferred cigar is all about trial and error. There’s no point in spending tons of money on a limited-edition smoke or top-shelf cigar when you may not be able to appreciate it, or may actually dislike it. Your palate matures over time, so choose a few affordable, approachable cigars from a variety of brands. You can get a quality, premium stick blended by excellent cigar makers without paying a premium price. Through sampling and experimentation you will discover the cigars and brands that work for you. 


Oftentimes, new smokers' first experience with cigars is a flavored stick, like an Acid or Java. These are great starter smokes on one hand, because their sweetness can make it more palatable for people who aren’t yet used to the hobby. On the other hand, they can disguise the natural taste and keep you from developing your palate, or hide its strength so that you smoke something stronger than you’re used to. 


The cigar you choose for your first smoke can change depending on the event. If you are simply looking to begin the hobby, everything I’ve stated already will help you find the right cigar. But if there is a special event for which a cigar is called, different sizes, flavors, or strength may be called for. For example, if you are going on a golf outing, a mild Connecticut Shade will do just fine. But instead of a shorter stick, you might want to grab a longer or thicker vitola that will last while you play. If you are smoking for an anniversary or graduation, and planning to pair it with a dark liquor, it might be worthwhile to steer towards a slightly darker stick with a medium strength and darker flavors. Just remember to eat before smoking anything too dark. 


While your best bet is to experiment with a wide variety of cigars, it can be difficult to know where exactly to start. That’s why I’ve chosen some of our favorite beginner sticks here at Ralph’s Cigars to give you a jumping off point.

Arturo Fuente Chateau Fuente

Wrapper: Connecticut Shade

Binder: Dominican

Filler: Dominican 

Arturo Fuente represents the bar when it comes to quality and consistency. Smoke one Chateau Fuente and you’ve smoked them all- which is a good thing. It is a mild, creamy cigar with notes of cedar, earth, and coffee. Wrapped in cedar, it has a natural taste and smell with a smooth, light body.

Macanudo Gold Label

Wrapper: Connecticut Golden Shade

Binder: Mexican San Andres

Filler: Mexican, Dominican Piloto Cubano

Macanudo Gold Label is a limited edition line featuring Connecticut Shade leaves from only the first and second primings. This means the leaves are exposed to less sunlight and retain more natural flavors as well as a remarkable color and texture. The resulting cigar is not only unique, but exceptionally sweet and smooth in an unrivaled flavor profile. 

Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real

Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade

Binder: Nicaraguan

Filler: Dominican, Nicaraguan

While still a fairly mild cigar, the Reserva Real uses Nicaraguan long fillers and a binder that give it just a bit of a spicy kick. The Ecuadorian Connecticut Shade wrapper gives it a creamy taste that smooths out the flavor and keeps from being overly harsh, but it is definitely a step up from the other two cigars. It has a slightly chewy flavor with hints of cedar and leather.

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