Glossary of Cigar Terms
The side of a cigar that is banded. Cigars are made by hand, so one side might look better than the other. The color sorter selects the better side, places it that side up in a tray, and that is the side that bears the face of the cigar band.
Federal Excise Tax
The tax paid to the U.S. government on cigars as they are brought into the United States. This tax is paid by the importer, and is typically passed onto the consumer. The Federal Excise tax on large cigars used to be modest, less than five cents per cigar, until April 2009 when the $32.8 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Care Initiative (SCHIP) caused the federal excise tax to balloon to 40.26 cents per cigar. Some companies didn’t increase prices, but most did.
Perhaps the most important step in preparing cigar tobacco for smoking. After harvest, workers gather the tobacco leaves in large bulks (known as pilónes), moistening the leaves and allowing them to ferment. The pressure and the heat causes temperatures to rise, perhaps as high as 140 degrees Fahrenheit before the bulk is broken down and rebult. This process, called working the bulk, releases ammonia from the tobacco and creates a chemical change in the tobacco. Smoking unfermented tobacco can make a smoker ill.
Any cigar that isn’t straight sided (see photo). This group includes belicosos, torpedos, pyramids, perfectos and culebras. The other type of cigar group is a parejo. For all of our figurado cigar ratings, click here.
The decorative trimming that runs along each edge of a cigar dress box. Also called trim.
The individual tobacco leaves used in the body of the cigar. The filler leaves are held together by the bunch. A fine cigar usually contains between two and five different types of filler tobacco. In Spanish, the term is known as tripa. Handmade, premium cigars are typically made entirely from long-filler tobacco, which are whole leaves. Machine-made cigars are made from short-filler tobacco, chopped up leaves, which are the leftovers from handmade cigar production.
A tasting term. It refers to the taste that lingers on your palate after a puff. Mild cigars do not have much finish, either in terms of length or complexity (called a short finish), but stronger, more full-bodied cigars have distinctive flavors that linger for a while. Some novice smokers confuse the term with the way a cigar tastes after it has been smoked down to virtually nothing.
The workers in a tobacco curing barn that monitor conditions when gas or charcoal burners are being used to increase barn temperatures during curing. Barns have been known to burn down when firemen aren’t doing their job.
A term used to describe the draw of a cigar, or how the air moves through the cigar. A firm draw means extra effort is required to get the smoke from the cigar. Gently massaging the cigar may help improve the draw. Very firm cigars are considered faulty, and a plugged cigar is unsmokeable.
An extension of the wrapper leaf shaped to finish the head of a cigar; used instead of a cap. Flags are sometimes tied off in a pigtail (see photo) or a curly head.
An eye-catching and practical element added to certain cigars. Cigars could be individually wrapped in gold or silver foil for protection, freshness, and aesthetics. In some cases, only part of the cigar is foil wrapped. Notable examples include the Bolivar Gold Medal. Some cigars, such as Romeo y Julieta Cazadores, are ribbon-bound, and the entire bundle is then wrapped in foil, rather than each individual cigar.
The end of the cigar you light. Most often it is open. Most perfectos have narrow feet resembling a nipple, and the draw of such cigars can be improved by cutting a bit off that end. A few handmade premium cigars have completely closed feet.
A cigar factory term for a leaf of filler tobacco that’s been stripped of most of its stem. The top third or so of the stem, nearest the tip of the leaf, is kept, the rest is stripped, leaving a leaf that somewhat resembles a frog looked at from above.
The name of a specific size of a cigar, which typically appears on the front of the box. With an Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8, for example, Arturo Fuente is the brand name, Flor Fina 8-5-8 is the frontmark. For more on frontmarks and how to decipher the words in a cigar shop, see the Cigar Aficionado video on selecting cigars.
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