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Learning Your ABCs: Cigars 101

George Brightman
From the Print Edition:
cigar case, Summer 93

If you're like most cigar smokers, you must have paced back and forth in front of the display at your local tobacconist, scratching your head, trying to make sense of the cigars there. The names and the numbers for many brands seem designed to confuse buyers, and one company's Churchill size is another company's double corona.

There is no real mystery, once you accept the reality that the cigar lexicon is confusing. There are, however, certain basic criteria that can be used as guidelines to decipher the origin of almost any hand-rolled cigar. The parameters are fairly simple: brand, color and size or shape.

Let's start with the brand name. The brand is the designation the manufacturer gives to a particular line of cigars. Punch, Partagas, Macanudo, Montecristo and Davidoff are just a few well-known names. You'll find these names on the cigar band, which is generally wrapped around the "head," or the closed end, of the cigar.

However, depending on which country you're in, even those well-known names can be a source of confusion. Some brands were first produced in Cuba. After Castro's Revolution in 1959, many cigar manufacturers fled and believed they could take their brands with them. The Cubans argued that the brands belonged to the country. So today, you have a Punch made in Cuba and one made in Honduras. The dual origin problem also affects Hoyo de Monterrey, Ramon Allones, Por Larrañaga, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas, La Gloria Cubana, Fonseca, H. Upmann and El Rey del Mundo and, this year, there also will be a non-Cuban Montecristo. You can usually determine which is which by a small Habano or Havana inscribed on the band.

Color refers to the shade of the outer wrapper leaf. In the past, manufacturers used dozens of terms for the wrapper leaves which were grown in Cuba, Sumatra, Brazil and the United States; U.S. cigar makers often described eight to ten different shades.

Today, there are six major color grades in use. And wrapper is grown today not only in the countries mentioned above, but Ecuador, Nicaragua, Honduras and Cameroon as well. Here are the six basic shades:

-- Claro claro: light green and often called candela. The leaves are cured with heat to fix the chlorophyll in the leaf. They often taste slightly sweet. Claro claro is not as popular today, although at one time a majority of American market cigars came with a light-green wrapper.

-- Claro: a light tan color, usually grown under shade tents. Prized for its neutral flavor qualities.

-- Colorado: brown to reddish-brown. It is also usually shade-grown and has rich flavor and a subtle aroma.

-- Natural: light brown to brown. It is most often sun-grown.

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