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Learning Your ABCs: Cigars 101

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

(continued from page 1)

-- Maduro: From the Spanish word for "ripe," it refers to the extra length of time needed to produce a rich, dark-brown wrapper. A maduro should be silky and oily, with a rich, strong flavor and mild aroma.

-- Oscuro: Meaning dark, it is also called negro or black in tobacco producing countries. It usually is left on the plant the longest, and it is matured, or sweated the longest.

So, you've seen the brand you're looking for, you spotted the color wrapper you like to smoke, now it's time to get down to choosing a size and shape. In Spanish, the word vitola conveniently covers both words, but in English we're left describing both size (girth and length) and shape. Most cigars come in boxes with a front mark which tells you the shape of the cigar, such as Punch Double Corona, H. Upmann Lonsdales or Partagas 8-9-8. As you come to know shapes, you also can make some assumptions about size, such as knowing that a double corona is not a short cigar.

It's unfortunate that there is so much confusion about size and shape, when there needn't be. But after several generations of every manufacturer independently deciding which size name went with which length and girth, there is no simple logic to the definitions. In fact, the haphazard naming conventions have resulted in the same word, such as Churchill, being used by different manufacturers for cigars of different sizes. If any single statement can be made about the standards of different countries, it is that Cuban standards tend to be more uniform. But then, there is one body governing the state-owned tobacco company in Cuba, and it oversees the entire industry there.

The basic measurement standard, however, is the same; the only variations are whether it is expressed in metric or U.S. customary systems. Length, therefore, is listed in inches or centimeters; and girth or diameter, or ring gauge as it is commonly known, is in 64ths of an inch or millimeters. So, a classic corona size is 6 by 42, which means it is six inches long and 42/64ths of an inch thick, but many manufacturers today produce their coronas with a 44 ring gauge, as opposed to a 42.

If you're searching for common denominators to use as a starting point for shape, it helps to know that all cigars can be divided into two categories: parejos, or straight sides, and figurados, the irregular shapes.

Simply, parejos are straight-sided cigars, the kind with which most smokers are familiar. There are three basic groups in this category: coronas, panetelas and lonsdales.

A corona (the classic size is 6 inches by 42 ring gauge) has traditionally been the manufacturers' benchmark against which all other cigars are measured. Coronas have an open "foot" (the end you light) and a closed "head" (the end you smoke); the head is most often rounded. A Churchill measures 7 inches by 47 ring gauge. A robusto is 5 inches by 50 ring gauge. A double corona is 7 1/2 inches by 49 ring gauge. Panetelas (a standard size is usually 7 inches by 38 ring gauge) are usually longer than coronas, but they are dramatically thinner. They also have an open foot and closed head.

Lonsdales (6 3/4 inches by 42 ring gauge) are thicker than panetelas, but slimmer and longer than coronas. The irregular shapes, or figurados, encompass every out-of-the ordinary shaped cigar. The following list comprises the major types:

-- Pyramid: It has a pointed, closed head and widens to an open foot.

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