Cigar Aficionado

Three Matches

When we launched the Cigar Cinema videos in March, there were a lot of comments on about cigar lighting techniques. Both James Suckling and I were questioned about the methods that we used to get our Bolivar Royal Coronas fired up. We both used lighters; I had a S.T. Dupont Xtend that could double as blowtorch if necessary. In reviewing the video, I thought I had kept the flame far enough away from the foot of the cigar to avoid charring it too much, but there is always some tension between not wanting to actually burn or char the foot and wanting to get the thing lit. In the every-second-filled-to-the-max world that we leave in, too often, I don’t take all the care necessary to avoid over-lighting the tip.

But the comments reminded me of the first cigar-lighting lesson I ever received. Better yet, I remembered the cigar. It was my first Cohiba, and I’m pretty sure it was an Esplendido. My teacher that night was the top press official in the Mexico Foreign Ministry; at the time, Mexico maintained very close ties with Cuba. I didn’t ask, but let’s presume with good reason that the cigar was a diplomatic “gift.” If my memory serves me correctly, I’m pretty sure the dinner took place well in advance of Cohiba being commercialized on the world market, so early in my cigar-smoking life, I was lucky.

The man’s name was Augustin Gutierrez, one of the great gentlemen in the world of diplomacy, and one of those internationally educated people who it’s often hard to tell where they are from. My wife, (actually still my girlfriend at the time) and I had a wonderful meal with Sr. Gutierrez and his wife Marta, and like many Mexican dinners, it was getting well past 11 o’clock before we moved away from the table. He asked me if I would like a cigar, and I said, “Of course.” He went to his humidor, pulled out the Esplendidos and handed one to me along with three matches.

I looked at him puzzled, but cut the cigar and started to strike one of the matches and hold it up to the cigar. He stopped me, and said, “No, no. There is a proper way to light a cigar.” He lit his first match, and holding it well below the foot of the cigar began slowly rolling the cigar in his fingers, warming and carefully starting to let the tip light. He put that match out, blew on the foot, and then lit the second match, repeating the process again, being sure that the entire circumference of the foot was igniting evenly.

It was then I realized that he hadn’t clipped the head of his cigar yet. He clipped the cigar, lit the third match, letting it burn off the phosphorous well away from the cigar, did a few more turns of the cigar over the flame and then lightly drew on the cigar with the flame still held below the foot, and then looked at it be sure it was evenly lit, and finally put the match down.

“That’s the only proper way to light a cigar. With three matches and with the cigar uncut,” Sr. Guitierrez explained, adding that it prevented odors from the matches getting into the cigar, and being sure it was fully lit before you drew on it.

Every now and then, when I have a lot of time, I’ll take out three wooden cigar matches and light a cigar “the proper way.”

"He put that match out, blew on the foot, and then lit the second match, repeating the process again, being sure that the entire circumference of the foot was igniting evenly. " —January 29, 2012 08:06 AM
"Nice read. But I'm still a "woodie" guy...matches, etc. When home I use a Dunhill table lighter to light a long match and light the cigar with the match. For some reason it captures a bit of the elegance in smoking a fine cigar. " —August 9, 2011 08:30 AM
"Well, I just tried it with a beautiful HdM Double Corona, and I'll be darned--it worked like a charm! It does take a bit more patience than I'm used to, but I have always though there is a simple elegance to lighting up sans butane. Thanks for the story." —April 6, 2007 20:34 PM
"Great story! I've got to try it the next time I light up!" —April 6, 2007 16:30 PM