If you are like me, you probably have a very hard time finding a justification to just sit back and relax. More often than not, I find myself falling for this guilt trip whereby if I do not accomplish something productive, then I simply must be wasting my time. Being productive is obviously very important. Yet, being able to do nothing else but think for a while is crucial in resetting your mind, purging that backlog of ideas and being able to prioritize again.
Since I cannot fathom doing nothing, I had to think about a motivation (some may call it an excuse!) for meditation and, well… relax. So I started getting interested in cigars. While smoking is not the kind of health habit that I would promote, I also figured that not inhaling smoke as well as smoking premium (and expensive) stogies only would keep the harm at a minimum while maximizing the pleasure and relax factor out of the practice. And right I was!
So I went through the whole process of learning everything that I could about cigars, the history, tobacco, fermentation, rolling, shapes, sizes, flavors, brands, humidity, equipment… you name it. Everything that I needed to learn, I found it in just one book which is a great classic in the cigar literature written by Richard Carleton Hacker: The Ultimate Cigar Book. You can find it on Amazon for a mere $20-$25. This is the 4th edition.
Overall, I can say that smoking a cigar goes so much further than just lighting a stick and blowing out smoke. First of all, the anticipation is half the pleasure. Research is paramount. And I find myself studying the vintage of a cigar just like one would do with fine wine. For each new brand that I try, it is a discovery process that should educate me about what to expect in the blend, what tastes I will likely encounter, and especially, why. This process is exactly how you will educate your palate over time in singling out every shades of coco, wood, nut, cream, cocoa, pepper etc… Knowing that the flavor should be there, knowing that you should expect it is the beginning of the journey in becoming a good cigar connoisseur. By discussing the qualities of each soil from Cuba, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Connecticut, Nicaragua, Cameroon and so on, the book mentioned above will tell you exactly what character may be attributed so such and such brand, or such and such tobacco. It is truly fascinating.
Once my initial study was completed, what I did for starters was to find a store ready to sell cigars by the unit. This way, I was able to sample a large amount of origins, brands, shapes and tobaccos before ordering by the box, which can be quite expensive. Of course, there will be a minimum order amount in most cases, but the exercise is worth it to broaden your starting experience. From that point forward, I was able to narrow my tastes and preferences down to just a handful of brands which I will regularly come back to. Note that there is ease of choice on both sides of the pond, albeit different ones. Europeans usually enjoy Cuban tobacco which is readily available just about anywhere on the continent, making upscale smoking variety plentiful. In the US, however, what they do not have in Cuban tobacco, they make up for in creativity and brand variety. In other words, while I concentrate my smoking on top-shelf brands while in Europe, I tend to focus on undiscovered and often surprisingly high-quality (almost) no-name brands in America. I would highly recommend that you do the same in order to get a true sense of what is available out there.
As far as equipment goes, the geek in me stopped at nothing in getting the best gear possible. What special gear, you might ask, it should just be about smoking after all? Wrong! Cigar smoking is as much of an art and lifestyle as it is a high-maintenance hobby. You will need quality equipment if you want to maintain your treasure in great shape as well as smoke in style when the time comes. Here is a rundown of the key items that I purchased.
Humidor: I picked up a sleek, lacquered-black Adorini humidor with a tobacco leaf printed in top. The humidor packs a superb Spanish cedar wood lining. It is mid-sized and may contain 50-75 cigars. Great stuff for a beginner like myself.
Hygrometer: Do your cigars a favor and toss the analog/hair hygrometer that comes with your humidor. By a digital hygrometer from Xikar instead to get rid of the approximation and calibration issue. Much easier and safer. The hygrometer comes with a stick-on magnet for easy installation inside your humidor.
Humidification: No hassle there. I went straight with the Boveda humidipacks system. As you will see, most humidors come with this grille-case inside which lies a foam supposed to be humidified with distilled water. This old-school system has several flaws: it provides approximate humidity levels, it is supposed to be refilled every two weeks or so, and more importantly, it is subject to mold. The Boveda packs however, are straightforward humidity packets with the % humidity written on them. Once they become rigid, just throw them away. And by the way, when re-humidifying a packet or device if you so choose, always be sure to use distilled water, or better yet, propylene glycol to maximize and lenghten the moisture factor.
Lighter: These are usually fashion statements and a power trip when it comes to how many flame jets they produce. Being a motorsports fan, I went with the Forte line of Xikar lighters. Single jet, very sturdy, it screams quality when you hold it in your hand. I got mine in matte black with a chrome grille. It is a superb item.
Cutter: There again, I went with Xikar. That firm makes one of the sharpest 440-grade stainless steel blade in the industry. What is more, their exclusive butterfly design allows for one-handed cuts. I went a little crazy with this one and snapped up the Xi3 Phantom edition with the carbon handles and matte blade. It is a beauty. But again, you do not need to do the same. The cheaper ones from the same brand may not be as fancy looking, yet they still use the same Samurai-worthy blade!
Ash Tray: I went old school with this one. Check out the Havana Club trays. They are hand-made potteries available in many shiny colors. Fun look and genuine at the same time. You can’t go wrong to bring that touch of Cuban spirit to your cigar break.
In the end, I cannot tell you how good it feels to get to my humidor, every now and then, and actually enjoy my terrace and the sea view. The 30mn to 60mn that smoking a stogie requires has me actually relax for real and evacuate whatever lingering worry remains to be dusted. I also tend to bring a cigar to whatever nice place I end up getting to. For example, these quality moments that I love to spend at this high-end jazz bar down my ward are now consistently complimented with a good cigar on my way out. I also tend to think ahead of time about what kind of cigar I will be bringing to particular family occasions or seasonal events and what not. Any cigar has its own way of enhancing a given moment. And sharing cigars is often a great conversation starter when doing business.
So as long as you do not abuse it, and you won’t if like me you tend to focus on top-of-the-line vintage cigars, there is nothing not to like about this new hobby!