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Watch Your Ash

How to Enjoy Cigars and Maintain Proper Herfing Etiquette

Cigars are an ancient pastime first started by the native populations of Central America. The oldest evidence shows that the ancient Mayans enjoyed them over a thousand years ago. With the discovery of the New World, tobacco spread to Europe and the rest of the globe. In the United States, cigars have been popular longer than even baseball. Such historic delights have been crafted over decades, and generations even.

I have been into cigars for about seven years and have been a salesman of premium cigars and other tobacco products for about a year and a half. I love to sit outdoors and enjoy a good long smoke alone while deep in contemplative thought, but the best thing about cigars is herfing. To herf, in general, is to enjoy cigars, usually in a group. Enjoying cigars with friends is the best thing about them. It is something I think everyone should experience.

So why should you try cigars? Well, there are honestly many reasons to enjoy the occasional cigar. Like various liquors and alcoholic drinks, they are like nothing else. Cigars offer some unique flavors that you cannot find anywhere else. Cigars also pair extremely well with certain drinks and food, even complementing these other flavors and vice versa. Coffee and certain chocolates go well with almost any cigar. Searching for the unique flavors of cigars can help develop your palate just like trying different foods. Smoking a cigar is also a very relaxing and calming experience. They can help calm your mind for deep thought and help you relax in order to enjoy good conversation and good times with companions. Cigars are a classy habit that doesn't have to be pricey. The variability of cigar types and sizes allow them to be enjoyed on anyone's schedule and it is something that can be picked up by anyone.

The cigar-smoking community has a welcoming and civil atmosphere that you will not find anywhere else. Though, before you head to the local shop/lounge, or before you invite a bunch of friends over, there are a few things you will want to know.

When you choose your cigars or are discussing cigars, do not pretend to know everything. If you do not know something, just own up to it and ask someone more knowledgeable. A very common way to stand out and become unwelcome when herfing is if you act like a "chooch." A chooch is a term that comes from an Italian word for idiot. Being a chooch is when you pretend like you know everything about cigars even though you are wrong. It is easy to spot a chooch and no one likes them. Most of the advice later in this piece will help you to not act like a chooch.

Generally, there can be a lot of variables that go into choosing your cigars. It is important to consider all of them before buying or lighting up. Pretty much any new beginning smoker should stick to light cigars and probably a short smoke. Though as you develop a tolerance for smoke and a palate for cigars you can consider what flavors you want to be tasting. Think about if you are drinking anything with your cigar, you do not want a strong drink with a light cigar. Other things to consider are the setting and time constraints. If it is a hot sunny day and you are outside, consider a cigar that is not too strong. The size and length of a cigar should always be considered because that has an effect on flavor and taste, but obviously, it also determines how long it will take to smoke the cigar. The density to which the tobacco is packed can also affect how long it lasts because a tight cigar may mean a longer time to smoke through all that tobacco. Though all of this is not universal, so don't go spouting it out in an authoritative voice. If you do, everyone will think you are a chooch. Don't be afraid to ask for recommendations.

Once you have your cigars, you have to cut them before lighting. The closed end of the cigar, or head, must be cut open to allow smoke to pass into your mouth. This is one of the trickiest parts of enjoying cigars. The head of the cigar can end in a variety of shapes and cutting in an effective manner without causing the wrapper to unravel can be tricky. A regular curved cap can be cut multiple ways. Personally, I recommend a trench cut. This allows for penetration and depth for good draw and is also usually a very clean cut with little difficulty. When using a regular guillotine cutter on a regular head, cut through just the last cap piece. With a torpedo or pyramido cigar, a guillotine or trench cutter can also be used. With these cigars, you want to cut a little bit more, but still only about a half centimeter from the point. Also with a torpedo or pyramido, make the cut at a slight angle.  A punch is useful with some cigars, I recommend them when faced with a large gauge cigar with a very flat cap end. Using a punch prevents the mess that is common when cutting a large flat cigar with a guillotine. Some people say they only use a punch. Those people are chooches.

A huge bit of etiquette advice I have for you is this: whatever you do, do not put a cigar in your mouth before cutting it. It is more than likely that you may need to use a public cutter or a friend's cutter, or maybe someone might need to borrow your cutter. So, think about it if you put your cigar in your mouth or lick the tip like some gross macho man, then you cut your cigar, and then someone needs to use the same cutter... no one wants to share your saliva, and if you do that with a public cutter, the lounge attendant will be very upset for having to either clean the cutter or for asking that you now buy the cutter you violated. Some people do believe in the value of wetting a cigar cap before cutting. If you think it may be necessary to prevent any splitting, dip your finger in some water or choice liquor and rub it on the cap, and then cut. A split is not the end of the world, it just necessitates some extra care as you smoke.

Lighting a cigar properly is just as crucial as any other step when preparing to enjoy it. It is relatively simple to do once you get the hang of it, though getting an uneven light, and subsequent uneven burn, is easy to happen, even for an expert. It is recommended to use either a butane lighter, matches, or a lit piece of cedar for lighting your cigar. I personally believe it is easiest to use a butane jet lighter which creates a fast burning, straight, and consistent flame. Any soft flame works as well but may take longer, though a soft flame is less likely to get the cigar too hot. 

When lighting a cigar, the first step is to toast the very of the cigar. Using the tip of the flame, run it in circles on the exposed filler tobacco. It is best to hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle to the flame and to rotate the stick for consistent and even heat. The exposed tobacco will blacken and you may see some ash and embers begin to appear. At this point, you can place the cut end into your mouth. Hold the cigar with your teeth and make a tight seal around it with your lips. Again hold the flame to the foot of the cigar and begin circling. Now you should puff fairly hard on the cigar. As you do so the end of the cigar will light faster and may flare up with its own flame. That is fine, but do not puff too hard or too many times. Remember to rotate the stick in your mouth with your other hand so that the light is even. Then after a few firm puffs, take a look at the lit end. Maybe blow on it gently and you should see some orange-red embers all around it with no dark spots. That is how you know it is completely lit. If the burn starts to go uneven, you can use your lighter or matches to run the flame on the slow edge. Unless your cigar explodes, please don't complain about an uneven burn or some small cracks. Please realize that cigars are made of leaves, put together by hand, and shipped from a different county thousands of miles away. There are so many variables that could cause minor problems with a cigar, however, the usual causes of a poor burn or cracks come from the cut or the light. Only a chooch expects to have a perfect cigar every time.

Now you are ready to enjoy your cigar and reap the pleasures of its flavors and the relaxing atmosphere it creates. We come to why you need to "Watch Your Ash." Be careful as you smoke that you are aware of your developing ash. Every centimeter of ash that develops you should attempt to remove it. To do so just tap the cigar lightly on the edge of the ashtray. If it doesn't fall easily then just wait a few minutes and try again. The problem is as the ash grows on the end of your cigar and if you are not paying attention it may fall somewhere unintended. This is why you need to watch your ash. First, you want to avoid it falling on yourself or somewhere dangerous, and if it does you will want to notice it as soon as possible. The ash may still be hot and you don't want to burn yourself or anything else. If it falls try not to freak out too hard, just brush it away immediately. A huge piece of etiquette advice from someone who is a customer as well as an employee in cigar lounges, everyone appreciates it when you clean up after yourself.

Welcome to the herfing community. Enjoy your cigars and enjoy your new friends. Before we end, I have one last piece of advice. If you are just getting into cigars and you try one or two and you feel like you did not like them, whether it was the flavor profile or it was too strong and it made you feel sick, don't stop yet. First of all, if you start a cigar and you take three puffs and don't like it, keep going. The first third of a cigar is often more bitter than the rest of the cigar, this may be because it was lit too hot or the foot has dried out more than the rest of the cigar. Try to get at least half-way before you decide whether you like a cigar or not. If you have had a couple cigars and haven't enjoyed them very much, I implore you to ask your local salesman to recommend a few different sticks. It takes time to develop a palate for certain types of cigars, but I am sure that an expert can find something for you to enjoy as a newbie. For more information and a guide to cigar types, different tobaccos, and a few recommendations look for an upcoming article that I will be posting in the near future.

I want to thank you for reading this article on how to smoke a cigar as a newbie and not look like a chooch. Smoke slow, speak softly, and watch your ash.


A night smoke is the best time to enjoy a cigar alone, or with company.

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