It's an old saying we've all heard before; "practice makes perfect". I don't know about you, but being "perfect" seems unobtainable. We're only human after all. What is true though is if you do anything long enough or often enough you're bound to make progress. The cigar journey is no different. The world of tobacco is so large it seems impossible to be an expert in all aspects. The fact that there is always something more to learn about the industry is one of the factors that make the hobby that much more enjoyable. Below are some lessons I've learned along the way and would like to share.
Pick the vitola for the available time
This one sounds obvious, but it wasn't to me when I first picked up cigars. As a newb I would try to "save money" and let a cigar go out at a certain point so I could come back to it later. I started in the middle of winter in New York and it gets pretty cold. Sometimes I would relight a cigar 3 or 4 times. Well if any of you have done that before, you know it changes the flavors drastically. You get a phone call, get distracted, it goes out for 20 or so minutes, not a huge deal. Anything beyond that and you might as well start up a new one. Cigars are made to be smoked in one sitting and that was the blender's intent. So keep a variety of vitolas on hand for the various situations. I stock up on little fellas for the winter now because I know on most nights I won't want to be out on the porch for 90 minutes.
Be mindful of your choice of cutter
I see it asked often in social media groups. "What's your go-to cutter?" Now ok sure, everyone is going to gravitate towards one type of cutter, but I find that there is no one-size-fits-all. Sometimes the cigar itself requires a certain cut to provide the proper draw. Let the cigar speak to you. Feel it up, look it over, give it a baby squish. Does it seem super light? Maybe start with a punch and see how the dry pull is. Not quite enough? Give it a conservative straight cut and test again. Check the cap too. Is it a single, shallow cap? Then I wouldn't recommend grabbing your favorite V-cutter and chomping a huge bite out of it. Nobody enjoys an unraveling cigar. Lately I've been doing a hybrid cut on the dense cigars that seem like they may give me trouble with the draw. I'll start with a V-cut, and then use a straight cut to snip the tips. The result is basically a straight cut with a very small V leftover in the center. Seems to work well. My point is, utilize all of the various cutters and apply them accordingly. And remember, you can always chop more off if needed, but you can't put it back on.
Don't light the cigar with an inferno
There are lots of ways to fire up that stogie. Matches, cedar spills, torches with 1-5 jets, hell some people even light them with Bics (although I don't advise that). What's more important is that you get an even light with the least amount of flame contact as possible. This is in regards to torches. Since matches & cedar spills burn at a lower temperature than torches, you can get very close to the flame. For me, matches & cedar spills take way too darn long and I never use them. If you've been on Instagram for 5 minutes you've probably seen the countless videos of people cutting & lighting their cigar. Many of them take that torch, shove it right up to the foot and proceed to puff puff puff until the end is this gigantic fireball. It's a bit nails down a chalkboard for me. Completely unnecessary and it will absolutely change how that first third tastes. Light your cigars at an angle, slowly bring it closer to the heat of the flame (not the actual orange or blue), and puff on & off while rotating the cigar. Check it, give it a blow, touch up the edges as needed, and you're off to the races. Be gentle! I find 2 & 3 jet torches work best for most situations.
Easy does it on the puffs
Smoking a cigar is not a race. They're meant to slow you down, relax, and enjoy. So what do I mean by easy does it? I'm not only referring to the frequency between puffs, but also the intensity. Similar to the point I made above about not lighting the cigar to an inferno, gauge your draw pressure as to not overheat the cherry. The goal is not to blow out as much smoke as possible. You're not Snoop Dog trying to smokebox the room. A few seconds of a gentle pull is all you should need. I find that too much smoke will somehow drown out some of the flavor notes. Don't know for sure if that's true, I have no real data, other than that's my experience. Too much smoke and you're also forced to expel the smoke faster. A speedy exhale can also impact the notes you'll pick up. If you keep enough time between puffs and draw gently you'll be good to go.
Don't forget to retro
I was having a virtual herf session with my cigar group and somebody asked how many of us retrohale. I was shocked to see that some people who have been smoking for years said they very rarely or never retro. Hey, to each their own! We like what we like and we smoke how we smoke. There is nothing wrong with that. As for me, I retrohale on each and every puff. I find that the vast majority of the flavor notes I receive are from the retro. Honestly, I don't even think I would bother with cigars if I couldn't retro and was missing out on all those flavors. On the surface it does seem kinda scary, right? Smoke in the nose is normally quite irritating. There is something about cigar smoke though, I don't know, it's different. If you haven't been retrohaling, try releasing only the final 10% of the puff through your nose first. If that seems doable, try a little more on the next one. The pepper bombs can be a tough retro for some, so maybe a little less on those ones. Play around. I strongly recommend you try it and I can almost guarantee you'll pick up additional notes that you hadn't before.