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How To Smoke a Cigar

How do you smoke a cigar? This may seem like a silly question, but you might be surprised to know that the majority of cigar enthusiasts are not smoking their cigars in a fashion that maximizes there flavor and full potential. For an aficionado, tasting a cigar is equally as intricate as a sommelier tasting a wine. Since we have covered the methods of properly lighting a cigar several times in our previous issues, lets pick up where we left off and now discuss the proper methods of smoking a cigar. The key component to tasting all of the elements a fine hand made cigar has to offer is the draw. There must be enough smoke pulled into the palate to detect all of its nuances. To draw a cigar properly, although most aficionados have their own system, the most common practice used is referred to as the “1-2-3 method.” In this method, each draw is a series of three puffs, the first two being strong and short with a long and solid third puff. This technique allows for the oils at the foot of the cigar (the lit end) to heat up quickly before drawing onto the palate. Please note that at no time during this whole process should the smoke be inhaled into your lungs.

The second phase is to use your mouth for the preliminary classification of flavors. In your mouth, the smoke does not have a discernable flavor, but rather stimulates specific areas of the palate to distinguish between the major areas of the tongue. These areas of the tongue pick up bitter (the center rear), acidic (rear sides), salty (front sides) or sweet (tip) flavors. A well-balanced cigar will stimulate each of these regions evenly. To help your palate with this process, puff out your cheeks and allow the smoke to swirl around in your mouth.

Now for the tricky step, using your nose. This step is most often missed by cigar enthusiasts and is crucial to the smoking and tasting experience. While the mouth is important in identifying balance, the nose is where an aficionado will detect specific aromas like wood, leather, peat, spice, etc. After the smoke has swirled in your mouth, draw it to the rear of your throat (sometimes a swallowing action is required) and gently exhale part of the smoke through your nose. This is a very difficult talent to master and takes a lot practice. The key, as you get started, is to only blow 10% of the smoke through your nose and the rest out of your mouth. As you become more comfortable, you can increase this amount until you are ideally utilizing both your mouth and nose equally (50/50) when releasing the smoke. Exhaling through the nose is important because the nose is home to the majority of the flavor and odor receptors in the body. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of a cigar’s taste is actually detected in the nose.

So what now? You may have just read this and realized you have been doing it all wrong. I too had this realization several years ago after meeting Hendrik Kelner of Davidoff, who taught me many things about tasting and balance. After I transitioned to using my nose when enjoying a cigar, everything I tried tasted differently. Some of my favorites were suddenly not as enjoyable as I previously thought, and some other cigars I had some distaste for became my everyday smokes. Practicing proper technique is not something to be afraid of. Whether you are just starting out now or making the transition after many years of experience, utilizing some of these proper techniques will only heighten your enjoyment and appreciation of fine cigars.
Published Wednesday, July 09, 2008 11:41 AM by Alex Svenson



PitchingDoc said:

This  was a great post for someone like me who's very new to cigars.  As I stated in another blog, I've recently smoked a Henry Clay and a Hoyo de Monterey, finding the Hoyo to have a better draw and be smoother overall.

But what I have noticed is that when I'm about 2/3 of the way through the cigar, I start to feel more of a burn with the puffs.  Is this normal?  Am I not waiting long enough between puffs?

Thank you.
July 18, 2008 8:31 PM

PitchingDoc said:

I smoked a Don Tomas tonight and (I think) it was the most mild of the 3 cigars I've smoked recently (Henry Clay, Hoyo de Monterey, Don Tomas).  I was surprised to see Don Tomas NOT listed in the cigar listings on the cigar.com brands.

Does cigar.com carry Don Tomas cigars?

I'm a little unsure about this being the best of the 3 because I'm wondering if I'm just getting better at smoking them.

Anyway, I tried the "nose trick" with trying to taste the cigar and admit that it was difficult to do but I will keep trying.

Thank you.
July 20, 2008 12:38 AM

JaguarGar said:

This is a joke.  The 1-2-3 method.  I would ony recomend this if the cigar has a tight draw.  If the cigar you are smoking has good construction and burn the flavor will be the same with just one puff as it would be with 3 puffs.  
October 2, 2008 9:46 AM

rogersmoke said:

Yeah, I agree about the 3 puffs. I count that as a negative if I have to do that to get the volume of smoke I want.  We make life more complicated than it should be. Just light 'em,  smoke 'em and enjoy 'em.

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar". Freud.
October 21, 2008 10:22 AM

bbc020 said:

yeah, I often discount those who have far more experience than I do.  They don't know what they are talking about.  Look guys, I tend to view cigars as a piece of art, and most of the time I want to experience that art the way the artist wants me to experience it, so that I can get exactly what they were trying to convey.  He referenced Hendrik Kelner of Davidoff, someone that is pretty incremental in developing the Davidoff lines, to teaching him how to enjoy a cigar.  While the 1-2-3 method may not be something you wish to practice, I tend to do it at least a few times with every cigar I experience.  It is what is intend by the artist, IMHO.
November 2, 2008 11:19 PM

JaguarGar said:

If this works for you then thats wonderful bbc.  I'm not discounting anyone, i am merely stating an observation from my vast smoking experience.  I may not be a cigar producer but I am not an amature smoker either.  If we are discussing cigars as a form of art then I believe you are missing the point.  Art is wonderful because it can be experienced in many ways.  Smoking a cigar and enjoying it is not about following an instruction manual.  However if you need one to enjoy a cigar than the 1-2-3 method probably works for you.  As for me I will focus on enjoying the experience of smoking a cigar instead of 1 cigar makers opinion of how to smoke one.  
November 6, 2008 3:41 PM

Pinky said:

I always thought it was against cigar etiquette to inhale....but I guess I was wrong. Has anyone else heard this?
February 6, 2009 4:43 PM

seanfoss said:

Your not inhaling it, it is called Retrohaling.

if done right no smoke gets in to your lungs at all, your simple pushing the smoke out of your nose.

It works very well for me and you get to pickup on taste notes you would not get by just puffing the stick.

March 10, 2009 6:41 AM

laker1963 said:

I find the 1-2-3 method works for me as well. Do I ALWAYS use it...no. However, what I find is that the 1-2-3 method is more about priming the cigar so that on the third draw the smoke I pull into my mouth is of the proper temperature and will provide enough volume of smoke for me to enjoy the full nuances of the cigar I am smoking.<BR> I may be wrong but I believe Alex was stating that. He mentions about the oils (the flavor ) heating up to the right temp. I also find that if my cigar is sitting for a minute or two between draws then I need to prime the cigar before I can get a mouthful of smoke at the proper temp. to enjoy the flavors. In other words it is more to keep the stick burning properly then it is a technique of "smoking properly". If you tend to smoke a little more quickly or if your sticks are on the low side of the RH scale then you may not have any problems with using a different method. Alex did NOT say that the 1-2-3 method was the only correct one... just a very common one. Use what works.
April 20, 2009 11:52 AM

Blackhorse09 said:

I've heard many times about exhaling through the nose adding to the tasting experience...etc.  But it seems that VERY few smokers to this.  If this is the case...and blenders are blending to match the profiles preferred by those who DO exhale through their nose...aren't they blending to the tastes of the minority?  I guess it's yet another case of a hand full of "masters", the enlightened few, leading the sheep.  They blend for themselves and maybe for each other, and the rest of us just follow along...or...do we end up buying cigars that aren't quite so good just because they happen to cater to a profile enjoyed by non-nose blowers?    
May 2, 2009 9:54 AM

laker1963 said:

I think the blenders do what they have always done. If a person who chooses to smoke a cigar does not exhale some smoke thru their nose then they miss that part of the smoking experience. To put this down as a "Handful of masters " blending for themselves, seems a little off base. The blenders make cigars to sell (and enjoy) not to enjoy (and sell). How do you propose they blend a stick so that soemone who does not exhale smoke thru the nose could get all the nuances and flavors from it?If a person is VERY careful and does start to exhale just a little bit of smoke thru their nose, I believe the additional flavors you pick up on will be enough to encourage them to continue this method and eventually work up to releasing most if not all of the smoke thru the nose. It took me a couple of months, just a little bit at a time or every other draw, until I now exhale 95% of my smoke out the nose and the extra flavors have caused me to see some already tried cigars in a new way in addition to causing my cigar profile prefference to change as well. I now enjoy many more different cigars then I used to. I put this down to smoking them the way the blenders intended them to be smoked, and being able to enjoy ALL of the flavors and nuances of each cigar. Happy ashes.
May 5, 2009 11:51 AM

sweetjd said:

I have quick question? I just started smoking cigars, and ive been trying alot of different kinds. and reading alot to get some knowledge, and trial and error.. when I smoke my cigar, I trend to drink a ice cold sierra mist to refresh my pallet, before I puff on it again, to me it seems refreshing as each puff I take brings on a refreshing taste, and as I  smoke down the body of the cigar, i can taste all kinds of different taste, like a new experence each time..  so am I ruining the taste of the cigar or missing any in the cigar.. thanks Jason  
January 22, 2010 3:48 AM

hardbuck said:

I am currently outside the US and have had the pleasure of smoking Romeo & Juliet #2 as well as Montecristo #2 Cubans. The RJs seem to burn a little hotter and I have used the 1-2 technique and, once half way through or better, even the 1/2-1 "technique." I have noticed the Montecristos are more light and smooth and I found myself naturally using the 1-2-3 technique. I must try the nose-exhale as I have not done that yet. However, gauging the quality of my last smoke I would hardly say I'm missing anything. I think that is the great thing about cigars. Each individual has his or her own liking and the same can probably be said about smoking "techniques."
July 28, 2010 1:38 AM

Richard_Milliman said:

Wow! a lot of good information, i find it best to listen to several differing opinions, try what sounds good to me and stick with what works best (for enjoying the the many complexities of a good cigar). i like to smoke a good cigar while relaxing, comfortable leather recliner in front of a hockey game, whiskey in one hand (good whiskey) a 55-60 in the other. whether it is in front of a fire on cold Michigan night or with a group of friends, i believe to truly enjoy a good cigar, you should relax so you can enjoy!
December 23, 2010 11:05 PM

RBeckom said:

We all know everything but have so much to learn. Alex is simply trying to pass on the knowledge he has acquired. We all have to learn at our own rate. Read, learn and then absorb what you have read. Only then are we worthy of commentary.
October 25, 2011 5:53 PM

Cigary said:

One thing about cigars is that we tend to do those things we are accustomed to.  The 1 2 3 method is something that is popular and for those who are learning it's something to practice for sure.  Over the last 50 years I tend to drop down to the 1  2  method..which is a long pull and then a short one behind it...hold it and then slowly push it out and this works with cigars that aren't too tight.  After I clip a cigar I will do a dry pull to see what is in store for me...obviously if it's tight I use a draw tool until I get the type of draw I like and then I proceed to light it.  For me....the long pull from the beginning keeps the cigar burning evenly and the short pull just keeps that burn right where I like it.  I've done the  1  2  3 method for years but found myself not drawing enough to keep a good burn so I had to drop one step.
May 29, 2013 3:10 PM

Garryvargas said:

First off, it should be "smoky" - think like hickory smoke meat. It is very unique taste this tobacco imparts.
December 30, 2013 6:25 AM
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About Alex Svenson

I enjoy at least one premium cigar everyday and have the privilege of working directly with every major cigar maker in the industry. I love developing new and exciting cigar blends and bringing only the best this industry has to offer to our Cigar.com clients.

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