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We absolutely love cigars. If you’re an astute Cool Material reader, you already know this. Even though we’re preaching the good word about one of our favorite hobbies, we realize that cigar smoking isn’t necessarily the most easy to digest topic, and that there are many subtle nuances involved in everything: Why are cigars so popular? Where can I buy them? How do I store them? How do I cut them? Can I light them with any old lighter, or does a match work better?

It’s a lot to learn, but we think it’s more than worth it to be able to enjoy this centuries old hobby, tradition, and culture. We tried our best to answer as many questions as possible, but if there’s anything we missed, there’s a comment section on Facebook. Just keep it civil.

What’s the Big Deal About Cigars

We can go on and on about why we love a good cigar, but you’ve already heard it from us. Why not hear it from the people who know? Human beings have loved cigars for many reasons for many, many years, and those reasons obviously vary from person to person. But when we asked ourselves why we like a good smoke, we decided that quick article from the folks at Cigar Dojo is a real good place to start. If you’re contemplating picking up the habit—we mean, hobby—give it a read through and see if you spot yourself in the list.


A Brief History of Cigars

One of the things we love most about cigars is their storied history. From Christopher Columbus’ discovery of tobacco from the Native Americans in 1492, all the way up to the great cigar boom of the early 19th Century, straight through to the Cuban Revolution, etc. There are a few good resources, but we love this very brief history from TIME, as well as this somewhat more technical history from the team at Thompson Cigar.


Where to Buy Cigars

The answer to this question really all depends on what kinds of cigars you’re looking for. If you’re looking into buying Cubans, there are only really a few ways to get them—and apparently, they’re only getting more difficult to get. Of course, you can go to Cuba, but if you won’t soon be kicking it in Havana, there are some loopholes you should be aware of. This brief guide from Cigar Aficionado covers just about everything you need to know about how to get Cubans back home.

There are plenty of online marketplaces for non-Cuban cigars, too. You’ve got places like Thompson Cigars, mentioned above, as well as well as retailers like JR Cigars and Cigars International. Mattias Clock from Fine Tobacco NYC put together an excellent guide on the best online cigar retailers, and we think it’s absolutely invaluable.

You can also check out your local cigar shop. In fact, it’s our preferred method because a lot of the local shops you encounter serve more as social clubs and gathering places than as cigar shops. Think a bar, but with smoking.


Types of Cigars

Cigars come in many types, shapes, and sizes, and while you don’t have to know each and every one of them, it definitely can’t hurt. What’s the difference between Figurados and Parejos? Why does a Culebra look so weird? What the hell is a Churchill? This guide from JR’s answers all those questions and more. And if you’re sitting there right now asking yourself why a cigar’s shape and size matter, you’re the exact person who needs to read it.


How to Cut Your Cigar

Yes, even the way you cut your cigar matters. Cut too much, and your cigar drags too easy and burns too hot; cut too little, and your stick won’t stay lit. More than that, there’s a variety of different styles of cuts, ranging from the common straight cutters, to the punch cutter, the V-cut, the Shuriken, and everything in between. Some cuts are more advantageous than others for certain types of cigars, while others are all-around performers no matter what you’re smoking. If you want to learn the ins and outs or cigar cutting, try this. There are tips on how to get the best airflow, as well as what cuts and cutters look like.


How to Light a Cigar

If we had to pick the single-most important piece of wisdom every cigar smoker should know about the process, it’d be knowing how to properly light a cigar. It is far and away the thing people screw up most. Believe it or not, it’s a process that should take some time. You also can’t just light a cigar with any old lighter. This is one of those things easier digested when seen rather than read, so be sure to check out this excellent, excellent how-to video from Cigar Aficionado. If you prefer an actual guide, this wikiHow article is also excellent.


How to Store a Cigar

Cigars are an investment. Most are definitely cheaper than a night out at the bar, but they’re also more expensive than a pack of cigarettes. Learning how to perfectly store your cigars and protect that investment is something that takes a lot of time, effort and patience to get down perfectly. Of course, it all starts with a proper humidor. But how to prep your humidor for the best conditions and how to keep your humidor seasoned once it gets there is a whole other thing completely. This guide from Thought Co. is excellent, and even comes complete with useful photos.

Also, a quick pro tip: Don’t worry about really getting that wood moist when you work with the distilled water. The humidor’s wood is super, super porous, but a lot of it will dissolve. Be prepared to wet it down two or three times before your humidity will hold between 68 and 72 degrees—and even then, you should be checking it every few days or so.


Are Cuban Cigars Really the Best?

For decades, Cuban cigars were thought to be the best cigars on the planet. The soil, the tobacco, the wraps, and the craftsmanship that went into producing just one Cuban were considered unmatchable by any other standard. Today, things are a little different. Some people still swear by the quality of a hand-rolled Cuban, while others are a little more open-minded.

Personally, we think the post-embargo Cuban cigars are really more about conversation and pomp than quality. The truth is, many of the most famous pre-embargo Cuban cigar companies actually fled Havana when things got tough. Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, even Cohiba—all took their crops, seeds, and methods with them when shit got bad. So, technically, the Romeo y Julieta you’re smoking from today actually has less in common with a post-embargo Cuban Romeo y Julieta than it does a Romeo y Julieta from the Dominican Republic. And yes, they’re two completely different companies.


What Not to Do

First and foremost, your primary goal as a newfound cigar smoker should be to have fun, relax, and enjoy yourself. But there are also a lot of things that every good smoker should know not to do before they burn their first stick. This roundup by Business Insider’s Dennis Green is super accurate, and covers a lot of the stuff you probably wouldn’t think about. Of course, his word isn’t set in stone, and this is really only suggested reading. But it’s good, all the same.

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