How to get the most out of a Ha­vana ci­gar

SI­MON CHASE PRO­VIDES THE UL­TI­MATE PRAC­TI­CAL GUIDE TO EN­JOY­ING A HA­BANOS, FROM CHOOS­ING THE PER­FECT STICK TO UN­DER­STAND­ING WHEN TO PUT IT OUT

Virtuozity - - The Humidor -

Sim­ply hold the ci­gar be­tween your thumb and fore­fin­ger, and squeeze it gen­tly. If it feels firm yet springy, the con­di­tion is good; if it is hard and brit­tle, it is out of con­di­tion. The squeeze test can be ex­tended along the whole length of the ci­gar to ensure that the filler is evenly packed and con­tains no holes that might cause an un­even burn.

Such an in­va­sive procedure is bet­ter un­der­taken with ci­gars you own. Few ci­gar mer­chants would wel­come such treat­ment of their pre­cious stock, al­though I would rec­om­mend that you do not pa­tro­n­ise any shop that re­fuses to open a box and let you view its con­tents be­fore you get out your credit card.

The first thing to look at is the wrap­per colour. Tra­di­tion­ally the wrap­per colours of Cuban ci­gars vary be­tween boxes. This ap­plies to all brands and all sizes, so you can find any­thing from claro to maduro in a Mon­te­cristo, a Parta­gas or any of the other 25 brands Ha­banos makes with the ex­cep­tion of most Co­hibas, which have their own colour grad­ing regime. There are one or two other ex­cep­tions to this rule— like the an­nual Limited Edi­tion re­leases whether it is full or light-flavoured. For my part, I have par­tic­u­lar colour pref­er­ences for dif­fer­ent brands based on my be­lief that the wrap­per adds a cer­tain top- taste to the ci­gar on a scale stretch­ing from dry­ness, if it is light-coloured, to sweet­ness, if it is dark. The fuller-flavoured Cuban brands, like Parta­gas for ex­am­ple, are bet­ter dressed for my taste in dark wrap­pers, whilst the lighter blends that you find in Hoyo de Mon­ter­rey or El Rey del Mundo go bet­ter with light, drier-tast­ing wrap­pers. Colour apart, all wrap­pers should be smooth, vein-free and have that all-im­por­tant lus­tre or sheen; this is where the smil­ing comes in.

When it comes to taste, ex­pe­ri­ence is the only trust­wor­thy guide. Ha­banos SA, the An­glo-cuban com­pany that dis­trib­utes Cuban ci­gars world­wide, clas­si­fies all its 27 brands ac­cord­ing to five strength cat­e­gories—light, Light to Medium, Medium, Medium to Full and Full. As one of the team that worked on these taste clas­si­fi­ca­tions, I am con­scious that many smok­ers would like more in­for­ma­tion. I have al­ways op­posed this be­cause I feel taste is such a per­sonal mat­ter. Also, I

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