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When push comes to shove, there’s one trait that reigns king in all cigars, smoke quality. Yet, because it is so elusive and intangible it is a little bit difficult for us to connect with the smoke. The point is, that thinking about how we can connect with the smoke is the wrong starting point, rather, smoke is how the cigar connects with us. This experience of flavor and aroma? It’s all in the smoke. At this point you might be asking, “MAC, what are you smoking?” Right now it’s just a Patina Habano (great cigar, by the way), but the point stands, I’m connecting with this cigar through my five senses, but the cigar is connecting with me through its smoke. I can taste the smoke, I can smell the smoke, I can also see the smoke, and what I see matters.
Just think about it, the years it takes for the sowing, growing, harvesting, curing, fermenting, aging to be completed, not to mention where all that was done and by whom; it all comes to fruition in smoke. There’s two traits about that smoke we can observe, density and color.
We can usually refer to smoke density as smoke production, when a cigar produces a rich cloud of flavorful smoke it usually translates to quality combustion in the cigar itself. It means all the leaves are well blended and burning in the right proportions and their humidity is uniform and right where it should be. But don’t be fooled, a dry cigar will provide excellent smoke production, but it’ll taste like the fire you’re lighting it with. Serve yourself (and your cigars) rightly and keep a well maintained humidor, that’s why we include Boveda packs in shipment.
Finally, the most exciting part about looking at cigar smoke: Color! Smoke color holds the key to a quality smoke (the verb). We will only accept two shades in our cigars, blue, and white.
If your cigar produces black smoke, it means there is a foreign combustion agent accelerating the burn, it’s ok to see some light swirls of black smoke as you light, because your fire source is a foreign combustor accelerating the burn, but if you see black as you smoke, put the cigar down. Black smoke is produced when the material burns faster than it can be fully broken down, forcing charred particles of it to float into the air. This is very unusual in handmade premium cigars.
Blue smoke is the holy grail of the barbeque chef, it usually means that the burn is clean and there’s very little moisture or contaminants in the smoke. For cigars, it’s not too different and is actually desirable at the foot of your cigar (the end you light unless you’re a dummy). Blue smoke indicates a slow, relatively low temperature burn with very little moisture in it. I hear ya’, “But don’t cigars contain moisture?” Yes, they do, but a higher temperature is required to mix it into the smoke and that will inherently occur when you draw as you bring fresh, oxygen rich air into the cigar. If you draw too frequently, you’ll notice the foot of your cigar will emit thick white smoke. This is undesirable because it’s also an indication of overheating, so watch out for that and slow down a little.
Ah yes, saving the best for last: dense, creamy, flavorful white smoke. This is what you want in your palate to get the full array of flavors your cigar has to offer. There’s not much else to it. Remember how we want the foot of the cigar oozing blue smoke? Well, when we draw and introduce oxygen into the burn, the temperature will increase and the moisture in the tobacco (and all of its flavorful, aromatic oils) will be mixed in the smoke, which will come out as white, right into your palate for your smoking pleasure. If you’re drawing blue smoke, it means your cigar’s burn is slowing down and you might need to purge and draw a couple of times to bring it back to optimal temperature.
And that’s it! Just smoke your cigar at a rate where the foot’s smoke is blue and the smoke making its way into your palate is white to get the full experience. Some cigars are easier to smoke than others and will be easy to keep the burn balanced. Others, particularly dense blends with lots of ligero, will require you to pay a little bit more attention. Enjoy your cigars with class, folks! Cheers!
– Miguel A. Contreras (MAC)