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While smoking a cigar may seem as simple as picking one out from shop and lighting up, it’s actually a much more complex process than that. In fact, it’s not unusual for new cigar smokers to become a little overwhelmed by the learning curve. From selecting the perfect cigar to getting it ready to actually smoking it, cigars are a lot more nuanced than you might suspect. If you’re just getting initiated to the world of cigars, here’s how to get started.

The Selection Process

While you could arguably walk into a shop and pick out the first cigar you spot, chances are the flavor won’t be to your liking. It’d be similar to a regular cigarette smoker grabbing a pack of menthols by accident. Unexpected flavors can quickly ruin the enjoyment you’ll get from a cigar and you should put particular care into picking your first one out.

Consider what flavor profiles you most enjoy. Do you like pure, untainted tobacco flavors with an almost musky, leathery finish? Or would you prefer something with a hint of coffee and vanilla to accompany a good scotch? Ask yourself what tastes you would find ideal and apply those to your selection.

Ideally, you should purchase your cigars from an all in one smoke shop. The professionals at these stores are adept at guiding new cigar smokers through the purchasing process. While they might not have the expansive inventory of a cigar specialist, they won’t be nearly as intimidating to the novice.

Smoking Your Cigar

If you don’t have a cutter on hand, a pair of scissors or a knife will work fine. Don’t use your teeth unless you really enjoy the taste of wrappers and tobacco. An alternative if you don’t have a cutting tool on hand is to poke a hole in the end of the cigar. If you’re able to cut the cigar, aim for about an eighth to a sixteenth of an inch of the cigar’s head (the closed part). After you’ve done that, you can cut the cap off. Be careful, though. If you cut too far into the body of the cigar, chances are it’ll unravel.

If you want the best experience, you’ll need to light your cigar with matches or a lighter. Other heat sources can negatively impact the quality of the cigar. While you’re lighting, you’ll begin puffing on the cigar—without inhaling—and rotating it. If you inhale the smoke, you’re not going to like how it feels. Continue the process until the end of the cigar starts to glow from the heat. This is how you’ll know it’s been properly lit. It’s always good to keep your lighter or matches nearby in case your cigar dies out at any point.

Puff on the cigar and allow the smoke to fill up your mouth. Again, you don’t want to inhale, you simply want to taste the smoke and blow it out. Rotate your cigar every once in a while, as well. Remember, if you smoke too slow, you’ll know because your cigar will go out much more frequently. On the other hand, if you’re smoking too quickly, it’ll negatively affect the flavor from the cigar burning too fast. Tap the ashes off your cigar once they’re around a half an inch. On average, a cigar typically takes 45 minutes to two hours to fully smoke, so take the time to make yourself a drink (scotch is always recommended, but your favorite spirit will work), throw on some music, and relax.

Enjoy Yourself

Cigar smoking is all about enjoying yourself the way you see fit. Whether that means grabbing a drink with a few good friends and lounging on a patio or throwing on some of your favorite vinyls and relaxing at home, as long as you’re having a good time, you’re doing it right. While there is a bit of a learning curve, with enough time and practice, anyone can become a cigar aficionado!

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