Cutting and lighting your cigar is an art that will maximise enjoyment of our chosen smoke. Every Havana is made from three components; filler, binder and a wrapper leaf that is sealed at the cigar’s ‘head’ with a cap made from a piece of wrapper leaf.
To cut a Havana, you need to remove most of this cap with a single slicing movement across the shoulders of the cigar. A guillotine cutter or special scissors are best suited to the task. The bottom section of the cap should remain, as it secures the wrapper leaf and, therefore, the contents of your chosen cigar!
You may have heard talk of piercing the end of a Havana with a match to prepare it for smoking, but we Cigar Scholars were discounted from doing this, as it causes poor draw.
The main bone of contention is the band. The question of whether to remove it or not has probably been debated ever since cigars were first made. Most of the meticulous ‘banding’ of Havanas is done by women; the process apparently requires a feminine touch! The most sensible advice seems to be to remove the band only after the cigar has been alight for five minutes or so, by which time warmth will have made it easier to remove. Any earlier attempts at removal could quite easily damage the wrapper leaf.
This, it must be said, is quite jusified. The wrapper (or Capa) comes from the Corojo plant, and costs more to produce than all the other tobaccos in a Havana. The wrapper is also most precious because it dresses the cigar, dictating its appearance.
Consider all this, and you will agree that even when the sensible 5 minute rule has been followed, you would still be advised to peel rather than pull off the band.
Quite unlike lighting a humble cigarette, the noble Havana is demanding, and requires more time and attention. The fatter the cigar, the longer it will take, because you must be sure to light the whole of the foot to avoid uneven burning. Cigars are also fussier in terms of the type of light used. Petrol lighters are to be avoided because their aromas interfere with that of the Havana’s tobacco. The best implements are the odourless flames of wooden matches (but let the head burn off first) and butane lighters.
Appropriate flame in hand, you should first char the end of your Havana to increase the chance of its even ignition. Once glowing, gently blow on it to make sure that it is burning evenly. Further increase its chances by rotating the Havana in your fingers whilst drawing the flame onto the cigar.
It is not unusual for a Havana to go out before its smoker has finished enjoying it! The many first time cigar smokers amongst us did wonder what we had done wrong and thought about abandoning our charred remains! But it is easy to reinstate full burn status with some gentle re-lighting, without even putting the cigar to your mouth. Clear the ash from the foot of the Havana and then heat it in a flame. If in doubt, we discovered, always re-light, because you will be disappointed if you try to smoke a Havana that has partly ‘died’. Oh, and one more point to remember don’t tap your Havana during smoking.