Historians generally believe that the cigar was invented by the ancient Mayans, who would wrap the tobacco in a palm or a plantain leave and smoke it. Archaeologists have even discovered an ancient Mayan pot from the 10th century that depicts a Mayan man puffing on one of these very early cigars.

When Christopher Columbus came over to the New World he was one of the first Westerns to discover tobacco. The local Indians showed him how they smoked the tobacco leaves and Columbus and his lieutenants quickly adopted the habit. When they brought the idea back home, smoking became quite popular in Spain and Portugal. The French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot, popularized cigar smoking in France and nicotine was named after him. It was around this time that manufacturers in Spain started wrapping the dried tobacco in papers rather than leaves. After that, many companies started to grow tobacco and mass-produce cigars.

Cuba became a very popular location to grow the tobacco plants, due to the fertile land and the warm climate. Soon a Cuban tobacco-growing industry was established and sailing ships were distributing the tobacco grown in Cuba from Europe to Asia. Columbus had claimed Cuba for Spain and during this time the Spanish dominated the tobacco industry. They even placed a monopoly on the crop that lasted until 1817, forbidding any Cuban growers to sell to anyone but them.

Cigars started to become a status symbol and a part of popular culture and a lot of famous people smoked them, including King Edward VII, Ulyssess S. Grant, Sigmund Freud, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Jordan.

In 1962 US President John F. Kennedy imposed an embargo on Cuba. Of course, before he put the embargo in place he ordered his press secretary to buy up every Cuban cigar he could find. After Kennedy had stashed approximately 1,200 of them he placed the trade embargo in effect.

This trade embargo is still in effect, which means that US citizens have discovered cigars grown in other Central American nations including Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. However, there are no restrictions on other countries purchasing Cuban cigars, so it’s possible to enjoy them in fine cigar houses in London and other locations around the world.

How To Smoke A Cigar Like A Pro

Many cigar aficionados will tell you it’s not worth deliberating over the chemical analysis of cigar smoke or the leaf compounds of tobacco – what seasoned experts and green novices alike are mostly interested in is if it tastes good or not. Cigar smoking is deemed a romantic pastime, and while it might be best to come equipped with a general grasp on smoking etiquette, it is not always conducive to enjoying the overall experience.

1. Sighting

Your first encounter with a cigar will be by sight, smell, and touch. A good cigar can often be determined by rolling it between the fingers. The best wrappers are silky to the touch, without blemishes, and can possess an elastic quality. Cheap cigars are typically not consistent in their colour, are rough in complexion, and won’t emit a fresh aroma.

2. Cutting

Premium cigars often come out of the box with a closed head, requiring it to be cut before it may be smoked. How you do this is up to you, though the cleaner the cut the less likely you are to ruin the cigar, so a single-edged cutter is the best method. In terms of where to cut, aim for the ‘shoulder’ – the part where the end of the cigar begins to close. Removing this section from the end allows a large, flat, and even surface without removing the glue that keeps the filler leaves compact. Generally, it’s difficult to go wrong with a sharp cutter and a steady pair of hands.

3. Lighting

It’s best to avoid conventional cigarette lighters as they taint the end of the cigar and leave an unpleasant aroma. The good old fashioned matchstick, a butane lighter, or even better a cigar lighter, are generally the preferred ways to go. To avoid overheating the cigar, make sure the flame does not go too near it. Simply hold the cigar over the flame, rotate gently to maintain a glowing ring around the tip, and draw until the cigar is well lit. Note the colour of the ash – a white drop of ash indicates a better quality of tobacco, while a grey one would suggest the soil in which the tobacco was grown was lacking the right nutrients.

4. Smoking

It’s good to note that no two cigars will taste the same. Farmers have good crops and bad ones, and tobacco growers are no different. Ingredients might be incorporated into the blend to compensate for a bad crop, but only to improve the overall taste. However, a balance in flavour is often achieved to get as close to a taste that the smoker is familiar with. In terms of etiquette, ash should fall naturally from the cigar end, so knocking or flicking them off is not always required. When finishing the cigar, it’s best to leave a nub of two inches unsmoked, as even the finest cigars will taste bitter if smoked in their entirety.

5. Relax & Enjoy

If there’s only one thing to remember it’s that, like a fine wine or rare whisky, a cigar should always be savoured. That said, it’s important to note cigars aren’t designed to be inhaled like cigarettes. For one it won’t do your lungs much good, and neither will it improve the taste of the cigar at all. While a cigar is often well enjoyed in a group, it’s usually considered good etiquette to smoke in the company of other cigar smokers, especially if you want to avoid making new enemies.

Light One Up

History has shown that a good cigar is well-loved and this indulgence continues to be enjoyed as much as it was over a thousand years ago.