Image: Jacqueline Macou/Pixabay

For all the work that goes into growing tobacco — drying and fermenting the leaves, ageing the tobacco and blending leaves from different plantations — I discovered, the hard way, that the taste and flavours of a cigar are affected by much more.

When I travel, I tend to carry enough cigars to last me the time I am away — which makes for interesting conversation with customs and security in airports — and always select my tried and tested and different Vitolas, because I do not have a sense of the time I will have to smoke. There’s nothing worse than only a 30-minute window and only a Toro in the collection.

A couple of years ago, I spent a few days in Ballito on holiday with my family. After dinner, I retired to the balcony of the apartment for a leisurely smoke — an Oliva Serie V Double Robusto, a cigar that never disappoints — and yet I did not enjoy it at all. It tasted like a totally different smoke even though it came from a box of cigars that I had enjoyed several times, including the night before we left.


In a conversation with a friend who sells cigars, he explained something to me which makes sense, namely that the climate in which you smoke a cigar has a real impact on the taste. A cigar is hygroscopic, which means it readily takes up and retains moisture.

In a dry climate such as Johannesburg, leaving a cigar outside a humidor even for a day can dry it out, making it uncomfortable and bitter to smoke. In a humid climate, such as Ballito, I reckon my cigar had not only retained the moisture from the humidifier pack I was using, but also drew more moisture from the atmosphere, which had an impact on the taste.

While cigars are mainly produced in countries with high humidity and moisture in the air, it has been shown that the burn and taste of the cigar differ if the cigar has less or more moisture than is deemed appropriate. Plus, when it burns too hot, it messes with the taste, which is why it is recommended that you decrease the number of pulls of your cigar if it starts burning hot, particularly towards the end.

Environment + State of Mind

Ironically, something I hadn’t noticed until it was brought to my attention is that the environment in which you smoke also has an impact. And your state of mind. Most times I find that a good cigar can make any situation bearable, but not always. Being in a loud or busy environment often renders my cigar smoke uncomfortable, regardless of how good the cigar is, because of the distraction and noise. I came to cigars as a way of decompressing after having ‘peopled’ so being around people defeats the purpose.

When I am in extremely social places, it is hard to savour whatever cigar I am smoking. It becomes just an accessory, something to do with my hands. And I constantly have to fend off people who want a ‘drag’ or those who, for some reason, have a negative perception of cigars and want to share their views on why they don’t like them.

I have become quite adept at finding the quiet corner amid the maddening crowd when I want to indulge, though it isn’t ideal. Is that just me?

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