What the ash can tell about
There's much more than you could ever expect that Cigar ash can tell you about the cigar's origin.
That's why the ash is of the same importance for experienced smokers and tasters as cigar taste
and aroma. In fact ash is nothing but a mineral, an inorganic compound that remains after the
tobacco leaves burning. All tobacco leaf contents that can give off taste and aroma
while burning are transformed into volatile compounds, which are sensed through our olfactory receptors and
taste buds. All the rest turns into ash.
I decided to run experiment on my own lighting a cigar and enjoying its amazing taste
and aroma for about half an hour. After 30 minutes of pleasure I took a sip of cognac putting
on my glasses and proceed to the study of the ash, which had become a considerable
length over the half hour.
The time has come and the length of ash falls off. Usually this doesn't
happen until the ash is at least an inch long – an absolute minimal length for ash on
the cigar. The ash shouldn't fall before reaching this length even from easy hand movements.
In case it does, there is ample evidence that the cigar is not of a good quality.
The quality of the tobacco leaves and the care the cigar was rolled with
determine the ‘solidity' of the ash length. Mechanically rolled cigars are characterized by
unstable ash, unlike hand-rolled cigars that vice versa have rather stable and
firm ash. Besides that, leaves and roller's attitude are very important also. You'll
hardly be able to enjoy a fine, neat length of ash if cigar was rolled from too short or torn
leaves, or if the roller didn't make the cigar firm enough and left gaps between the leaves. If
your cigar ash edges and surface are uneven and it gradually crumbles round the edges, it means
that unfortunately this is the case!
Thus, if your cigar was made of long, quality leaves, it should have stable column of ash that
can reach one-inch length on condition that you make only easy hand movements.
Provided that the roller has been working scrupulously and doing his job duly, the
ash on a cigar should be firm, its edges should be even and neat, it should not scatter from an easy
movement or a gentle breeze, and should not crumble throughout the period of the smoke.
After a careful study of the ash length I took another sip of cognac, took off my glasses, tasted
the flavored smoke, and put the cigar in the ashtray in order to wait till the ash fell
off in itself. It fell off rather quickly, revealing the hot point of the cigar with a thin
layer of ash. It was time to return to studying its mysterious characteristics.
Besides the ash texture, it is also important that shape of the burning end of the cigar
is exposed after the ash has fallen off. If you are smoking for a long period, the burning end can
take the most various forms from a small hollow in the middle with harshly bevelled edges to
an absolutely level burning surface. But it is considered that the perfect shape of the
burning end is a cone.
Why a cone? It is connected with the structure of the cigar. The roller starts making a cigar
with a leaf known as ligero. This leaf lying in the very center of the cigar gives all
the taste. The ligero leaf is gathered from the very top of the tobacco plant, and it
contains the greatest amount of nicotine, sugar and complex gustatory compounds. Therefore no
wonder that it burns longer than the other tobacco leaves used to make up a cigar. And the
burning end of the cigar has a conical form exactly because this leaf takes the longest time to burn.
The percentage of ligero leaves varies depending on the tobacco blend for every cigar.
As a result, the cones can have either sharp or blunt shape. But no matter what they are,
conical shape for the burning end of a cigar with a thin layer of ash is the ideal one.
Of course, this shape depends not only on cigar quality, but also on the way it is smoked.
You need to smoke lightly and inhale evenly and smoothly.
Thus a conical form of the cigar's burning end with a thin ash layer on it means that it
was rolled in accordance with all the requirements, and moreover, it was smoked with as much
mastery as the roller put into making it.
The most important test for a cigar is the ash color. It isn't related with the leaves quality or the
roller's skill. The main factor that influences the color of the ash is the land on which the tobacco was grown.
Soil is rich with chemical compounds and a variety of mineral deposits, which are carried into
plants by moisture. The soil in different regions is distinguished by its own characteristics: different
minerals predominate in different places. Hence the same plant will have essentially different
chemical and mineral contents in different areas. For instance, cigars rolled from tobacco
grown in the central regions of Cuba (Remedios) produce almost white ash; cigars
made of tobacco from the Vuelta Abajo produce gray ash with white veins. Take into
consideration that the two areas are adjacent to each other. The difference takes
place because the soil in the Vuelta Abajo is full of various minerals in roughly equal amounts,
while the soil in the Remedios Region is characterized by potassium predomination.
The connection between the chemical contents of the soil and the quality of the cigar made of
tobacco grown in it has been scientifically proved. Moreover, in early 2001 one of the scientists
from a Canadian consumer organization proposed to make tests on the chemical components in order to
protect genuine Cuban cigars from fakes. His idea was that cigars labeled as Cuban, but whose chemical
contents proved to be different from the chemical contents of the appropriate region of Cuba, should
be removed from the shops right away.
Thus the predominance of gray and white in the cigar ash testifies that it is of
good quality. Pure white ash may be considered as a mark of quality, proving that the cigar is
from certain places like Cuba or the Dominican Republic, where there are plantations that are particularly
full of potassium. Black ash is a bad sign. Leaves that after burning produce black ash are
poor in minerals and produce a very unpleasant taste and smell.
When the ash falls off, there remains a evident change in the cigar taste. The matter is that
the ash is very important in the actual process of smoking. While it gradually appears on the
cigar, the ash cools the smoke and makes the process of smoking much milder. That's why when the
ash falls off a cigar, the smoker feels that it has become stronger and hotter. Therefore the ash
can be not only nice in appearance and useful in finding out more information about the cigar, it
also has a use from the practical standpoint.
Actually it is not just a pleasant event when cigar ash falls suddenly on clothes, on
the table or on the floor. As a result, cigar ash had a significant influence on European
fashion previously - it was cigar ash that peculiarly led to the creation of the smoking
jacket. Benjamin Disraeli, British prime minister (1804-1881), loved cigars. He smoked them
everywhere: in the street, at home, at important meetings and even in the library after dinner.
Thus it wasn't surprising that every day his clothes were sheeted with cigar ash. In order to save
his clothes from being ruined, Mr. Disraeli got his tailor to sew him a jacket with satin lapels.
It was easy to brush the ash off this smooth material, and moreover ash leaves no traces on satin.
Disraeli's tailor did the job so skillfully that jackets with satin lapels (smoking jackets) became
soon the height of fashion.