A cigar should be firm to the touch but with enough flexibility to give slightly when squeezed. Too loose, and the cigar will burn quickly and hot; too firm, and the cigar won’t burn at all. The cap — the part that you snip off before you smoke — should be substantial enough that the wrapper does not begin to flake once it’s cut. Cuban factories, and recently several in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, avoid this unfortunate phenomenon by employing the triple crown: three caps to provide ample cutting room.

Cigar enthusiasts have three options when cutting a cigar: guillotine, punch and V. The first choice is always the best, providing a clean, straight slice, though this often requires a bit of practice and skill. Cut too much, and the wrapper will begin to unfurl; cut too little, and it will be impossible to smoke. A punch cut literally punches a hole into the cap of a cigar. This is best for puffing on the go or for those too timid to try their hands at a more difficult cut. Much like a punch cut, the V cut chops a triangular prism into the cap.

Smokers typically describe a cigar’s taste in thirds. The first third of the cigar often tastes the mildest, and some of the taste can be lost if the smoker puffs too hard or rapidly. The second third is the climax of the cigar’s taste. Here the smoker can fully enjoy the complex flavors of the cigar without worrying too much about how it is burning. The smoker begins to see puffy white clouds escape his mouth and float delicately around him, forming a sort of beautiful and carcinogenic ether.

The cigar then descends into the final third, often considered the most challenging to the palate. This third is fuller and heavier, and tastes more of the tar that has accumulated since the smoke began, ostensibly 30 or 40 minutes earlier. More recent converts to the hobby sometimes wonder when they have reached the end of a cigar.

Should I stop when my mouth gets tired — the answer to this question is always a curt “no” — or should I wait until I set my fingers aflame? Stop smoking when the cigar stops tasting good.

Review: Tatuaje Havana VI Artista

Strength: Medium-Full Bodied

Shape: Torpedo

Cost: ~$9

This cigar is a hidden gem. In 2003, a young and highly-tattooed cigar manufacturer named Pete Johnson began producing cigars in Miami and later Nicaragua with Nicaraguan tobacco. The line remained largely in boutiques until recently, and it can still be very difficult to find. The Owl Shop is a good place to start looking, though they currently do not have any in stock.

The tobacco is rich and slightly sweet, with a dark and complex wrapper. If Cuban flavor is the name of the game, there is no better option in the States than this blend. The wrap is tight — at times a bit too tight, leaving the smoker puffing a bit harder than s/he would like — but typical of Nicaraguan factories. It does not always burn evenly, but the superior taste of the smoke more than makes up for this defect.

However, prospective smokers beware: This is not a cigar for the weak-lunged, and can sometimes leave its smoker green-faced and yakking (as recently happened to a poor Davenport underclassman on his birthday). All things considered, the cigar earns an A and a high recommendation. Cheers, and happy smoking!