What the ash can tell about
There's a lot that Cigar ash can tell you about the cigar's origin, much more than you could ever expect! That's why it is of a high importance for professional tasters and experienced smokers, as well as cigar taste and aroma. Actually ash is just a mineral, an inorganic compound that remains as a result of tobacco leaves burning. All tobacco leaf contents able to give off taste and flavor while burning are turned into volatile compounds, which we can sense through our olfactory receptors and taste buds. All other compounds that do not have these astonishing qualities turn into ash.
I decided to carry out an experiment on my own. I lit a cigar and spent half an hour enjoying its amazing taste and aroma. Thirty wonderful minutes have passed; I drank some of cognac, put on my glasses and proceeded to studying the ash, that had become an impressive length over the half hour.
Sooner or later the ash should fall off. It is considered that this should happen only after the ash reaches at least an inch length - an absolute minimum length for ash on the cigar. The ash shouldn't fall earlier, of course if provided that smoker doesn't make jerky hand movements. If it falls before reaching the minimal length, there is just one conclusion: this is not a good quality cigar.
The the tobacco leaves quality and the degree of care the cigar was rolled with influence the 'solidity' of the ash length. The ash on mechanically rolled cigars is very unstable, whereas hand-rolled cigars 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.