In this installment of Cigars 101 we’ll be covering some of the questions regarding burn issues we hear floating around the shop. Again, some of this will be old news to experienced smokers, but you may find out something you didn’t know, or have something clarified that might have been previously unclear.
Why does my burn line frequently become uneven?
An uneven burn-line can occur for a variety of reasons—from the tobaccos used, to user error or simply a poor roll. Cigars with large amounts of ligero in them are notorious for having burn issues. This is caused by the very nature of ligero leaves; ligero is the top priming of the tobacco plant, and as such are the thickest and most nutrient dense leaves on the plant. This inherently makes the combustion of ligero leaves more difficult. A poor roll or an unfortunately placed stem can cause drastic effects on both the burn and the draw. This is generally difficult to remedy. Additionally, the cigar may have simply been rolled too tight, resulting in an obstructed airflow between the foot and the cap. Fortunately, most manufactures have good quality control, so burn and draw issues due to the cigar being poorly rolled are fairly infrequent.
The vast majority of burn issues arise from good ol’ operator error. Smoking either too quickly or too slowly will almost always cause issues, most commonly coning or tunneling. This brings us to our next two questions.
What is tunneling, and what is coning?
Tunneling is when the filler/core of the cigar burns inwards, creating a ‘tunnel’ through the center of the cigar. While this can be the result of a poor roll, it is almost always due to smoking too slowly. The general cause is that due to the infrequency of puffs on the cigar, the wrapper and binder will begin to cool—or go out entirely—while the filler remains burning at a substantially higher temperature. Over time this will result in the filler burning inwards, effectively creating a ‘tunnel’ through the center of your cigar
Coning is the inverse of tunneling, caused by inversely the same reason. Smoking too quickly will cause both major burn issues, and quickly turn the flavor bitter and harsh. The causes are a bit more varied than the causes of tunneling. The basic breakdown is this; with a high frequency of puffs, the filler leaves will begin to burn hotter than they should. The issue quickly compounds itself, as the filler will begin to quickly overheat the wrapper and binder, causing them to burn far too quickly. Filler leaves will almost always burn slower than the wrapper and binder (due to most of the ligero being in the filler), leaving a visible peak of un-burned filler with wrapper and binder burned down past it.
What can I do to fix these issues?
Fortunately, there are a number of tricks and techniques that can either improve burn/draw issues, or correct them all together.
Rolled too tight? – You can attempt to use a draw poker to clear any obstructions and clear a passage for the smoke to flow.
Tunneling on you? You have a couple options. You can try to light the wrapper down to the end of the tunnel, but this can be difficult. Your best bet usually is to use a cutter and cut a few millimeters past where you think the tunneling has ended. Then simply relight. I personally recommend letting the cigar go out and cool down prior to re-lighting. Past that, try to increase your smoking pace and consistency. One to two good puffs per minute are ideal.
Coning? – This is usually the most difficult to correct with some sort of trickery. You’ll usually need to cut down about 1/2 an inch to a full inch past where the wrapper is burned down to. It’s best to give the cigar several minutes of rest to cool down before re-lighting.
One of the best things you can do to promote an even burn line right off the start is to pre-heat the foot of the cigar by toasting it with a torch. Toasting allows you to make sure all of the cigar is evenly heated, meaning it’s much more likely to burn evenly right from the start.
What causes a cigar to become bitter or harsh?
Tobacco tastes proper in an ideal temperature range, and when it gets too hot it will immediately reflect in the form of the flavor becoming bitter and harsh. Fortunately, you can generally restore the flavor of a cigar with relative ease. The best course of action generally is to put the cigar down and let it rest for 3-4 minutes, allowing the cigar to cool down. Then quickly blow out the residual smoke to purge the cigar of any lingering tar buildup/bitter smoke.
Another culprit in giving a cigar a bitter flavor is over-humidification. If the cigar is too wet it won’t combust properly, and an incomplete burn will yield a bitter flavor. The ideal humidity for a cigar is 70%, so anything above can potentially present problems. The only thing you can really do in this scenario is to let the cigar sit out of a humidor for a time. You can start with twenty minutes, and move up from there based on how wet your cigars are.
We’ll be covering more issues next week in our next edition of Cigars 101! Have any questions you’d like to be addressed? Let us know in the comments!