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  • Writer's pictureBen Balliro

From Humble Beginnings

Here's a topic that none of us want to talk about. It's a topic of both embarrassment and of growth. You see, in this vast sea of information we pride ourselves on being the most up-to-date and well informed aficionados. We pepper the internet with descriptions of spices, leather, earth, and cocoa beans. We do cigar blogs, live reviews, and research of the newest pre-order cigars in next year's IPCPR event. However, on this blog I don't want to talk about any of that. This blog is dedicated to the humble beginnings of where we first got involved with tobacco.

It's easy to write an opinion about a current release cigar or newest tobacco blend just by ordering the cigar online, looking at online news articles and posting a blog about it, trust me I know. Today I want to share the story of where I first got started smoking cigars. Not many people start out smoking something like a Padron or a Drew Estate cigar, and there are a few common sense reasons for this. One, it's a pretty expensive investment for a product that you (at this point) know nothing about. Two, you're not familiar enough with the brand names, the tobaccos used, or even what good quality tobacco is. Three, it's a bit embarrassing to walk into a humidor as a neophyte and ask for a high end premium cigar and then have no idea what you're doing and you end up coughing away a 35 dollar smoke.

Now keep in mind the shop owner will be more than happy to explain the differences to you and show you the ropes. Never hesitate to talk to the shop owner and be completely humble while he/she explains it to you.

I started out, like many teenagers, with a pack of cigarettes because I wanted to be cool like everyone else. After a while I got sick and tired of lighting a new cigarette every 5 min and wanted to try something that I could enjoy for a longer period of time. So I picked up a pack of dimestore cigars; black and milds I believe they were. This way I could enjoy the smoking experience longer and since they weren't that much more expensive than cigarettes I found a solution to my problem. From there word got around to my friends that I started having an interest in tobacco and cigars (well what I considered to be cigars back then).

One day a good friend of mine attended a local Italian Opera festival here in town and as a gift he surprised me a cigar gift; a Romeo y Julieta 1875 Robusto. It was my first upgrade from supermarket cigars and I was eager to check it out.

I placed the cigar up to my nostril and the aroma of the tobacco was sensational. That first whiff of premium tobacco stuck in my brain like molasses and the feeling of holding that premium cigar felt comfortable. Day after day I would go back and revisit that cigar to experience the aromas, having still not smoked it yet. When I did finally light the cigar I started to understand why premium tobacco superseded convenience store cigars. From that point on I needed to learn more and thus began my journey in madness. I mean, studying tobacco and cigars.

While sitting at home one night I stumbled upon the (now infamous) Cigar Aficionado website. That website was still growing at the time and had articles of the "good life". You know, the usual expensive summer vacations, Rolex watches and the like. But they also had videos and articles about cigars; how to cut, how to light, how to choose a cigar, etc etc. So I learned all that I could and shared my growing interest to a local cigar shop. The shopkeeper recommended I try something lighter to get me started since I was still green to all this. So I took his advice and purchased my first premium cigar, a Rocky Patel 1999 Connecticut. He recommended this because I had an undergraduated palette and it wasn't expensive. So as time went on I started smoking a few cigars here and there, mostly Conn. Shades and maybe a Nicaraguan, but nothing spectacular. This cigar shop was a proper three story bar with a fully dressed humidor, a kitchen, large plush leather chairs and big screen TV's. I was in college at the time so I would go there to study, have a glass of my favorite poison, maybe some lunch, and of course a cigar. I became friends with one of the shopkeepers and he invited me to a bourbon and cigar event at the shop later that month. It was an offer I couldn't refuse and I needed a break from my studies anyway.

There was music, bourbon, Italian food, and of course cigars. While attending I asked about this "brand" I was unfamiliar with, but was well lit and caught my attention. I splurged what little money I had on a cigar that I knew nothin about, but made the logical decision if the cigar costs more it had to be a better smoke. It was Davidoff Perfecto which had been aging for who knows how long and boy let me tell you, I had no idea what I was in for. The flavor, the draw, the creamy smoke that just danced off my tounge. It felt like I was smoking a homemade Boston eclair with Godiva chocolate frosting. When I sat down and smoked that Davidoff I literally tuned out my surroundings with all the noise and commotion and laser focused on that cigar. I had no idea such a thing existed and Ive been craving that level of quality ever since. It was the final piece of my newly discovered passion and that cigar clarified what the word "premium" really meant to me. It was so delicious it could have been its own food group. I realized from then on I could never go back to the old black and milds of yesteryear.

The rest of course is history...

It's just as important to learn where we've been to appreciate where we are going. Most of us that have a current passion for cigars and premium tobacco had a start from somewhere, and there is nothing embarrassing about that. Like the chef that upgrades their taste buds with better ingredients, such as the cigar smoker upgrades their pallete to better tobacco. You keep smoking and eventually you will find your place and which cigars best fit you. I've been smoking cigars for over 13 years and I'm still learning more about what I like and don't like. It's a lifelong pilgrimage that never get's old and I never forgot where it all started.

I would like to challenge you to write your own personal story about how you started smoking cigars. Share your story on our website or on Facebook or just email us, all the links are on our website at Now I'm not expecting a story of how you traveled to Tibet to meet a tobacco monk high in the mountains who introduced you to a mythical Mayan cigar that captured your attention, that would be silly. Unless that really did happen then I have to hear about it. Share your story and if you're lucky we might embarrass you on our next podcast or post it online, if you're brave enough! Thanks for reading and take care.

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