Cigars come in a variety of wrappers, as Steven explained in his post on Demystifying Maduros. Here’s an essential breakdown of the different types and shades, how they’re made and what you can expect concerning flavour and body:
Double Claro (also called Candela or American Market Select) are a green to greenish brown colour. The leaf is picked before it has ripened, and then dried quickly so the colour isn’t lost. These cigars tend to be very mild and often almost bland, with very little oil, but I find their flavour fresh.
Claro cigars are a light tan shade. Usually this is what shade grown tobacco looks like. Connecticut Shade wrappers are said to be some of the finest in the world. The is grown under canopies to protect it from harsh sunlight. These tend to provide a neutral flavor and smooth smoking.
Natural (see also English Market Selection) cigars are light brown to brown. These are usually sun grown, not protected by canopies like shade grown leaves. They have a fuller bodied flavor than shade grown leaves, but they are still very smooth.
Colorado Claro cigars are mid-brown to tawny. They often have Dominican or Cameroon wrappers. They are usually the butterscotchy smokes with pleasant buttery oil.
Colorado cigar wrappers are reddish dark brown and aromatic. A cigar with this wrapper tastes robust and rich.
Colorado Maduros are dark brown, medium strength, and slightly more aromatic a maduro. They usually have a rich, full-bodied flavour, as found in many of the best Honduran and Cuban cigars.
Maduros are dark brown to very dark brown. These usually have more texture and veining than the lighter wrappers. They are often described as oily looking and with a fuller-bodied flavour than other cigars.
Oscuros are very dark brown or almost black cigars. Though some say they are the strongest tasting of all wrappers, the only real difference between them and the Maduros is that they are often dyed. Not to be confused with Double Maduros, which are Maduro-wrapped cigars with Maduro fillers. These wrappers tend to be from Nicaragua, Brazil, Mexico, or Connecticut Broadleaf.
English Market Selection is a broad designation of brown cigars (anything other Double Claro essentially). In general, the darker the colour, the fuller-bodied the flavour and the greater the oil and sugar content of the wrapper. Darker wrappers normally spend longer on the plant or come from greater altitudes. The additional exposure to the sun at higher altitudes tends to enhance the production of oil (which protects the plant) and sugar (because of increased photosynthesis). Such leaves are typically fermented for longer as well.
One of the biggest mistakes that a new smoker often makes is to choose cigars that have lighter wrappers, fearing that the dark smoke might be too much to handle. The opposite is often true; the less fermentation that has taken place, the less the nicotine has broken down. On the other hand, if a leaf is picked before the sun has fully ripened it, it will express less nicotine than a fully ripened one. Also, sun will evaporate some nicotine as tobacco is growing. So on average, the “strongest” cigars tend to be the shade-grown Colorado ranges. A new cigar smoker would do well to sample something in each range, perhaps working from either side of the spectrum down to the Colorados in the middle. If a cigar is too much to handle, remember that while allowing a cigar to burn out and re-lighting it often spoils the flavour by tainting it with an ashen element, you can purge the stick by blowing out instead of drawing for as long as you can manage, and then cut it in halves along the length of the cigar, past the point of the burn. It will taste almost as good as new when you re-light! I’d like to thank my friend, Canadian Army reservist Graeme Berber, for teaching me that trick!