I have finished my CAO Flavours sampler. The time has come for me to offer my opinion of the set as a whole. And I’m having difficulty articulating it because I have mixed feelings about the set.
When I did my first review in the series, I noted that this sampler was marketed specifically to the growing population of women who are smoking cigars. CAO is obviously trying to reach the wider female market, who perhaps have considered trying cigars but have been intimidated by size or scent. Their presentation was almost stereotypically geared to women; but it worked to get attention:
Some companies have begun to recognize this growing market and have finally stopped treating cigars like a boys’ club. They’re beginning to market to women as well as men. Hoping to win more of us over, they’ve begun offering flavoured cigars with targeted marketing techniques. Take, for example, the CAO Flavours pack, which contains everything listed at the link except for the “Caramello Joe”.
The box display is a pretty, white and lavender, well-organized and colourful presentation that suggests class and style. The cigars are cigarillos so you aren’t overwhelmed by the smoke if you’re new to the hobby, and they come with a handy introductory card describing each of the flavours.”
I observed that the descriptions of the different cigarillos in the sampler were written like romance novels. In my review of the Cherrybomb, I went on to describe the presentation, and this held true for each of them:
The cigarillos are about four inches long and as big around as my index finger (I have small hands). They are sold with brightly coloured ribbons binding the foot and cedar shavings to light with. The wrapper note, which I expected to be revoltingly sweet, was more faint than I anticipated, and the quality Habano-seed tobaccos . . . . were discernible underneath. I began to have some hope that this would be better than projected. One of the big problems with aromatic cigars is that many cigar companies (especially over-the-counter drugstore brands) add flavouring to poor-quality tobaccos to make them more palatable and maximize their stock usage. Apparently CAO does not do that. Definitely a point in their favour!”
Most of the cigars were formed of Dominican fillers and Cameroon wrappers, which CAO assured me were of the highest quality. There were a couple of exceptions, and I’ll mention them specifically when I get to them in this article. Typically the wrappers are unveiny Colorados or Colorado claros, and the cigars are packed firmly but not hard. They are also rather mild-bodied cigars with a low nicotine content, and therefore are ideal for beginners.
In my experience, each cigarillos took a little less than 45 minutes to smoke (though I did smoke at least one within half an hour,) and so I timed smoking most of them in the car on the way to or from Kelowna, since that’s about the length of the drive and I like to smoke cigars when I’m driving long distances.
In my first review, “Sweet Little Cherry Pie,” I rated the Cherrybomb at three-and-a-half stars. Its ribbon and label were red and it was symbolized on the package by a large image of a stylized cherry. Some highlights:
The pre-light draw was, somewhat like marachino cherries, but again, not overwhelmingly so. There were even hints of coffee and cedar underneath. It suggested cherry pie. Toasting the foot produced a room note that is definitely friendly to the in-laws. I thought of Christmas; cherry pie baking in the oven, and a hint of cherry candies. . . . And the initial draw was great. A rich latte with a touch of vanilla and black cherry flavouring at the Starbucks; this is what I was reminded of. Mmm, good! . . . The first third took about ten minutes to smoke. I was quite happy with it, compared to what I had expected, so I shared it with Jamie; who pronounced it disgusting, like cherry cough syrup! I must admit, however, that at this point, the beginning of the second third, it took on a bit of that element. Like if you smoked a cigar after sucking on a cherry cough candy a while before. . . . It was still good, however; don’t get me wrong here. I smoked it down to the nub . . .”
In “Vanilla Vanilla,” I considered the merits of the natural casing of the Bella Vanilla. It was presented with a pale yellow label and ribbon and its symbol was a stylized handwritten V. It lost a couple of marks for cracking and flaking a little in the punch, but I still gave it three-and-a-half stars:
Its double-cap was well constructed and it smelled divine. Not like that horrid artificial vanilla flavouring, but like real vanilla beans, the kind I have ground up and mixed into incense. . . . it lit easily, and with such a pleasant room note that I am certain the in-laws would think it was potpourri. . . . The flavour was delicious, sweet, and overwhelmingly good quality vanilla. As a woman who enjoys a good cigar I must express some disappointment in that I could hardly taste the tobacco at all. But there’s no doubt that it was delicious, flavourful, and not at all adulterated with chemicals to poison the natural casing.”
But I was much more impressed with the Gold Honey. Its label and ribbon were of a brighter yellow than the Bella Vanilla, and it is represented by the stylized image of a honeycomb on the package. I enjoyed this cigar very much and had nothing but good things to say about it. In “Land of Smoke and Honey” I gave it a five star perfect rating and I even went so far as to say that this fine smoke had “completely changed my mind about aromatic cigars.” I went on to elaborate in some glowing detail.
Interestingly, this cigarillo is a Nicaraguan Puro . . . it smelled of quality tobacco (I tend to enjoy Nicaraguan tobacco) and yes, the scent of honey and a touch of citrus was present; but it smelled just like opening a jar – not sickly-sweet – and it did not overwhelm the scent of the tobacco. It was more like putting your nose right up to a beeswax candle. The pre-light draw promised more of the same. . . . toasting the foot released a room note that was like new-mown hay, clover, and a burning beeswax candle. . . . Those first couple of draws . . . okay, so picture this: they’ve just finished the threshing and they are rolling the new alfalfa and clover crop into bales; then someone sets one to burn to celebrate a harvest festival. I was delighted! It was amazingly tasty! Fresh, delicious, and with a perfect blend of a bare hint of citrus and that natural honey casing. If elves smoked cigars, this is what they would smoke. No chemical taste and nothing but that light honey flavour and delicious, fresh-tasting golden tobacco!”
However, I changed my mind again in “Fairy Glamour,” when I reviewed Eileen’s Dream scathingly. This one was presented in a light green label and a “peridot green ribbon of a shade that might adorn Titania’s hair,” and it was represented by a stylized shamrock design. On the descriptive card, it claimed that it was “a combination of Irish Cream and white chocolate truffles.” And they said that “The delicacy of white chocolate truffles is a subtle mixture of hazelnut paste, white chocolate, ground almond, cocoa, and vanilla extracts.” At first it seemed to keep the promise and I described it in glowing terms as a cigar that might have been flavoured by two of my favourite liqueurs; Bailey’s and Frangelico’s. However:
Alas, this treasure proved to be no more substantial than a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, and Eileen’s Dream evaporated when someone woke her up for work. At about the second third, the cigar acquired a nasty, medicinal bitterness that reminded me unpleasantly of cough syrup and Asprin, and it didn’t leave the cigar again, not once through the remainder of the fifty minute smoke; and I persisted in the vain hope that it would! I tossed the butt disgustedly out the window of my car as I returned to town, which had gone out and turned to mush. . . . Pah! Eileen’s Dream turned out to be nothing more than fairy glamour; for a while, it’s perfect and beautiful and absolutely convincing. But it disappears when the sun comes up!”
I only gave the “sneaky little pixie” two-and-a-half stars, because “I hate bitter disappointment more than I dislike mediocrity.”
The Earth Nectar invited me to “Take a tasting tour of Tuscany with CAO Earth Nectar, a mild, smooth cigar infused with an exquisite Italian Chianti and notes of toasted almonds, cocoa, honey and raisins.” Its wrapper was Cameroon like the rest but its fillers were Habano-seed Dominicans. Its ribbon and label were a wine purple and it was represented by a stylized bunch of grapes. But I was not as impressed as all that:
It was a pleasant draw that I initially quite enjoyed, which reminded me of pound cake and marzipan. I must admit, I was expecting more of that Chianti flavour, or perhaps brandy, with all the vineyard references in the description. It seems to me pretty obvious that CAO is marketing this line towards women; don’t they know that women are grown-ups who enjoy a good glass of wine? What’s with all the candy flavour?”
I began to have serious issues with a lot of things at this point: the excessive sweetness, the flaking and crumbling that had become progressively worse as the cigars aged; which led me to complaints about the packaging, which was made to look lovely but did not store the cigars properly, even with a small humidifier added to the box. The odd sizing meant that these cigarillos do not fit properly in a proper humidor either. So challenges with storing are a significant element that affects my overall opinion of the set. Also, I had become impatient with the presentation of the cigars themselves. The cedar shavings they are packaged with I found to be effectively useless with my butane torch lighter; and I wonder whether or not they would have served any functional purpose even if I had lit them with a match or a Bic; they were so small, and so dry, that they almost incinerated entirely when I did try to make use of them to light the cigarillos. I imagine the newer cigar smokers for whom this set was intended would have been extremely intimidated by that! Also, peeling off the tape without destroying both the cigar and the shaving was becoming an annoyance, especially since my preferred time to smoke these was while driving!
Irritated by all of this, I said I wanted “More Earth, Less Nectar,” and I gave the Earth Nectar another paltry two-and-a-half stars.
I finished up the set with a cigarillo I already had some acquaintance with: the Moontrance from when I was beginner; it was one of the earliest cigars I tried. Unlike the rest of the line its fillers were both Dominican and Nicaraguan. CAO’s descriptive card said of the Moontrance that it contained “Bourbon vanilla, renowned for its caramel-like sweetness.” which is “mixed with Georgia peaches and other organic fruits. A splash of white Hawaiian honey is added for its tropical essence.” It is presented in a beautiful twilight-blue label and ribbon, and is represented on the box by a silver circle with a blue circle inside of it; which, I imagine, is supposed to be vaguely lunar.
I pronounced it “Entrancing,” and I said:
The first draw, if you like aromatics, is inviting. That floral element with its dash of vanilla quickly takes over from the honey – not cloying, though certainly strong – and somehow you are reminded of smoking a fine cigar in a grove of night-blooming flowers on an enchanted starry night. . . . Other than that it’s not really complex. I enjoy this cigarillo off and on as a change of pace from the “usual thing” anyway, so I evidently enjoy it. But its flavour doesn’t change much as you smoke it because of the flavouring.”
Overall I gave it three-and-a-half stars, again marked down a bit due to the flaking. Apparently Erin has also reviewed the Moontrance in the past, and he liked it too.
So, what are my conclusions? Well, there are pros and cons. On the pro side, I can see how these would be ideal as the next step for new cigar smokers looking to progress beyond lfavoured Prime Times. I can see how they would appeal to female smokers, with their romance novel descriptive language and their extensive work on presentation. The flavourings are tasty if you like that sort of thing, and as I said at the end of the Moontrance review, that “The beauty of this line, however, is that you do not lose the high-quality tobacco that CAO uses as the basis of their compositions. It doesn’t really need purging because of its size . . .”
But there are considerable cons as well. The packaging is utterly inadequate for proper storage and cannot be adapted once the plastic has been torn off the box. The cigars are too small for smaller humidors, since such humidors are typically geared to robustos and toros, and no one is going to buy a large humidor if they’re just starting to smoke cigars; nor are they going to smoke them all quickly enough that the insufficient storage won’t matter. I strongly suggest a change in the packaging.
Also, I think that if they are trying to reach women, they are trying a bit too hard. Pretty lavender packaging is a bit much, and the cigars are overly sweet to my tastes; though I rather liked the descriptive card. CAO might want to consider one of the big reasons that cigar smoking among mature women is on the rise; status. Cigars are a symbol of the “old boys’ club,” and we ladies are finally shattering that glass ceiling. For many of us, part of the reason we started smoking cigars is because “anything you can do, we can do,” and cigarillos do not have the same panache that a fat robusto does! These would hardly have had the same impact if the Canadian Women’s Hockey Team had chosen to smoke these on the ice. Also, women like the subtleties of flavours just as much, if not more, than men do, and in most cases, the strong casing damages a great deal of that.
So I tried to love them; I really did. But they are just not for me. If you’re just starting out, they can be a pleasant introduction; and if you want to buy a single every once in a while to break things up a little, they’re not a bad idea. I’ll pick up the Gold Honey and the Moontrance again from time to time. However, in this lady’s perspective, I can only give this sampler set: