History of Cigars - How Premium Cigars are Made
|Date Added: July 06, 2008 11:13:29 PM|
|Author: Head - AL|
What is a cigar? If you ask a scientist, he will tell you “a bundle of natural tobacco leaves rolled up into a predetermined shape, with one end that is ignited so that its smoke may be drawn into the smoker’s mouth from the other end”. Those that delight themselves in the taste and relaxation of a great cigar while playing golf or fishing will tell you “pure enjoyment that’s not just a hobby, but a lifestyle.” However you define a cigar, making one by hand is a long and complicated process. A true premium cigar is totally made by hand with long-filler tobacco leaves. A boutique premium cigar takes it one notch higher, as they are handmade in small batches with select long-filler tobacco leaves.
The history of cigars is based on known facts and documented and historical documents. The origin of the word cigar comes from the native language of the ancient Mayans. The Mayans called it a "Ciq-Sigan". The Spanish word "Cigarro" is derived from it. The New English Dictionary of 1735 called it a "seegar", and from there it was later adapted into the modern word “cigar”. Tobacco was introduced to the world by the Taino Indians of Cuba. They called it Cohiba and smoked it through the nose. It was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus and the rest is history.
How a Boutique Premium Cigar is Made
From Seed to Plant
Tobacco plants are harvested in soil that meets the criteria. Only rich soil will provide tobacco suitable for cigars. Most Vegas (Spanish for tobacco fields), can be planted two to three times yearly. It takes about 80 to 90 days for a tobacco plant to fully develop from a seed into plants ready for picking. The tobacco fields are planted with seedlings a few weeks apart so that the harvest is spread out throughout several months. This allows for careful and precise supervision of the crop, and the subsequent hand selecting and picking of the leaves.
The Tobacco Leaves
There are four types of leaves on the tobacco plant, though some would argue that there are really only 3. Each is named based on their strength and location on the plant. The Ligero are at the top of the tobacco plant. The Viso are the leaves in the middle, the Seco are lower down and the finally the Volado leaves are located at the bottom of the plant. Some claim that Seco and Volado are actually the same, but tell that to a cigar maker that takes pride in his cigars and he will be insulted. The Volado is usually not used by top cigar makers as they tend to acquire too many chemicals from the soil. The strongest tobacco is the Ligero, the Viso and Seco provides texture, taste and mild filler. The Volado can also serve as mild filler.
The tobacco plant normally has 16 to 17 leaves. Only two to three leaves are picked at a time, and only after reaching maturity. Growing tobacco and deciding when to pick the leaves is an art and requires years of training and hands on experience. Every step affects the final product, the cigar. The leaves must be hand selected and picked at the appropriate time. The plant can not be allowed to bloom as that will diminish the taste of the leaf. If the plant has a flower, it bloomed and is no longer good for cigars. It is then used for seeds. It takes constant care to achieve perfect tobacco suitable for Boutique premium cigars. This includes care before and after the harvest.
Most of the pickers have been doing it for years.
They look forward to the crop harvesting season and challenge each other by competing for the finest leaf of the harvest.
After the leaves are picked they are taken to the curing house. The curing house is a long building that is constructed specifically for drying and curing tobacco.
The leaves are taken and individually hand sewn together in pairs through the stem.
The sewn pairs are arranged into 50 pairs (100 leaves) and hung on long poles. The poles, each with about 100 leaves, are placed in the curing house at different levels. Based on the type of leaf and its size, they are placed higher or lower from the roof.
The combination of the sun’s heat and the raw cedar structure of the curing barn creates a sauna-like condition. This perfect condition forces the moisture from the leaves to dissipate. The leaves change colors from rich green to yellow, and then finally to different shade of brown.
When the tobacco leaves are dried and ready, they are removed from the poles and placed in piles of fifty leaves. The small piles are then arranged into larger stacks and the fermentation process begins. The pressure from the leaves stacked up on each other, along with the heat and humidity, all add to the fermentation. This time consuming process forces the tobacco to release the impurities. Throughout the clock, water is sprayed on the stacks of tobacco to maintain proper fermentation temperatures. The heat in the middle of the stack can go up to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperatures are allowed to go any higher, the leaves will burn and spoil. It is a careful balancing act that requires 24 hours of constant supervision. This “sweating” process removes oils, sap, ammonia, tar and nicotine from the tobacco. Throughout this 35 to 45 day process, workers break up the piles and restack them so that all the leaves are cured equally. After stacking and restacking many times, the fermentation process is finished. The tobacco leaves are then moved on to the aging process.
The fermented tobacco leaves are individually placed on burlap and each layer is stacked over another. They are moved to a different section of the curing house where the tobacco ages for years. The temperature and humidity are regulated by nature and by the opening and closing of windows and vents in the aging room. Normally, the tobacco is aged for two to three years before it is manipulated again. This process mellows the tobacco’s components and transforms it into premium cigar tobacco.
After the tobacco leaves are properly aged, it taken to a select area where each leaf is hand sorted. The leaves are sorted and categorized by color, size, texture and other qualities.
The tobacco leaves are then stemmed by hand, one by one. This is a very labor intensive task and requires precision actions as any error could damage the leaf.
The stem is discarded and the stemmed leaves are placed in stacks for a second fermentation. This time the fermentation process is at higher temperatures. Based on the tobacco, this fermentation period is from 45 to 60 days. Impurities are once again eliminated and the tobacco is then aged for an additional period of time. The stemmed leaves are placed in open cedar boxes and left in the curing house’s aging room to breath. They can be kept there for up to two years. Making boutique premium cigars requires patience.
When the leaves have aged, they are packed into bales and aged further until they are needed for rolling cigars.
The bales are eventually moved into the rolling factory and placed in a temperature and humidity controlled area. The tobacco is unpacked on an as needed basis and classified once again by the color, size and texture of the leaf. They are then transferred and organized in the blending room based on the cigars to be made and their blend.
The Master Cigar Blender prepares the tobacco for the cigar roller and master roller teams. The teams work together as a pair in making the cigars. The Blender normally mixes enough tobacco for the daily production.
The rollers are highly trained and only reach the Master level after many years of on-the-job training. First the roller “bunches” the tobacco leaves and forms the cigar. It is done by taking a measured handful of leaves for the filler of the cigar and forming it into the desired shape. They wrap a binder leaf around the filler tobacco to hold it together.
The partially finished cigars are pressed in a wooden mold. The press is turned by hand until the roller feels that there is enough pressure on the tobacco leaves to properly form the cigar’s predetermined shape.
After the press is released, each cigar is removed from the mold by hand and passed on to the Master Roller, who is the most experienced member of the pair. The Maestro, as he is known to cigar makers, carefully finishes the forming of the cigar and delicately puts on the wrapper leaf. Both hands are used in this process, a chaveta (metal cutter for tobacco leaves), and an all natural tree sap glue.
The Master Roller puts on the head of the cigar and looks it over for any possible flaw or imperfection. After adding the finishing touches and details, it is now ready for the aging process, which requires patience and time.
The cigars are grouped in bundles of 50 and wrapped in absorbent paper in preparation to be aged. Usually cigars are wrapped in newspapers or in other material that allows breathing. The bundles are then classified by types of cigars, the dates made, the tobacco blend and the code identifying the Roller and Master Roller who made them. These marked bundles are placed in the aging room. The temperature, humidity and time allow for the different types of tobacco in the cigars to “marry”. In other words, all the tobacco becomes one.
Cigars can age for years. Normally 90 days is sufficient for the tobacco to be fully married, but leaving them longer improves the taste. Some are aged for two years or longer in an effort to perfect their taste and burn.
The cigar’s journey from tobacco seed to a cigar in the smoker’s hand is long and very labor intensive. But after tasting the unique flavors and enjoying the pleasure and relaxation of a great handmade cigar, you too will agree that it was well worth it.
Cigars are composed of three sections, each using different types of tobacco leaves, whose variations determine smoking and flavor characteristics:
A cigar’s outer leaves are the wrappers. It determines some of the cigar’s aesthetics, character and flavor. Its color is often used to describe the cigar as a whole. Colors are designated as follows, from lightest to darkest:
Generally, lighter colors indicate earlier picking and milder flavor; darker colors indicate later picking, stronger and sweeter flavors due to the presence of sugars and oils, and longer fermenting. While is the general rule it can vary based on the breed of the tobacco.
Binders are elastic leaves used to hold together the fillers. It is usually wrapper tobacco with visual defects or imperfections.
The majority of a cigar is made up of fillers, wrapped up bunches of leaves in its interior. Fillers of various types of tobacco are usually blended to produce unique cigar flavors. The more oils present in the tobacco leaf and the more sun it received, the stronger the filler. Types range from the light-flavored Seco and Volado, through the medium Viso, and on to the strong Ligero.
Fillers can be either long, medium (mixed) or short; long filler uses whole leaves, is of a better quality and is always made by hand. Medium filler, also called Cuban sandwich or mixed filler, is short filler wrapped in whole leaves. Short filler cigars use chopped up leaves as well as stems and other tobacco bits and can be handmade or machine made.
Size and Shapes
Cigars are commonly categorized by the size and shape of the cigar, which together are known as vitola.
The size of a cigar is measured by two dimensions: its ring gauge (its diameter in sixty-fourths of an inch) and its length (in inches). For example, robusto size cigars generally have a ring gauge of 50 (50/64th of an inch) and a length of approximately 5 inches.
The most common shape is the parejo, which has a cylindrical body, straight sides, one end open, and a round cap on the other end which is clipped off before smoking. Parejos are generally designated by the following terms, but some cigar makers may use different names for the sizes:
Irregularly-shaped cigars are known as figurados and are sometimes considered of higher quality because they are difficult to make. Figurados include the following:
Cigar companies have manufactured figurados in exotic shapes ranging from chili peppers to baseball bats and even footballs. They are highly collectable and are usually reserved for special events as many do not smoke as good as conventional Parejos or Figurados.
Experienced cigar smokers describe the rich and varied flavors of different cigars through comparisons to other known or imagined tastes. Generally, cigars with lighter color wrappers are milder in flavor and have fewer aftertastes. Darker wrappers are typically richer in flavor. While this is a general rule, it is not always the case. Many different wrappers can have stronger or milder taste even though they do not follow the wrapper color rule.
Cigar tastes include tobacco as well as overtones of other tastes. Some of the more common tastes that one observes while smoking a cigar include:
Many cigar smokers will keep personal journals of cigars they’ve enjoyed, complete with personal ratings, description of flavors observed, sizes, brands, etc. The qualities and characteristics of cigar tasting are very similar to those of wine. Every different brand, and vitola within the brand, can have unique tastes and sensations. This dynamic is part of the appeal of cigar smoking and one to which smokers are continually drawn.
For some cigar enthusiasts, it may take years before they finally discover their perfectly tasting cigar. It might be one that reminds them of a special moment in their life or that has a unique balance of flavors. Once uncovered, they will immediately know that this is the one for them as they will not be able to put it down until they can no longer hold it between their fingers.
Here’s a list of fictional characters have smoked cigars:
Here’s a list of famous cigar smokers: