While cigars may seem like magical items, they certainly don’t appear out of thin air! A lot of hard work and skill goes into making the high-quality cigars we enjoy. It isn’t a quick process to make a cigar either, with the journey from field to finish often lasting several years. We take a look at what goes into making a cigar, and the many different varieties that can be produced.
Growing the Tobacco
Of course, the first step in creating a delicious smoke is to grow the tobacco. The requirements for tobacco to be worthy of making it as a cigar are quite high and very strict, especially for premium brands, so a great deal of care is taken in the growing process to ensure the plants are healthy. The type of plant grown depends greatly on the seed variety used and the kind of soil and conditions it is grown in, meaning that where the tobacco is grown is incredibly important. Hot weather makes for the best growing conditions, so countries in South America and Africa produce some of the greatest tobacco. There are differences between the tobacco grown in each of these areas, with the country the tobacco is grown in making a difference to the cigar’s flavours and aromas.
Unfortunately, some of these growing processes have recently become increasingly interrupted and impaired by bad weather conditions caused by climate change. Global warming has undoubtedly caused the crop yield in Cuba to decrease over the past couple of years. As tobacco is aged for several years, the effect of this has yet to be felt fully by the cigar industry.
Ageing the Tobacco
The ageing process for tobacco is lengthy and complex. After being harvested, tobacco leaves will be cured. This involves stringing up the leaves in a barn to dry out. As tobacco tends to be grown in hotter climates, most leaves will be air-cured, however, if needed heating methods may be employed. These methods will either be using a temperature control system inside the barn or burning sawdust or hardwood to up the heat. Using techniques other than air-curing will speed up the process, but they will also impart their burning aromas onto the leaves which may not be desired.
Leaves that have been cured will then be sorted based on whether they will be used as tobacco filler, binder or wrapper, the three parts that make up a cigar. The leaves are tied up in small bundles. The bundles will be placed in a cask to ferment, which can take between 2 and 5 years – and often longer for cigars with a darker wrapper type! Tobacco that has been set for a life as filler tobacco will have their stems removed, either by hand or by machine before the fermentation takes place.
Rolling the Cigar
One of the trickiest parts of making the cigar is actually rolling it, a process that requires a great deal of skill to complete well if done by hand. Machine rolled cigars will be cheaper to buy usually, as they are far quicker to make, and require less human skill. Hand-rolled cigars tend to be held in higher esteem than machine-made ones.
Before the cigar is actually rolled though, the blend is prepared. For the most part, each cigar will be made of tobacco that comes from a range of different countries around the world, rather than all coming from the same farm. Each type of cigar will include a specific blend of tobaccos to produce a unique flavour.
The filler tobacco will first be ‘bunched’. It is formed into a rough cigar shape but ensuring that the leaves are flat, even and straight, so that the end result will not be bumpy. The bunch will then be tightly wrapped with the thick binder layer, which holds all of the filler firmly together. The cigar will then be moulded into shape, often in a hardwood mould. This process can vary slightly, depending on what shape and size of cigar they are making it into.
The skilled rollers will then wrap the finer wrapper leaf around the body of the cigar, stretching and smoothing it to ensure an aesthetically pleasing appearance. A cap is then added to the head of the cigar to enclose it, which is, of course, removed before smoking.
Most cigar manufacturers take quality very seriously. After the cigars have been rolled, thorough inspections will take place, which includes weighing the cigars to check that they contain the right amounts of tobacco and are not packed too tightly or too loosely. The cigars are felt by hand and checked for damage, inconsistency and unappealing appearance. Those that do not pass the test will be sold on as ‘segundos’ or seconds.
Ageing the Cigar
The ageing process isn’t just for tobacco. Once the cigars have been checked and sorted, the passing cigars will be further aged to fully develop the flavours and aromas. The cigars will be stored in cedar bins, shelves or drawers in bundles to ‘marry’ with each other, letting each cigar absorb the flavours of the others so that they eventually all taste the same. Also known as ‘seasoning’, the process helps cigars lose any excess moisture, making the cigar a little firmer and easier to smoke. The cigars will stay in the ageing room for between three weeks to a whole year. Usually, the longer they stay in, the better they will be.
Grading and Boxing
The aim is for each cigar in a box to be as identical as possible. To do this, each cigar is graded by colour. There are 32 possible shades that the cigars can be sorted into. The cigars are separated into groups of 25 with near identical wrappers. The colour of the wrapper will be dependent on the conditions in which the tobacco was grown in, such as the amount of rainfall. As the cigars are organised based on colour, rather than when they were made or who they were made by, there could be one cigar in the box not quite as good as the rest.
The cigars are boxed up in the brands packaging, and various seals and labels are affixed to show that they are not fake cigars. They are then shipped off to cigar sellers for you to buy cigars online and enjoy!
Image Credit: Larry Johnson