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The Making of a Cigar

The Making of a Cigar:
From Seed to Stogie

I won't forget the first time I read about all the effort and work that went into making a cigar. At the end of the article, I just said, "Wowww!" Yep, there's a lot of expertise which has been put together, even passed down family lines that make cigar construction such a science. Really. After you read the following paragraphs you'll surely appreciate that cigar the next time you hold it between your fingers. Before I begin, I'd to thank Anwer Bati, the author of The Cigar Companion, and Quintet Publishers from lovely England for being so kind to allow me the privilege and honor to use a section of the book to briefly tell you this intricate and fascinating story. It's a book that I highly recommend. Here goes...

The Fields

The fields to grow tobacco are flat so that water won't wash away the seeds. The seeds are covered with cloth or straw to shade them from the sun. The covering is gradually removed when germination results and in about 35 days, they are transplanted to the actual tobacco fields proper. At these fields, plants are watered by rain, dew, and irrigated from below. The photo at right shows a worker maintaining tobacco plants one week after being transplanted.

The Cultivating Process

The quality of the cigar depends on the type and quality of leaves used in its construction. The buds that form on the plant are hand removed to prevent them from stunting leaf and plant growth. Wrapper leaves for the best cigars are always grown under gauze sheets-seen on left-which are supported by tall wooden poles. The reason for this is that it protects the tobacco plants from the sun and prevents the leaves from becoming thick and keeps them smooth.

The Harvesting Process

The leaves are picked in horizontal sections which are separated by an interval of a week between each section. Roughly speaking, the top half of the plant is used as a wrapper, the bottom half as binder, and selected leaves from the whole plant can be used as filler.

As mentioned above, wrapper leaves can be grown under cover or under the sun. This time, different sections of the plant provide a different taste. Generally, the leaves from the top provide a stronger flavor and those from the middle provide a lighter flavor. The lower leaves are harvested for adding bulk and enhancing burning qualities. Also, the wrapper leaves are judged by appearance and size. The wrapper leaves are important to the attractiveness of the cigar as well as the taste.

The whole process from planting the seed to the end of harvesting can take about 120 days. During this time, the plants will be checked upon many, many times.


The First Curing ( Fermentation) Process

Once the leaves are picked, they are taken to a tobacco barn to be cured. Interestingly, the barn faces west so that each side faces sunlight and opposite sides are heated. Temperature and humidity is carefully controlled. This is where the leaves first loose the green color and then change to brown. In the barn, the leaves are tied to poles and left to dry for 45 to 60 days. After this, the leaves are taken down and transferred to fermentation houses. They are placed in piles that are about three foot high. The leaves are placed in their respective classes. The fermentation requires that a small amount of moisture be present and that temperatures don't exceed 92F. A uniform appearance of the leaves appears. This process takes about 35 to 40 days.

The Sorting Process

After the curing process, the piles of leaves are disassembled, and left to cool. Now, they are transferred to the sorting house. Here, they will be graded and sorted according to color, size, and texture. The stems of the filler will be removed here too. Also, the leaves are moistened in preparation for handling, and the next fermentation process.
The Second Curing (Fermentation) Process

After the sorting, the leaves are stacked again in piles about 6 feet high for the next, more powerful fermentation which takes places in dark rooms. The temperature must not exceed 110F. The duration of this process takes 60 days depending on type of leaf. Because of the extended fermentation processes, cigar tobacco has a much lower tar, acidity and nicotine than cigarette tobacco.
Transfer to Factory

Following the second fermentation, the leaves are packed as square bales and sent to the factories. The bales are carefully wrapped to ensure a constant humidity and gradually mature. Sometimes they may mature for as long as two years. Pictured at right is the famous Partagas factory in Habana, Cuba.

The Texture of a Cigar

Before we get into the rolling, lets very briefly go through the constituents of a cigar. There are three sections to a cigar: the filler, binder and wrapper.
The filler is the innermost section of the cigar. Leaves for the filler come from the top, middle or bottom of the tobacco plant and have corresponding flavors of full (top), moderate (middle) and little or no flavor (bottom). Maturing of these leaves takes from 9 months to 2 years. The choice of leaves will depend on the manufacturer.
The binder usually is derived from the top of the plant and holds the cigar together. The binder derives its strength from being exposed to the sun.
Finally, the wrapper is the outermost layer. These leaves come from a number of places such as: Central and South America, Carribean Islands, Mexico, U.S. Africa and other countries. The wrapper imparts much taste to a cigar and varies in color from light to dark.

Rolling the Cigar
Now, we go into the cigar factory to see what takes place!
The filler is made of 2-4 leaves (depending on size/strength of cigar), folded along their length and rolled into two halves of binder which produces a "bunch." The bunch is then placed in a wooden mold to press them into shape. Extra filler is cut from one end. The wrapper is trimmed to a specific length by a oval blade called a cheveta. Then, the wrapper is then stretched, and wound around the bunch. Then, the cigar is rolled with gentle pressure and pressure from a flat part of the oval blade help to keep the construction even. After this, a small, round piece of wrapper is applied to form the cap and the open end is cut to form the correct length. Wallah! The birth of a stogie!
Typical workplace of a torcedore (cigar roller). Bunching the cigars. Molding the bunch.
Stretching the wrapper. Rolling the wrapper. Adding the cap.


The Final Product
As you see, this is a highly sophisticated process. There's a lot of skill, quality control, and human/natural resources that go into the construction of the cigars. Again, I've really just given you just the "skinny" on this whole process and you'll have to read Anwer Bati's book, The Cigar Companion, which goes into much more detail on the whole process. There's loads of good information in his book. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I did puttin' it together for ya guys and next time your smoking a cigar with some folks, you can amaze them with...The Story of the Cigar, From Seed to Stogie.

Lookin' better than a runway model!

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