What is a cigar? What kind of man (or woman) smokes a cigar? What makes cigars different from other tobacco forms and why all the hype about it?
A cigar is a rolled bundle of dried and fermented tobacco leaf, produced in a variety of types and sizes to be smoked. All cigars are made up of three distinct components, the first being the tobacco itself which fills the center (also called filler). The second is a binder leaf which holds the filler together (also called binder). Finally there is the outer wrapper, which is rolled around the binder to complete the cigar; this is often printed with the cigar company’s logo. These components make up the cigar and enable the user to smoke the tobacco easily.
Cigar tobacco is grown in significant quantities primarily in Central America and the islands of the Caribbean including Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, and Puerto Rico; it is also produced in the Eastern United States, the Mediterranean countries of Italy and Spain (in the Canary Islands), and in Indonesia and the Philippines of Southeast Asia. Cigar tobacco favours these locations as their soil and climates are perfect conditions for cigar tobacco to thrive, with little or no parasites in the equatorial regions-adequate (note excessive rains, abundant sunshine) slightly acidic soil with pH level of around 4.5
The origins of cigar smoking are still unknown. But something is certain; that from time immemorial, some men of all generations, having come of age, involved themselves in smoking certain substances for the pleasure they derive and effects these substances have on them for recreation and relaxation after the day’s work was done. The pressure of commercialization and profit making made smoking the plague it has become with people becoming addicted to it because it was more readily available and could be taken anywhere in handy packs.
Most of the civilized world recognizes the danger posed to human health by smoking/tobacco consumption (either as snuff, cigarette, cigarillos, and whatever appellation adduced to it), but it should not in any way stop men enjoying life’s little pleasures especially when they do so in moderation. After all, something must kill a man, be it an unfortunate accident, victim of crime, a broken heart, depression, faulty machinery, and what have you. Thus, tobacco being brandished as a killer, is true when consumed in excessive amounts that they become addicted to smoking.
The kind of people who smoke cigars the way it should be, in moderation are classy people wherever you find them, rich or not so rich, well mannered, and emotionally stable with their priorities in order, and not stupid enough to ruin their health at the expense of a hobby. The same way no parent would feed his/her child with sweets at the expense of normal food, preferably organically, agriculturally produced.
In our upcoming article, we shall explain the lingo and jargons of the cigar smoker. So that when next you find yourself in the midst of smokers, you do not stand out like a sore thumb but can appreciate and blend in with their conversation even if you have never smoked or held a cigar.
Before we delve deeper into the subject of cigar smoking as a hobby and favorite past time of many men, we need to understand some terms peculiar to the connoisseurs
Generally speaking, all cigars are more or less the same in appearance: long and cylindrical. This shape is generally referred to as a parejo, meaning parallel in Spanish. Although many popular figurado shapes (such as Torpedos, Perfectos, etc.) are available today, the vast majority of premium cigars sold today are still parejos.
Properly described, the shape of a cigar is measured according to length and diameter. The length of a cigar is measured in inches but the diameter is measured according to its ring gauge. Ring gauge is a unit of measurement divisible by 64. Most cigars have a ring gauge of 64 or less. There’s no real trick to this – the ring gauge system may appear confusing at first, but it is simply an antiquated system that measures the diameter of a cigar in units of 64 (64 is equal to 1 inch). Therefore, a ring gauge of 48 would be a 3/4? of an inch thick (48/64).
Glossary of Cigar Terms A-Z
50/50 Solution – A solution of 50 percent water, 50 percent propylene glycol. Added to your humidification device every three to six months, its presence will keep water from evaporating beyond 70 percent relative humidity.
American Market Selection – Abbreviated AMS, it describes Claro-colored wrappers. Recently revived as a descriptor for Candela wrappers.
Amatista – A glass jar containing 50 cigars (occasionally 25), sealed to be sold “factory fresh.”
Band – A ring of paper wrapped around the closed head of most cigars. Cigar bands are often printed with the name of the brand, country of origin, and/or indication that the cigar is hand-rolled.
Belicoso – Traditionally a short, pyramid-shaped cigar, 5 or 5 1/2 inches in length with a shorter, more rounded taper at the head and a ring gauge generally of 50 or less. Today, belicoso is frequently used to describe any coronas or corona gordas with a tapered head.
Binder – The portion of a tobacco leaf used to hold together the blend of filler leaves called the bunch; with the wrapper and filler, it is one of three main components in a cigar.
Blend – The mixture of different types of tobacco in a cigar, including up to five types of filler leaves, a binder leaf and an outer wrapper.
Bloom – A naturally occurring phenomenon in the cigar aging process, also called “plume”, caused by the oils that exude from the tobacco. It appears as a fine white crystal-like powder which can be brushed off. Not to be confused with mold, which is bluish and can not be easily brushed off.
Blue Mold – is an airborne tobacco fungus that can ruin a tobacco field in just a few days. It marks tobacco leaves with ruinous small round blemishes.
Boite Nature – a term for the cedar box in which many cigars are sold.
Bouquet – The smell, or “nose,” of a fine cigar.
Box – The container used to package cigars. There are several traditional styles:
cabinet selection refers to wood boxes with a sliding top, designed to hold 25 or 50 cigars.
8-9-8 refers to a round-sided box specifically designed to accommodate three rows of cigars– eight on top, nine in the middle, eight on the bottom.
flat top is the flat rectangular box most popular today, with 13 cigars on top and 12 on the bottom.
Box-pressed – Originally the style of cigars first placed in boxes, the squared sides allowed for easy packing.
Bull’s-Eye Cutter – A device for opening the closed head of a cigar before smoking. It creates a circular opening like a target’s bull’s eye.
Bulk – A large pile of tobacco leaves in which fermentation occurs.
Bunch – the different types of filler tobacco that are blended to create the body of the cigar. The bunch is held together by the binder.
Bundle – A packaging method, usually used for budget cigars, that uses a cellophane wrapper in stead of a box. It usually contains 25 cigars. Bundles, often times seconds of premium brands, are usually less expensive than boxed cigars.
Cabinet Selection – Cigars packed in a wooden box rather than the standard cardboard or paper-board cigar boxes. Often the term Cabinet implies the cigars were aged longer than the standard selections.
Candela – A bright green shade of wrapper, achieved by a heat-curing process that fixes the chlorophyll content of the wrapper while it’s still in the barn. Also referred to as Double Claro.
Cap – A circular piece of wrapper leaf placed at the head of the cigar to secure the wrapper in place.
Capa – a cigar’s wrapper.
Cedar – The kind of wood that is used to make most cigar boxes and humidors. Preferred for its aromatic qualities and its ability to hold moisture.
Chaveta – a cigar roller’s knife. The knife used in a cigar factory for cutting the wrapper leaf.
Churchill – A large parejo cigar, traditionally 7 inches by a 48 ring gauge. It was the preferred shape of Sir Winston Churchill, who was famous for almost never being seen without a cigar.
Cigarillos – Very small cigars. Usually thin, three-inch cigars long, these are popular in Europe, and are generally machine-made.
Claro – A pale-green to light-brown wrapper, usually shade-grown.
Clear Havana – A cigar made in the United States prior to the embargo with Cuban tobacco. Known to have “cleared” customs, almost always 100% Cuban tobacco.
Colorado – A medium-brown to brownish-red shade of wrapper tobacco.
Corojo – A tobacco plant traditionally grown in Cuba. Now grown in many major tobacco producing nations, it’s most notable for its full-flavor and oily wrapper.
Corona – The most familiar size and shape for premium cigars: generally straight-sided with an open foot and a closed, rounded head, usually not more than 5 1/2″ in length.
Cuban Seed – Usually refers to plants grown in non-Cuban countries with seeds from Cuba.
Culebra – Spanish for “snake.” Culebras are cigars made of three panatelas braided and banded together; usually 5 to 6 inches in length, most often with a 38 ring gauge.
Diademas – A big cigar with a closed and tapered head. Generally about 8 inches long; the foot may be open, or closed like a perfecto.
Double Claro – Another name for Candela.
Double Corona – A big cigar, generally 8 inches by a 52 ring gauge.
Draw – The amount of air that gets pulled through a lit cigar. It can be too easy (hot) or too tight (plugged).
English Market Selection – Abbreviated EMS, a term used to designate a natural color wrapper. It was the preferred shade for smokers in the U.K., i.e. English Market Selection.
Fermentation – The aging that occurs after harvest. Workers gather the tobacco leaves in large bulks (or piles), moistening the leaves and allowing them to ferment. Temperatures may reach 140°F before the bulk is broken down and restacked until fermentation stops naturally. This process releases ammonia from the tobacco.
Figurado – A Spanish term that refers to cigars with shapes/sizes, such as belicoso, torpedos, pyramids, perfectos and culebras.
Filler Leaves – The individual tobacco leaves used in the body of the cigar. A fine cigar usually contains between two and five different types of filler tobacco.
Finish – It refers to the taste that lingers on your palate after a puff. Mild cigars do not have much finish, either in terms of length or complexity. But stronger, more full-bodied cigars have distinctive flavors that linger for a while.
Flag Leaves – An extension of the wrapper leaf shaped to finish the head of a cigar; used instead of a cap. Flags are sometimes tied off in a pigtail or a curly head.
Foot – The end of the cigar you light. Most often it is pre-cut, except in the case of torpedos and perfectos.
Gorda – Spanish for “fat,” as in the corona gorda shape- a “fat” corona. Gran Corona – today this term refers “fat” corona. Typical size is 6 x 46.
Gum – A vegetable adhesive used to secure the head of the wrapper leaf around the finished bunch.
Habano – A designation which, when inscribed on a cigar band, indicates that a cigar is Cuban.
Habanos S.A.- the worldwide distribution company for Cuban cigars; formerly called Cubatabaco.
Hand – Individual leaves of tobacco that are hung in a tobacco barn after harvest and tied at the top. These hands are piled together to make a bulk for fermentation.
Handmade – A cigar made entirely by hand with high-quality wrapper and long filler. All premium cigars are handmade. Hand-rollers can generally use more delicate wrapper leaves than machines.
Hand-rolled – A cigar made entirely by hand with high-quality wrapper and long filler.
Head – The closed end of the cigar; the end you smoke.
Hot – Describes a cigar that is under filled and has a quick, loose draw. Can cause a harsh taste .
Humidor – A room, or a box, of varying sizes, designed to properly store and aging of cigars by maintaining a relative humidity level of 70 percent and a temperature of approximately 65°F to 70°F.
Hygrometer – A device that measures the humidity, often used to monitor humidor conditions.
Ligero – One of the three basic types of filler tobacco. The name means light in Spanish, but this aromatic tobacco lends body to a blend.
Long Filler – Filler tobacco that runs the length of the body of the cigar, rather than chopped pieces or scraps found in machine-made cigars.
Lonsdale – A long cigar; generally 6 to 6 3/4 inches by a 42 to 44 ring gauge, but there are many variations.
Machine-made – Cigars made entirely by machine, using heavier-weight wrappers and binders and, frequently, cut filler in place of long filler.
Maduro – A wrapper shade from a very dark reddish-brown to almost black. The word means ripe in Spanish. The color can be achieved by sun exposure, a cooking process or a prolonged fermentation.
Mini Cigarillo – Another term for cigarillo.
Mold – The wooden form used in cigar making to give shape to a finished bunch. It has two parts, which, when assembled, are placed in a press.
Oil – The mark of a well-humidified cigar, the oil is felt as you roll the cigar back and forth between your fingers.
Olor – A variety of Dominican cigar tobacco known for its big leaves; it is used as filler tobacco and especially as binder tobacco.
Oscuro – A black shade of wrapper, darker than maduro, most often Brazilian or Mexican in origin.
Panatela – A long, thin cigar shape.
Parejos – Spanish for parallel Straight-sided cigars, such as Coronas, Panatelas and Lonsdales.
Perfecto – A distinctive cigar shape that is closed at both ends, with a rounded head; usually with a bulge in the middle.
Piercer – A cutter used to pierce a small hole in the closed end of a cigar rather than a large cut.
Piloto Cubano – A popular variety of Cuban-seed tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic.
Plug -A blockage that sometimes occurs in the tobacco that can prevent a cigar from drawing properly.
Plume -A naturally occurring phenomenon in the cigar aging process, also called Bloom, caused by the oils that exude from the tobacco. It appears as a fine white powder and can be brushed off. Not to be confused with mold, which is bluish green and sticks to the wrapper.
Pre-Castro Cigar – A Cuban cigar made before Fidel Castro’s rise to power in 1959.
Pre-embargo Cigar – A Cuban cigar made before President Kennedy enacted the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in 1962.
Primings – The rows of leaves on a tobacco plant counted vertically from bottom to top. The number of primings varies, but six is average. The first priming is closest to the ground; the sixth is near the top. The higher the, priming the stronger the tobacco’s flavor.
Puro – refers to a cigar blended with tobaccos from a single country.
Pyramid – A sharply tapered cigar with a wide, open foot and a closed head.
Ring Gauge – A measurement for the diameter of a cigar, based on 64ths of an inch. A 40 ring gauge cigar is 40/64ths of an inch thick.
Robusto – A short, fat cigar- traditionally 5 to 5 1/2 inches by a 50-52 ring gauge.
Rosado – A Spanish term that means “rose-colored.” Made popular when maker’s began to use Cuban-seed wrapper with a reddish tint.
Seco – The Spanish word for dry, seco is a type of filler tobacco. It often contributes aroma and is usually medium-bodied.
Shade-grown – Wrapper leaves that have been grown under a cheesecloth tent. The filtered sunlight, and even humidity, creates a thinner, more elastic leaf.
Shoulder – The area of a cigar where the cap meets the body.
Short Filler – Used mainly in machine-made cigars, it consists of chopped scraps of leaf. Short filler burns quicker and hotter than long filler.
Spill – A strip of cedar used to light a cigar when using a candle or a fluid lighter, both of which can alter the taste of the cigar.
Sun-grown – Tobacco grown in direct sunlight, which creates a thicker leaf with thicker veins, especially in the top most leaves of the plant.
Tapado – A cheesecloth tent under which shade-grown wrapper leaf is cultivated.
Tercios – The large, palm bark-wrapped bales in which fermented tobacco is shipped to cigar factories.
Tooth – The grain pattern characteristic of less smooth wrapper leaf, such as leaf from Cameroon.
Torcedores – Cigar rollers.
Torpedo – A cigar shape that features a closed foot, a pointed head and a bulge in the middle.
Totalamente a Mano – translates to Made totally by hand- found on cigar boxes. Similar to “Hecho a Mano” or made by hand.
Tubos – Cigars packed in individual wood, metal or glass tubes to keep them fresh.
Tunneling – describes a cigar that is burning unevenly. To prevent it, rotate your cigar now and then. In the extreme it’s also referred to as “canoeing”.
Vega – A tobacco plantation.
Vein – A structural part of a leaf; prominent veins can be a defect in wrappers.
Vintage – When a vintage is used for a cigar, it usually refers to the year the tobacco was harvested, not the year the cigar was made.
Viso – A glossy wrapper leaf grown under cover.
Vitola – A term for a cigar shape. Robusto and Churchill are two examples of vitolas.
Vuelta Abajo – The valley in Cuba that many believe produces the best cigar tobacco in the world.
Volado – A type of filler tobacco chosen for its burning qualities.
Wrapper – A high-quality tobacco leaf wrapped around the finished bunch and binder. It is very elastic and, at its best, unblemished. Valued for it’s appearance and usually the most expensive leaf.
Wedge Cut – A V-shaped cut made in the closed end of a cigar
In our next article, we discuss the parts of a cigar and premium cigar making process.
Premium Cigar Making
From seed to smoke
The making of a premium hand-rolled cigar is a complicated process of many steps. In some factories, a leaf may be touched by human hands up to 100 times before the cigar is completed. Combine the delicate nature of the aged leaf and the frequent contact with human hands and it’s a wonder cigars are so perfectly made.
Growing and Harvesting
Tobacco growing and harvesting has a direct impact on taste, aroma, ash color and burning qualities of the resulting cigar. Each facet is impacted by the soil and climate conditions as much as the tobacco variety planted. The variety of seed planted determines the factors of tobacco size, natural color and texture. The actual tobacco seed is barely visible to the naked eye. Hundreds would fit on the tip of your finger. Tobacco seeds are typically planted between the months of September and October, and the seedlings grow for about six weeks. The strongest of these seedlings are selected and then transplanted to the prepared tobacco fields were they grow about six more weeks. At maturity the plant will reach a height of around six feet. At this time the harvesting phase can begin. The field hands begin picking, or “priming,” the plant by hand. Usually two to four leaves are taken per priming.
The leaves of a tobacco plant are classified into three types. The mildest-flavored leaf, is from the lower portion, and is known as “volado”. A slightly richer flavored leaf, known as “seco”, is primed from the middle section of the plant. Finally from the top section of leaves, and the strongest in terms of taste, the “ligero” leaf is located. A well-balanced blend often consists of leaves from all three of these sections.
A plant is primed up to six times, beginning with the “volado”, then moving up the plant. Each leaf must be handled carefully so as not to cause damage. The fragile green leaves are then sorted by size and texture and tied together and draped over long rods and hung in great wooden barns where it is allowed to dry for three to eight weeks. During this time the temperature and humidity are controlled to enhance aging. The tobacco begins to slowly change color from green to yellow and eventually brown. Once the cigar masters are satisfied with the color of the tobacco, it is sent to packing houses where it is separated and graded by size, texture and color. Each leaf is now designated as a wrapper, filler or binder, and the leaf is tied together in groups of leaves called “hands.”
What follows next is a series of fermentation periods. At this stage, workers create “pilons” or piles of slightly moistened tobacco in huge bales or stacks; closely monitored temperatures inside the bales control how much the tobacco “sweats” during this early stage of fermentation. To guarantee even fermentation for all levels of the “pilon” the tobacco may be “turned”, or rotated, up to three or four times before fermentation finally ends. The process releases ammonia from the tobacco making its noxious presence known to the nose. Fermentation also causes the release of the majority of the nicotine content.
Workers then use high pressure presses to compress and wrap the fermented tobacco into bales of uniform size, usually surrounded by burlap. Each bale is now ready to age. Standard aging time is 18 months to two years, although some manufacturers keep inventories of tobacco as old as 10 years. A cigar maker’s proudest sight is a vast warehouse stacked with aging tobacco bales as far as you can see.
Making the Cigar
A cigar’s actual tobacco blend or recipe is created by a master blender. This man is charged with the duty of combining selected tobaccos to create a balanced, harmonious smoke featuring a particular taste. A cigar will contain a blend of between two and four different tobaccos depending on its ring gauge. A roller’s table has shoe box sized sections that are dedicated to each type of tobacco leaf to be used in a particular cigar. This is the actual “formula” for the cigar being made that day.
The roller (Torcedores) takes the filler leaves and arranges and presses them together in his hand. Around this blend he then places down on this roller’s desk the “binder” leaf- a leaf designated to hold the blend together. He skillfully rolls them together into a “bunch”. The bunch is then cut to the appropriate length and placed in half of a 2 piece wooden cigar mold. Once the mold is full of bunches, the roller fastens the other half of the mold in place, he puts the entire box into a screw press creating the pressure needed for the bunch to hold its shape. The pressed cigars will remain under pressure for about one hour. This usually includes releasing the mold one time after about 30 minutes to rotate the cigars in the mold for improved uniformity.
Cigar factories usually set the rollers up in teams of two. The first bunches, while the second applies the wrapper.
After pressing is complete the roller removes the bunch from the molds and wraps it with the wrapper leaf, a supple, very elastic and visually appealing leaf. This maybe the trickiest and most valuable step in the rolling process. This stage creates the aesthetics of each cigar, a major consideration when purchasing or smoking. Very carefully, while keeping a delicate and constant pressure on the bunch and the wrapper, the cigar roller rolls the wrapper around the bunch. In order to gently secure the loose end created by the rolling process a bit of vegetable gum, consider it a natural glue, is applied at the head so the cigar won’t unravel.
From the scrap of the wrapper remaining the roller cuts a small circle of tobacco, not quite the size of a dime. This “cap” is placed over the open head of the cigar. It is secured in place by another touch of gum, and the cigar is now finished.
The finished cigar is placed atop to roller’s desk for spot inspection by the ever hovering supervisors. The supervisors inspect each cigar for weight, length, as well as feel for any hard or soft spots. Defective cigars are often rejected at this stage. Since most rollers are paid per cigar rolled, rejects can be costly to a day’s pay!
Aging the Cigar
From the rolling bench the freshly rolled cigars move to the aging room. A rest in the aging room allows the different cigar tobaccos to “marry” and create a more balanced smoke. Most factories age their cigars for at least 21 days, and some leave them in the aging room as long as 180 days.
The Cigar Box
This is final resting place for each cigar whose long journey began as a seed the size of a pin head. After aging, the cigars are graded and sorted for color. A line of fine cigars may have different wrapper shades from box to box, but each cigar in any one box should display a wrapper color of all one shade. The box is affixed with a country stamp, and usually sealed with very small nail, pounded with -as you would expect- a very small hammer. After the box is sealed with cellophane, the package is complete. The next step is a retailer’s shelf.
In our next article, we will discuss, the aroma or body of a cigar.