Cigar tobacco is cultivated and processed specifically for the production of cigars
Cigars come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They also vary by method of manufacture, flavour, strength and country of origin.
Parts of a cigar
- The filler is a blend of up to 20 different types of tobacco and is the part of the cigar that gives most of the flavour.
- The binder is made of tobacco leaf, sometimes ground up and reconstituted to create sheets like paper. It encloses the filler and gives the cigar its shape and size.
- The wrapper is the outer skin which is visible on every cigar and is usually made of natural tobacco leaf. The wrapper makes a considerable contribution to the flavour of the cigar.
Cigar tobacco is cultivated and processed specifically for the production of cigars. Most blends consist of dark air-cured tobacco varieties such as Besuki or Manilla, and these are fermented to enhance their flavour.
Types of cigars
- Long filler cigars (wet cigars) are generally hand made, larger and more expensive than other cigars. They are made with whole leaves, laid parallel to each other and wrapped with a tobacco leaf. They are usually from countries with a warm and very humid climate, such as Cuba or the Dominican Republic, and need to be stored in a humidor at around 20 degrees Celsius and 70 per cent humidity to avoid drying out.
- Short filler cigars (dry European cigars) are generally machine made and consist of a large variety of cut tobacco strands. This allows the manufacturer to blend a variety of tobaccos for flavour and, as they have a low degree of humidity, they do not need special storage. Under normal climatic and handling conditions, their shelf life is virtually unlimited.
Cigars are often categorised by their shape and size, with terms such as Corona and Panatela corresponding to the approximate length and width of the cigar, rather than the manufacturer or brand. Other useful terms are parejo and figurado. A parejo is simply a straight sided cigar, while a figurado is any cigar with an exotic, irregular shape.
How cigars are made
Cigars are either made by hand, where the tobacco leaves are picked, sorted and bundled manually, before the cigar itself is formed by a skilled cigar roller, or they are machine produced.
Machine made cigars
A machine made cigar is basically a bundle of tobacco rolled into a tubular shape. The process for making this type of cigar is highly automated.
The filler is made from machine chopped or shredded pieces of tobacco. In high quality cigars, these pieces are relatively uniform in size, texture and grade, while in some lower grade machine made cigars this chopped tobacco may vary in quality. Only in very low grade cigars might you find pieces of tobacco stems or stalks in the filler.
The binder holds the filler together and in high quality cigars a tobacco leaf is used for this purpose.
Lower quality and cheaper machine made cigars use a homogenized tobacco leaf as a binder. This leaf is usually made from tobacco scraps that are ground up, mixed with combustible agents and water, then stretched and rolled in a large sheet like paper.
The wrapper is the tobacco leaf that forms the outer skin and gives the cigar its appearance. Machine made cigars are made with a dry wrapper, which means they will not develop into oily, smooth ‘grand cigars’ like some hand made cigars.
Hand made cigars
Making cigars by hand is a painstaking process, requiring great skill and a high degree of attention to quality control. The filler is prepared by folding each individual tobacco leaf onto itself so that it burns evenly. It is then surrounded by a coarse binder leaf which holds it together. Once the filler is properly shaped, the bunch is placed into a plastic or cedar mould, where it will remain for 30 to 45 minutes.
After a close inspection of the leaf, the best part is picked and carefully cut into the optimum shape for wrapping the cigar. With the cigar wrapped, a small amount of vegetable glue (pectin) is applied to keep the wrapper secure. Next a circle shape is cut out of the wrapper leaf to make a cap and this is applied to the head of the cigar. Finally, using a little more vegetable glue, the cigar band is added to complete the hand made cigar.