In the first article, Cigar Basics - Part 1: Seed to Factory, we discussed tobacco seeds, the plant, growing, and the final stages at the farm. This article will follow tobacco as it makes its way through the factory. As with the previous article, this is brief, not in-depth discussion. It is meant to introduce some common terms and show the processes that occur in the factory as the tobacco is prepped and eventually rolled.
The Stage: Factory to Shop
The Terms: Fermentation, Pilon, Wrapper, Binder, Filler, Bunch, Long Filler, Mixed Filler, Short Filler, Blend, Blender, Rolero, Torcedor, Bunchero, Lieberman Machine, Chaveta, Mold, Draw Testing, Guillotine, Glue, Cap
Once the tobacco has made it to the factory (or another facility), the leaves are ready to begin Fermentation. They are stacked in what are known as Pilons, or piles. This allows the tobacco to essentially process itself. The pressure the tobacco experiences as a result of being stacked causes moisture, ammonia, and impurities to leach out and a chemical process to take places that raises the temperature of the Pilon. The temperature must be continuously monitored so it does not get too high. When a particular temperature is reached, the Pilon is broken down, the leaves rotated, restacked and the Fermentation continues. After this first Fermentation cycle is completed (can take weeks or months), the Pilons are broken down again and the leaves are graded and sorted again. Depending on the varietal, priming, and intent of the tobacco, more Fermentation cycles can take place. These cycles further change the color and flavor characteristics of the tobacco leaves. Once the tobaccos are fermented, they are again graded and sorted. They then are wrapped in a breathable sack that allows them to be stored without further Fermentation to occur. In essence, this can be considered the final curing. The length of time these sacks are stored varies based on the varietal, priming, and intent of the tobacco. It should be noted that some cigar manufacturers use barrels (whiskey barrels are common) for a period of time for this process.
It was mentioned in the previous segment that the grading and sorting are used because each component of the cigar uses leaves of different quality and size. In broad terms, the grading and sorting separates the leaves in Wrapper grade, Binder grade, and Filler grade. The Wrapper of the cigar is the outermost leaf. Being that this is the leaf that covers the whole cigar and is on display, it is usually the largest leaves of a higher grade, meaning even color and no, or minor imperfections. Of course the term “imperfection” is relative and there is a place for “imperfect” wrappers. For instance the Dunbarton Tobacco & Trust Umbagog uses the Connecticut Broadleaf Wrappers that do not make the cut for the company’s Mi Querida line. The Binder is the leaf under the wrapper that holds together the center Bunch of leaves known as the Filler. The Binder leaves are usually larger leaves that are rough in appearance. There are also some manufacturers that utilize two Binder leaves. The Filler leaves are concealed within the cigar, so they do not need to be larger or pretty. When the filler consists of only full leaves, this is known as a Long Filler cigar. There are two other types of cigars. The Short Filler cigar is a cigar that contains cuttings from leaves used in other blends as a means to reduce waste. The Mixed Filler cigar is the combination of long and short filler leaves. The Filler leaves are placed in what is known as the Bunch in a particular order and location. There are multiple methods of creating the Bunch and each one has benefits and drawbacks, and these will likely be discussed in a later write-up.
In the figure above, I dissected a Jas Sum Kral Toothpick 2.0. The left is the wrapper leaf. Notice how much nicer it looks relative to the other leaves. The second leaf is the binder. It is a larger leaf, like the wrapper, but far more rustic. The right pile of leaves are the filler leaves. Notice the tobacco clippings along with the long leaves. This is because this is a mixed filler cigar.
In total, the combination of the Wrapper, Binder, and Filler make up the Blend of the cigar. The Blend is essentially the recipe that must be followed to make the cigar. Blending is an intricate process that could be broken down into countless articles. For the interest of this article, however, I will keep it concise and non-specific. Typically a Blend is created to either achieve a particular flavor profile that is missing in a company’s portfolio, showcase a particular tobacco, celebrate an event, anniversary, or achievement, or, if a factory is blending for an outside party, to meet the criteria of that outside party. The job of the Blender is to provide a Blend that achieves the purpose of creation, burns wells, and is consistent throughout the years of production. To touch on the point of consistency, and harken back to the discussion of all the things that impact the characteristics of tobacco, in order for the cigar to remain consistent year after year, the Blender must continually test their blends with the current stock of tobacco leaves and adjust the blend accordingly. It is a continuous process.
Once a blend is complete, the cigars must be rolled. The Wrapper, Binder, and Filler leaves are gathered and grouped accordingly at the cigar rolling tables. At the rolling table you will find a Bunchero, this is a cigar buncher, and/or a Rolero, this is a cigar roller. The job of the Bunchero is to pull the appropriate binder leaf(ves), trim them using a Chaveta, which is a curved blade used to cleanly cut tobacco leaves, then pull the appropriate filler leaves, and place them properly in the bunch. Then the Bunchero will then often use a Lieberman Machine to roll the bunch into the binder. This machine allows the Bunchero to lay out the binder leaf on a rubber sheet, place the filler at the end, and use a lever to roll the sheet, which will roll the bunch. This assists the Bunchero in creating an even roll. The Bunchero will use a naturally derived Glue on the binder to complete the final roll. Excess is then trimmed off the end with the Chaveta. The cigars are then placed in mold for a period of time, with periodic rotation to keep a uniform shape. In many cases the bunched cigars then will be put through a Draw Test, which makes use of a non-destructive machine that draws air through the cigar to ensure a consistent draw. Another method to test quality is weighing the cigars because a heavy cigar may be overfilled and have a tight draw and underweight cigars may be under-filled and have a loose draw.
Traditionally speaking, Buncheros are often men, while Roleros are often women. This is because once the cigars have been in the mold for the appropriate amount of time, the Rolero will apply the wrapper. This is a delicate process and requires gentle hands. It should be noted that you may hear the term Torcedor, which is a highly skilled roller. The Rolero, using the Chevata, will lay out the wrapper leaf, trim the excess and set it aside. Then they will grab the cigar from the mold, cut the excess from the foot with a Guillotine, place the cigar in the wrapper and hand roll the cigar in the wrapper. Again, some glue is used at the end to keep the wrapper in place. The wrapper is carefully trimmed and rolled around the head of the cigar and the trimmings that were set aside earlier are then used to cut a circular piece from and glued to the head of the cigar to create the Cap. The Cap is responsible for holding the wrapper on the cigar. Once the cigars are rolled they undergo a series of inspections and further sorting based on size, shape, and color. Some cigars may experience further, significant post roll aging. They are then stored in humidity controlled rooms until they are ready for packaging.
Feel free to reach out to me with questions, concerns, criticisms, or just to talk at @guitarsandcigarsfarm on Instagram, or through my site www.guitarsandcigarsfarm.com.