There is nothing better after a long, hard day at work than a great cigar. Though cigar smoking is a modern method of relaxation and a social activity, its origin dates back over 1000 years. It was started by the original native population of the islands in the Caribbean as well as the rest of Mesoamerica in as early as 900 AD. In fact, a ceramic vessel at a Mayan dig site in Uaxactun, Guatemala has been found, which was painted with the likeness of a man smoking a cigar. But just how are those little “sticks” of tobacco made. Though many cigars available today are machine made, the finest cigars are still rolled by hand. Cigars hail from many places around the globe, though mostly from places with warmer climates such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. The most famous, and hardest to obtain, is the Cuban cigar.
The hand rolled Cuban cigar is the benchmark of all cigars. It is made up of three components derived from two varieties of tobacco plants: the criollo and corojo. The components that make up the cigar include the tripa or filler in the center and a capoteor binder around the tripa, both of which are taken from the criolla plant. A cappaor wrapper is then stretched and rolled around the outside; this is taken from the corojo.
To begin with, tobacco leaves are stacked in three-feet-high pilones. The leaves are stored at temperatures not exceeding 95ºF (35ºC). The fermentation breaks down the resins and creates a uniformity of color. Leaves are then graded for size and color before a second fermentation.
After three weeks, the leaves are placed into bundles called tercios. They are put aside for a few months in cigar factories in order to age. Prior to rolling, the leaves are gently separated and lightly moistened with high-pressure water. The stems are removed and the remaining leaves are graded into size, color and texture.
The cigar filler is made up of three leaves – volado, seco and ligero, and throughout the process the progress of each is monitored. Once they have reached perfection, they are taken to the blending room, known as the liga. Great secrecy surrounds individual cigar blends.
The rollers known as torcedores sit at benches, seven or more to a row. They use a half-moon blade and a wooden board. Two to four leaves are combined with the binder and rolled into bunches, according to blend. After they are pressed in a wooden mold, they are wrapped and trimmed. They are then capped using leaf and a natural gum.
An expert torcedore can roll around 150 cigars per day. These are placed into bundles of 50 and checked for quality. The cigars are then placed in conditioning rooms for up to three weeks for the flavors to gel. The most respected and highest paid cigar factory workers are called escogedores, or color graders. They work at incredible speeds, grading the cigars according to color and texture.
There are 65 different shades in the cigar making process. Other workers arrange the cigars into boxes from dark on the left to light on the right. The cigars are then removed from the boxes and banded. The women who band the cigars are called anilladoras, and they use a simple measuring rule and gum. The cigars are then ready to be exported all over the world. Well not to the US (at least not legally) because of an embargo placed on Cuba.
To read more about the fascinating process of cigar rolling or the history of cigars, check out the links below.
The History of Cigars – TomTom Cigars (London)
Cigar Production Methods – about.com