The cigar wrapper is its outermost leaf. It is responsible for almost every aspect of the cigar starting with the looks and ending with the flavor. A good wrapper is basically the “preview” of the cigar and is responsible for its appearance. That on its own plays a huge role in the cigar’s reputation among avid smokers. Still, there are a lot of terms used to describe those wrappers and it is safe to say that this topic almost has a scientific approach to it by cigar aficionados. Terms like Corojo, Habano, or Maduro might confuse you at first but in this cigar wrappers guide I will guide you through all that and show you everything you need to know in order to distinguish different cigar types based on their looks.
First, let’s start with the most pressing question here…
What exactly is a cigar wrapper?
As I pointed out already, the cigar wrapper is made out of tobacco leaves which are drawn from the lowest parts of the plant. There, the leaves are both thicker and bigger than the normal ones at the top. To be able to wrap a cigar, they need that size. They also have to be free of blemishes. The noticeable sheen of the wrapper comes from the ageing of the leaf, where certain oils are responsible for the effect.
As the wrapper is undoubtedly the most crucial part of a good cigar, growers pay special attention to cultivating them and protecting the leaves in order to achieve the best flavor possible.
The colors in which these leaves come range heavily but can usually be separated in:
- Light brown
- Dark brown
- Very dark brown
- Different shades of green
All leaves start off by being green and slowly turn brown as the ageing process runs its course. There are more than 50 types of wrappers out there but they all can be traced back to the four main types which are (from light to dark) – Connecticut, Corojo, Habano, and Maduro. In reality, wrappers are divided into regions they are grown into and certain other characteristics. Those four aren’t the four main types according to everything. Every smoker likes a different classification. Here I will show you what is the most widely accepted as a good classification.
If you want to learn what exactly is a premium cigar, head over to my full and detailed article on the topic.
All about wrapper types & colors
Before I dive into all the different kinds of leaves used as wrappers, I have to point out that usually wrappers are divided into two classes:
- Natural wrappers
- Maduro wrappers
You can link those two categories to light (Natural) and dark (Maduro) wrappers. While you can separate the majority of the cigars into either Natural or Maduro, there are more specific types of wrappers that fall into either one of those two categories. That is where the fun starts.
Interesting fact: When a cigar is a mix between Natural and Maduro wrappers, the Maduro is typically responsible for the sweet, earthy taste of the cigar. The Natural, on the other hand, delivers a mild nutty taste to contrast that..
Natural wrappers are usually golden-blond or light-tan as far as colors go. The most common ones are the Connecticut Shade and the Ecuador Connecticut wrappers. In terms of taste, they can have hints of cashews, cedar, and even almonds. Another common taste in Natural wrapped cigars is the moderate to light spices flavor, especially in the Connecticut wrapped ones.
“Natural” is also used widely today for cigars that aren’t Maduro. That being said, you can find other wrappers being marketed as Natural, when all that means is that they are just not Maduro wrapped ones. Outside the USA, you can hear those cigars being referred to as English Market Selection but that is only valid for the Cuban cigars imported in the UK.
The term Maduro is technically used to refer to the fermentation process of the leaf or how it has aged. These leaves go through a fine fermentation process to achieve different dark brown colors and sweet, rich flavors for which they are widely known. These wrappers can range from brown to jet-black colors.
This wrapper type isn’t specific to a certain region. It basically translates to “mature” (or “ripe”) and can vary in flavor, strength, region, or even country in which it is produced.
However, since the Maduro wrapper is aged through a lengthy fermentation process, it tends to develop richer and more complex flavors. You will find that different cigar types use different types of Maduro wrapper. That said, it is important to note that not all tobacco leaves can be a Maduro wrapper. Only those that can withstand the process of fermentation are used.
Believe it or not, before the 80s the Maduro wrapper didn’t even exist. It came into the mainstream as a result of the ever growing complexity of people’s taste for rich and flavorful cigars.
The best known Maduro variety is the Connecticut Broadleaf. Maduro wrappers are also classified by their color intensity. This tobacco strain has bigger and thicker leaves that can produce the best Maduro cigars in the world.
The dark brown is typical for the Colorado Maduro, while the very dark, nearly black wrappers are associated with the Oscuro wrapper, which is also called a Double Maduro. On top of that, Maduro cigars are separated into mild, medium, and strong.
Factors that play a role in the wrapper properties
The factors that affect the color, strength, and the flavor of both the Natural and Maduro Wrappers are:
- The amount of sunlight the plant gets
- Total area of the tobacco plant from where you get the leaf
- Duration of the fermentation
- Temperature during the fermentation process
The true art of creating quality wrappers is knowing exactly how each of those factors will play out in your final product and knowing how to control them in your plantation. Now, let’s dive into all the other wrapper types and see what their appeal is.
Wrappers From A to Z
As there are countless of cigar companies out there, there ought to be that many (or even more) wrapper types and sub-types. Even though, I already showed you the main ones, there are many more which can be put into either one of the main categories. Knowing what each of those wrappers brings to the table allows you to have a wider knowledge of the flavor spectrum of different cigars you want to buy. It also lets you know exactly which part of the cigar is responsible for the taste you are getting, ultimately resulting in you being able to pick your future cigars better.
The Brazilian wrapper is usually dark, almost black and looks a bit dry. In terms of flavor it has hints of Astringent coffee bean and black pepper. It is also common for this wrapper to be a bit sweet.
Mata Fina is the most famous among all its varieties and is typically grown on a piece of land on the northeast coast known as the Reconcavo. It has a subvariety called the Mata Norte, which grows in the Northern part of Reconcavo.
As the name suggests, these wrappers are grown in Cameroon and also in the Central African Republic. There is a good mix of sweetness and spice here. The leaves are delicate and a little dry with a light-brown to medium look. Even though the country’s politics often interfere with the growing of tobacco, the rich soil there creates unique and rich flavors which are cherished all over the globe by cigar lovers.
Among all the cigar types, those covered by a Cameroon wrapper are among the sweetest tasting cigars. This sweetness is balanced by a pleasant peppery taste with hints of cinnamon, nuts, cocoa, cedar, and baking spices. The complex flavor of the Cameroon wrapper comes from the pockets of oil that develop on the leaves.
Aside from their distinctive taste, Cameroon wrappers are also known for being very delicate. They are not suited for aggressive fermentation, unlike other varieties like the Ecuador Habano or the San Andres. Nevertheless, they are sought-after by cigar manufacturers because of their intense taste
These are one of the easiest cigars to distinguish due to their green colors. That is done by harvesting the leaves before they are fully mature. The quick drying out process ensures that the plant’s chlorophyll stays intact. These cigars have grassy tea flavors with hints of cedar and pepper. They are mild and very tasteful, and are a good starter cigar for anyone who is new to all this.
A Candela cigar is a type of cigar whose outermost leaf is a Candela wrapper. It came from Cuba and first became popular in the 1940s. The demand for Candela cigars was driven by US customers who wanted a milder alternative to the more popular options.
These wrappers are produced in the Northeast region or around the Connecticut River Valley. These wrappers are used for some of the best selling cigars in the world. Brands like Macanudo, Ashton, and Arturo Fuente all have top-sellers wrapped with Connecticut leaves.
The rich soils in this region produce unmatched crops. The Connecticut wrappers are usually golden-brown in color. The taste is sweet, rich, and creamy thanks to the lower intensity sunlight the region has, compared to other regions closer to the Equator.
There are a few famous variations of these wrappers such as the Shade and the Broadleaf.
Both varieties of the Connecticut wrapper come from plants that grow tall and have leaves bearing a distinctive silky look. They are also bigger and thicker, giving tobacco farmers higher yields.
The broadleaf is a popular choice among cigar makers. This is because it can withstand the rigors of fermentation and is capable of producing the best Maduro cigars in the world. It is also used to make some of the sweetest tasting cigars in the market.
In the early days of the tobacco industry in the region, there was another type of Connecticut wrapper known as the Havana. It did not grow as tall as the first two varieties. What’s more, its leaves were not as silky. That said, it did have an interesting flavor and a rich, dark color that many cigar aficionados back then really liked.
There was a time in the early 1800s when the Havana was the more preferred wrapper. However, when the broadleaf and other strains with bigger and thicker leaves arrived, farmers were enticed by the larger harvests and higher profits. Over time, the Havana was supplanted by its newer cousins.
Perhaps the most well-known Maduro wrapper is the Connecticut Broadleaf. It is has a dark-brown color although it can sometimes be almost black. It is sweet and oily and is considered as the tougher cousin of the Connecticut Shade. The sweetness of these wrappers is very distinguishable and the hints of raisins, cedar, dark chocolate, chestnut, black currant, and spices are what sets this wrapper apart.
This is a rarer form of the Connecticut wrapper. It is grown with Cuban seeds (Habano). The reason why so many regions around the world use Cuban seeds is because some of the top cigar makers escaped their country in the years after the revolution. With them, they took the seeds needed to continue their heritage. Nowadays, those seeds are grown mostly in Ecuador (the Ecuador Habano). In the last 10 years, there have been experiments with growing these seeds in the Connecticut region which has created a rich blend of honey, spices, nuts, and wood flavors.
The main difference with the Connecticut Shade from the rest of the Connecticut wrappers is that they aren’t grown under direct sunlight but are rather protected from it by nylon mesh. This simulates a cloudy sky and protects the plant from direct sunlight.
These wrappers are golden to honey color-wise and have a very light and silky texture to them. Still, the process behind growing these crops is very labour intensive. That combined with the maintenance they require results in a steep price for any cigar wrapped with these leaves. The taste can have hints of cashews, coffee with cream, and almonds. Another distinctive trait is the excellent nicotine density the cigars have.
Corojo was one of the major Cuban wrappers back in the days but is now grown mostly in Honduras and other countries in Central America. These cigars have a red and brown hue with an oily texture. The flavor is robust with a zesty scent.
Criollo is yet another classic Cuban tobacco plant which has a centuries old history. It produces wrappers that have earthy or reddish colors. Taste-wise it can have notes of cedar, coffee beans, and spices.
Most premium cigars have been using leaves from tobacco crops in the Dominican Republic for decades now. After the 2000s, the country really became a producer of quality wrappers. Many critics said that good wrappers couldn’t be grown in the Republic, but one person – Carlito Fuente, proved them all wrong. In the 1990s he succeeded in making one of the best wrappers in the world in the face of the Fuente Fuente Opus X.
Dominican wrappers are grown exclusively in the Chateau de la Fuente and are golden, to red and brown in color. They have a spicy intense taste with a characteristic creaminess.
Over the past forty years, the Oliva family has been producing quality wrappers in the country of Ecuador. These wrappers have a brown leathery hue to them and a dark cocoa shade. Upon smoking it, you will taste rich ground coffee flavors combined with a hint of hickory.
Ecuador Connecticut is the result of Connecticut-planted seeds in Ecuador which produce leaves with almost the same color as the Connecticut Shade although they are slightly dryer and paler. The taste is slightly different as well, with hints of leather, pepper, nuts and slightly more spice.
Ecuador Habano refers to the Cuban seeds that are grown in the Ecuadorian region. A shift in consumer demand for spicier and full-bodied cigars has made the region blossom in terms of cigar filler and wrapper production.
These wrappers can have a variety of colors from dark brown to some with a red hue and even ones with a milk-chocolate color to them. The wrapper adds a rich spicy flavor accompanied by hints of dried fruits, leather, figs, and some creamier floral flavors.
The Sumatra wrapper has a very dark color that some even describe as black. While it came from tobacco leaves originally found in Sumatra, Sumatra wrappers today come from other places. The Ecuador Sumatra is widely considered the best version of the Sumatra wrapper.
These wrappers are grown in Ecuador with Sumatra seeds. They have a very distinct dark leaf which gives the cigar a very luxurious look. These wrappers give a very rich taste of raisins, cedar, black pepper, alongside creamy notes.
Aside from Ecuador, the Sumatra wrapper can also come from other places like Honduras and Nicaragua. Due to the variations in soil conditions and farming methods, Sumatra wrappers from different places can have different flavors. As a result, you can expect varying cigar smoking experiences. Even so, there is no doubt that all of them will be satisfying.
Habano wrappers come from Cuba and are processed via a traditional fermentation process. Some people refer to any Cuban wrapper grown outside of Cuba as “Habano”, although that isn’t entirely correct. These cigars are heavy on their aroma and earthy, coffee, and wood flavors are dominant.
A few decades ago, Honduras was one of the premium produces of cigars and tobacco leaves. Nowadays, it has given up that title to the Dominican Republic and/or Nicaragua. Most tobacco plants in this region produce thicker leaves with more veins which are primarily used in fillers and binders. Still, some companies are using Honduran wrappers due to their hints of minerals, cocoa, cayenne pepper, and wood. In most cases, these wrappers have a mahogany-like hue.
Indonesian tobacco plants have been used for more than three centuries and are mostly used in cigar fillers. Still, some companies like Swedish Match make wrappers thanks to their rich nutty, coffee-like flavors.
Nicaragua is the main rival of the Dominican Republic when it comes to quality wrappers. Its rich soil (which is also volcanic) yields a tasteful mix of cedar, cinnamon, cocoa, black pepper, and nutty flavor.
These wrappers are medium-brown with a cocoa hue to them with a dry texture.
Even though the climate in Pennsylvania is close to that of the Connecticut River Valley, these two regions yield two different type of crops. These wrappers are rough and rusty looking with a dark (brown) appearance. Taste-wise they are quite bold and way spicier than the Connecticut Broadleaf.
The San Andres wrapper comes from the San Andres valley in Mexico. It has rich soils which yield excellent crops that are known for their big and rich flavors. These leaves are far more resilient than others and can go through longer fermentation periods.
They are dark, either black or brown in color and have an oily complexion. There are hints of freshly brewed coffee, black pepper, dark chocolate, almonds, and spices.
San Andres Oscuro
The Oscuro wrappers from San Andres are made with a shorter fermentation process at a significantly lower temperature. These wrappers are very dark and are the thickest wrappers out there. They have a sweet, rich taste with notes of espresso, caramel, and sweet hickory.
It is a fun-fact that some of the best Sumatran wrappers aren’t grown on the island, but rather in Ecuador from Sumatran seeds. Still, these Sumatran wrappers are praised due to their rich flavors and notes of cocoa, grass, earth, and cinnamon. They have a light brown color.
Other Wrapper Types
The “Sun Grown” wrappers refer to the process involved in the making of the wrapper rather than a region in which the crops are grown. These wrappers are exposed to direct sunlight contrary to the means of producing “Shade Grown” wrappers.
These leaves, in turn, produce more oils to protect themselves from the heat. That results in more lustrous, stronger, and thicker cigars with chestnut or coffee bean dark brown colors. They posses flavors ranging from nutmeg, through baking spices, to cedar and sweet coffee.
This is an alternative method of referring to the Connecticut Shade or Broadleaf wrappers.
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How to identify a quality wrapper
In order for a wrapper to be considered good and alluring, the leaf itself should feature a thin profile. It also needs to be delicate and smooth to the touch with as few veins as possible. One unmistakable trait of good wrappers is the glossy sheen of the rich oils in the leaf. If there are too many lines it means that the leaf wasn’t large enough or the crafting process of the cigar wasn’t ideal.
Avoid cigars that have blemishes or stains. Those are most often caused by a short (or rushed) process of curing and fermentation. If you see thick veins across the cigar it is most likely a sign that the manufacturer used coarser leaves for the wrapper, which results in a sub-optimal flavor.
Other bad signs are visible cracks and splits in the wrapper. This usually means that the cigar has been dried out by being improperly stored or held in dry climate. A cigar needs roughly between 70 and 80% humidity, which is why most cigar smokers choose to get a good cigar humidor that keeps their cigars fresh and full of flavor.
On the contrary, mould can indicate that the storing environment has been more humid than normal.
Lastly, don’t always judge the cigar by the its wrapper if the wrapper has a rough texture to it. Some companies prefer the course appearance just to showcase their bold nature or strong flavors.
The key to finding good cigar wrappers is to always know what you are looking at. To the untrained eye, cigars are only different shades of brown and green. To someone who knows what they are looking at, though, those colors represent different blends, wrappers from different regions, and different taste combinations. I hope that this cigar wrappers guide has been helpful and will help you for years to come in your hobby!
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