Cigars consist of tobacco leaves that are wrapped around leaf filling. They’re much longer and thicker in size compared to a cigarette, so they take much longer to smoke, but they provide one of the finest ways to enjoy tobacco and are available in a variety of cigar sizes and shapes. But how are cigars made? While the process is slightly different from manufacturer to manufacturer, many of the same steps and principles are applied during production.
How are cigars made depends on whether they’re hand-rolled or machine rolled. Each type of cigar will go through a rigorous manufacturing process from the time the tobacco is planted to when it’s picked, to when the leaves are sorted and then stored for several months or years for the fermentation process. When the tobacco is ready to be rolled into cigars the leaves are sorted again and divided up into three categories:
Then the leaves are prepared and shipped off for rolling. For both machine-rolled and hand-rolled processes the leaves are inspected again. Filler leaves are placed inside a binder leaf. The wrapper is wrapped around the partially made cigar. For the last step, vegetable paste and a small circle of wrapper leaf cut from an additional leaf are placed over the very end of the cigar. The last step is the packaging process which can vary from factory to factory. Some cigars are packaged in small boxes and sold together, while others are individually wrapped for sale.
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There are many different sizes and shapes of premium cigars to choose from. A standard cigar is shaped with parallel sides and a rounded head. Perfectos are cigars that have tapering sides and pointed heads, while figurados tend to have their own unique shapes and sharper tapers.
Until the beginning of the twentieth century, cigars were normally rolled by hand. But once the industry mechanized in the early 1900s, the number of traditional factories fell dramatically. However, the new, mechanized factories were able to produce more cigars compared to the old hand worked ones. These days, the best cigars are still rolled by hand, however, most cigars on the market are partially or entirely made by machines.
Cigar Making Materials
Raw cigar materials start with one whole leaf of the tobacco plant. These plants are able to grow in a variety of climate types, however, the best tobacco comes from the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Cuba. Cigars utilize three different types of tobacco leaves as part of its raw material. Broken or smaller leaves are set aside as filler. Large whole leaves are utilized for the inside wrapper, which is referred to as the binder. The binder can also be of lower quality or imperfect. The appearance of the binder isn’t important. Finally, a finely textured, large leaf that has a uniform appearance is reserved for the outside wrapper. Some types of cigars are made using tobacco leaves from the same region, while others are wrapped in higher quality leaves but filled with lower-quality tobacco from another region.
In terms of secondary materials, some cigars are made with a type of tasteless gum that works to keep the end of the cigar’s wrapper together. Flavoring agents may also be used and sprayed all over the filler. Last of all, a band, or ring, is placed around each cigar.
Most cigars that are machine-made use a type of homogenized leaf for the wrapper and binder. These homogenized leaves are made from scraps of whole leaves that have been pulverized and mixed with a type of gum before they’re rolled into sheets. The homogenized cigars are said to be more uniform and much stronger than cigars that use whole leaves. Cigars with a homogenized wrapper may also have added flavor.
Beginning with the tobacco plant, the plants are first seeded and then transplanted into a field where it will remain for two to two and a half months. During this time, the leaves are carefully cultivated and remain covered with special cloths that protect them from the harmful rays of the sun. In some cases, these plants can take several months to reach maturity.
Curing the Tobacco
After the plants have been harvested, the leaves must then be cured, which is what allows them to develop their own special aroma. The leaves must be cured once they have changed from bright green leaves to yellowish or dried brown. On a chemical level, the chlorophyll content in the leaves will break down gradually and is then replaced by carotene. In order to cure the leaves, the plants are hung on laths, which consist of narrow strips of wood. These laths are suspended from the ceiling in a large curing barn which is well-ventilated. In hot and dry weather, the leaves can be cured by remaining hung up for a determined period of time. This process is known as air curing. However, leaves can also be flue-cured. For flue-curing, the leaves have to be closely monitored in order to prevent damage caused by rapid drying. Hardwood and sawdust may be burned to help with the drying process.
Once the tobacco has been cured, the leaves are then sorted based on size and color. Broken or smaller leaves will be set aside for the filler, while large leaves for the binder and beautiful, uniform leaves will be set aside for the wrapper. Leaves designed for the wrapper are often grown in the shade and receive more care than leaves used for filler or binders.
The next step is securing the leaves, which are then tied into bundles that can consist of up to fifteen leaves per bundle. These bundles are placed in large casks or packed in boxes. The tobacco must remain stored in the casks or boxes for several months or years. In some cases, the leaves are left to ferment for up to five years. During this time, the leaves will undergo special chemical changes. When fermenting, the aroma and taste of the tobacco develops. Typically, cigar tobacco is left to ferment for a much longer period of time compared to tobacco that’s used for pipe or cigarette smoking. On average, most cigar tobacco is left to ferment for three to seven years for high-quality brands. Once this process is complete, the leaves will once again be sorted.
Manual and Mechanical Preparation
The leaves used for filler will need to have the main stem removed prior to processing otherwise the cigar will not have an even burn. This is usually done by hand, however, it can also be done by machine. When done manually, a person will need to use a knife to clip the vein and pull out the stem. The leaves are then stacked into a large pile. When done mechanically, the machine operator will place leaves into the machine under a large grooved knife. Using a foot pedal, the machine operator will lower the knife to cut the vein.
Leaves that are stripped are then stored for further fermentation after they have been wrapped in bales. The bales will be shipped at this time for the final step in the production process. But before the leaves are ready for the manufacturing process, they must be steamed in order to restore any humidity that was lost. This will help to prevent the leaves from breaking down. Then, they’re sorted once again.
Rolling by Hand
High-quality cigars are almost always rolled by hand. But doing so is definitely a skill that can take years to learn. The cigar filler must be evenly packed in order for the cigar to burn smoothly, while the wrapper must be wound in a type of even spiral around the whole length of the cigar. A hand roller will typically work in a small factory. Each hand roller will sit at a table with a stack of tobacco leaves and enough space to roll. The worker must first choose from several leaves used for the filler. These leaves are placed on top of each other and rolled into a tight bunch. The roller will then place this filler bunch on the binder leaf and roll it cylindrically around the filler leaves. These unfinished cigars are then placed in a wooden mold that will preserve their shape until the wrapping phase.
By far, wrapping cigars is the most difficult step in the entire process. the roller will take the almost complete cigar out of its mold and place the wrapper leaf around it. To do so, they will use a chaveta, which is a special type of rounded knife. The knife is used to trim off any filler irregularities. They will then roll the wrapper leaf around the binder and filler three and a half times, then finish by cutting a small round piece out of a different wrapper leaf and attaches it to the end of the cigar using a special paste.
As I mentioned earlier, most cigars these days are made by machines. Many of these machines will require several operators to control a variety of functions. One worker will feed the leaves onto a belt, as the machine then takes the leaves to form the filler. Another machine operator will place the binder leaves into the binder die. For this step, the leaves are held down via suction as the machine expertly cuts the leaves to the correct size. Then filler is dropped onto the binder as the machine rolls it around the filler. Another operator will place the wrapper leaf onto a wrapper die. The cigar is placed onto the wrapper die so the machine can wrap the leave around the partially completed cigar. For the last step of the process, an operator must inspect the cigars and put them onto trays which are taken to an inspection room. During the inspection phase, cigars will be checked based on the condition of the wrapper, and the shape, size, and weight. All the cigars that pass the inspection will then be placed onto trays for banding and wrapping.
To learn more interesting facts about wrappers, their quality, and the different types available, be sure to stop by and read my guide on cigar wrappers.
Are Cigars Better for You than Cigarettes?
No. Smoking a cigar is no better for your health than smoking a cigarette since you’re still exposing yourself to nicotine despite the fact that you’re not supposed to inhale cigar smoke like cigarette smoke. Some studies have shown that larger cigars can contain as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes.
How Can I Cut a Cigar Without Ruining it?
Use the best cigar cutter. This is one accessory you don’t want to skimp on, especially if you’re paying more for high-quality cigars. I recommend the BLINKEEN stainless steel cigar cutter, which will give your cigars a nice, clean cut every time.
Why Do People Smoke Cigars?
Cigars will send nicotine to the brain, even though you don’t inhale the smoke. Cigars tend to offer a richer taste compared to cigarettes. In fact, there are simply more flavors to choose from compared to the standard tobacco used for cigarettes. Many people that smoke cigarettes also enjoy cigars because of their unique flavors and due to the fact that it offers an entirely different smoking experience.
Now that you know how cigars are made, you may have even more of an appreciation for your favorite cigar. Whether they’re hand-rolled or machine rolled, cigars tend to go through a type of rigorous quality control process each step of the way. For most manufacturers, the quality of the leaves is very important. In larger factories, many companies employ a whole team of workers whose main focus is checking every cigar for imperfections. And because of this, at the end of each type of manufacturing process, you can rest assured that by the time a cigar reaches you, you’re getting only the finest quality cigar.