From seed to smoke: how cigars are made

More than 100 people work for up to 12 years to craft your perfect cigar.

October 4, 2015

Lots of people think that the only good cigars in the world come from Cuba. Of course, that’s not true – that would be like saying that the only good wine in the world comes from France – but it does raise the question: how does Cuba manage to make such good cigars?

In truth, the quality of a cigar has a lot to do with the soil where the tobacco was grown. In fact, it is amazing just how much of a difference the nutrients in the soil can make to the final cigar.

Here is a guide to how cigars are made, from seed to smoke.

The seeds

The best tobacco seeds are taken from plants in the middle of the field, where they have less pressure and less aggravation from outside influences. These stronger, larger plants are left in the field to bloom, with a paper bag placed over them to prevent cross-pollination with weaker plants, before the seeds are harvested and replanted in nutrient-rich soil.

The seed starts life in a greenhouse, spending around 40 days growing in controlled conditions before being transferred to the field, where it grows at a furious pace for the next two months until reaching maturity.

Once the plant is mature, two leaves are picked every week: the first pair are known as the first priming, the second two the second priming, the third pair the third priming, and so on and so forth until around 12 to 14 leaves have been picked.

The leaves

There are three types of tobacco leaves, the functions of which differ depending on from where on the plant they were picked. The first type is the ligero leaf, which is found at the top of the plant and tends to be thicker, giving strength to the cigar. Next is viso, which comes from the middle section of the plant and gives the flavour profile to the cigar. And finally is seco – a thinner leaf that is easily burnt. It is the combination of all three that is necessary to give you a full profile in the cigar.

After the leaves are picked they are hand-cut before being tied or sewn together and then hung to dry for up to eight weeks in a curing barn until their colour goes from vibrant green to that familiar rich brown we all associate with cigars.

Fermentation

Once the leaves have been cured, they are inspected for quality before being separated into their separate categories (ligero, viso and seco) and transported for individual fermentation. Generally speaking, seco leaves need four months, viso leaves need eight months and ligero leaves need at least a year to 14 months.

The fermentation process involves bundles of leaves being placed on top of each other, generating heat and moisture, leading to the leaves releasing ammonia and dropping in acidity, meaning they will be good for a smoother final smoke.

The process isn’t as simple as just leaving the bundles (or pilons) to ferment. The most skilled producers are artists and know when to rotate the bundle to add more moisture and change the temperature. This knowledge has been passed from generation to generation for centuries. 


Once it has fermented it is important that the tobacco is given time to recover from the stressful process it has been through, so it is packed into dry bails and left to age for a minimum of six months, but in some cases it can be decades.

Blending and rolling

In order to produce a balanced cigar, the binder, filler and wrapper must be well balanced. The only trouble with this is that each individual leaf has a different taste, and even crops from the same farm vary in taste due to seasonal and climactic variations, meaning that producing a consistent product year after year is very difficult. This is why a cigarmaker needs a large stock of leaves on a continual cycle, so as to minimise the change in taste.

When it comes to rolling the cigar, carefully selected filler leaves are bunched up, rolled together in a binder (a thin leaf with full flavour) and then placed in a mould. After being turned in the mould for several hours to avoid a seam forming, the cigar is finally wrapped in a wrapper leaf (the most beautiful and expensive part of the cigar).

In all, more than 100 people have worked for up to 12 years from the original tiny seeds to the sweet moment that you take the finished cigar out of the box and light it up. A cigar is an incredible feat of human accomplishment, so next time you’re enjoying one, just remember where it came from.

If you don’t believe me... ask the ashtray. Armando Nunez is from Marz Global. Visit marzglobal.com