The cigar industry is a complex and fascinating world, with a long history and a wide range of processes involved in creating the final product. From the harvesting of tobacco leaves to the curing and aging process, each step is crucial in determining the quality and flavor of the final cigar.
Harvesting tobacco is a delicate process that requires careful timing and attention to detail. The leaves must be picked at the right time and cured correctly to achieve the desired flavor and aroma. After harvesting, the tobacco leaves are cured and aged. Curing is the process of drying the leaves to reduce their moisture content, while aging the tobacco helps to even out the remaining moisture within the tobacco and mature the leaves until they are ready to go into cigar production.
Each cigar brand has its own process for aging and fermenting tobacco, which can range from a couple of years to up to a decade. The master blenders and cigar brands will age or ferment tobacco in bales after harvesting, and this can be quite a lengthy process. The final result is a perfectly crafted cigar that is rich in flavor and aroma, a true testament to the skill and expertise of the cigar makers.
The first step in the cigar-making process is harvesting the tobacco leaves. Tobacco is typically harvested 70 to 130 days after transplanting by one of two methods: the entire plant is cut and the stalk split or speared and hung on a tobacco stick or lath, or the leaves are removed at intervals as they mature.
It takes around six weeks to harvest a tobacco plant via priming, which is generally reserved for shade-grown plants. Sun-grown plants, on the other hand, are more often stalk-cut. That is, they’re cut at the stalk and speared for curing after harvest.
Harvesting tobacco is a delicate process, as the leaves must be picked at the right time and cured correctly to achieve the desired flavor and aroma. Once a sled is full of tobacco leaves, it goes to the curing barn, where more people are waiting to string the leaves onto sticks that are loaded into the barn for curing. The leaves are tied onto long sticks by hand with cotton twine, with 90 to 100 leaves typically fitting onto a stick.
According to Cigar World, the best time to harvest tobacco is when the leaves are fully mature and have a slightly yellow color. Overripe leaves can lead to a decline in quality, while underripe leaves can lack the desired flavor and aroma.
After tobacco leaves are harvested, they undergo the curing process, which is a crucial step in creating quality cigar tobacco. Curing is the process of drying the tobacco leaves to remove moisture and create the desired flavor profile for each cigar. The curing process can take anywhere from four to ten weeks, depending on the weather and tobacco.
There are several methods of curing tobacco, including air-cured, fire-cured, flue-cured, and sun-cured. Air-cured tobacco is hung in well-ventilated barns and allowed to dry over a period of four to eight weeks. Fire-cured tobacco is hung in barns with low, smoky fires for several weeks, which gives it a distinct smoky flavor. Flue-cured tobacco is hung in barns with controlled heat and humidity, which creates a mild, sweet flavor. Sun-cured tobacco is left to dry in the sun, which creates a bold, full-bodied flavor.
During the curing process, the tobacco leaves lose most of their “green weight” and undergo a chemical reaction that creates the desired flavor profile. After the curing process is complete, the tobacco leaves are packed into bales and stored in a temperature-controlled environment for aging.
It’s important to note that the curing process is just one step in creating quality cigar tobacco. After the curing process, the tobacco leaves undergo fermentation and aging, which further develop the flavor and aroma of the tobacco. The fermentation process can take several months, and the aging process can take several years.
After the tobacco leaves have been harvested and cured, they are ready for the aging process. This is a crucial step in the cigar-making process as it allows the flavors and aromas to develop and become more complex.
There are several methods of aging tobacco leaves, including air-curing, flue-curing, and fire-curing. Air-curing involves hanging the leaves in a well-ventilated barn or shed for several weeks. Flue-curing involves using heat to dry the leaves, while fire-curing involves exposing the leaves to smoke and heat.
Once the leaves have been aged, they are sorted according to their quality and strength. The leaves are then blended together to create the desired flavor profile for the cigar.
It is important to note that aging can take several years, and some of the world’s most sought-after cigars have been aged for decades. However, not all cigars require extensive aging and some can be enjoyed immediately after production.
When it comes to aging cigars, it is important to store them in a proper humidor with authentic Spanish cedar shelves. The humidor should be seasoned and the humidity should be kept between the optimum levels – think the 70-70 rule. It is also recommended to rotate the cigars every few months to ensure even aging.
Aging cigar tobacco gives it more nuance, softens rough edges, and generally improves the product. This is particularly important with stronger varieties of tobacco, such as ligero. Many manufacturers also further age their cigars after rolling. This process can be as short as a month or so or more than one year.