Many people come into the shop as ask us for a “Dominican” cigar or a “Nicaraguan” cigar or, even, a “Cuban” cigar (silly people!) But, where a cigar is made and where the tobacco in the cigar came from are very different questions. Most people are asking for a cigar with Dominican tobacco in it rather than a cigar with tobacco from any country which is made in the Dominican Republic. That’s because, whether they realize it or not, they know there’s a big difference in the tobaccos depending on country of origin.
The vast diversity of cigar types, from all different nations, gives the dedicated cigar lover a plethora of options to explore. The different tastes of these international cigars are, perhaps, one of the best things about enjoying a wonderful cigar. Exploring those options, perusing the differences, tasting the changes – it all amounts to a world of enjoyment.
When a cigar is labeled “Puro” meaning pure, the manufacturer is telling you that all the tobacco in that cigar comes from one country. This may have been a standard in the past due to logistics, but today, master blenders seek out the best tobaccos from all over the world to create their new products, making the Puro a somewhat unique cigar in today’s market.
WHY DOES TOBACCO VARY SO MUCH?
What makes cigars from other countries taste different? Many factors influence how a cigar tastes. Remember, tobacco is a natural product, a plant. Plants live and thrive in soil, absorbing the unique chemical makeup of the soil in which they are grown. This is the source of some of those differences. Different soil types, acidic, alkaloid and others, all equate to a difference in taste, as well as the smoothness or harshness of the smoke. Of course, many other factors determine how a cigar will taste.
Weather is an important factor in the taste of the tobacco. How many days of sunshine? How much rain? Was it sunny when the leaves were maturing or rainy during the first crucial weeks of the plant’s life?
Altitude contributes to the cigar tobacco’s profile much the same as it does with coffee beans or wine grapes.
The harvesting process used in most cigar tobacco is called PRIMING. Rather than harvest the whole plant at one time (called Stalk Cut,) the vast majority of cigar tobacco is harvested two or three leaves at a time weeks apart, starting low on the plant. This creates up to SIX distinctly different tobacco profiles from one single plant.
Curing is probably the most important variable in what makes tobaccos different. The curing process varies drastically by manufacturer, by nation and by geographic region. Some tobacco is air dried in outdoor sheds; other types are cured in different ways. Therefore these tobaccos provide different flavors. The differences in aging, curing, flavoring and other essential parts of the process that happens after tobacco is harvested can drastically change the way a cigar tastes.
Ring gauge (the diameter of the cigar) also plays a role in flavor. Therefore, you might have two cigars rolled with the same wrapper, cured with the same methods and manufactured by the same company, but if their diameter is different, the flavor may be different as well. Generally, the larger the cigar’s diameter, the fuller the flavor will be. If you use cigar lighters filled with a substance other than butane, you can also change the flavor of your smoke (even butane can impart some taste).
The environment of where you smoke plays a role as well. Cigars smoked in the damp salty air ocean-side will taste totally different than a cigar from the same box smoked aside a campfire in the mountains. Even just stepping from the comfort of your easy chair inside your house out onto the porch will change the flavors you experience.
GEOGRAPHICAL CIGAR TOBACCO GROWING REGIONS
Let’s take a look at the various regions where tobacco is grown and see what factors influence the local cigars.
UNITED STATES (US): While anti-tobacco programs have drastically cut the amount of tobacco grown in the US for cigarette production, the pipe and cigar tobacco growth is fairly consistent with that of years past. There are two main areas of the US producing cigar tobacco; The Connecticut Valley and Pennsylvania.
CONNECTICUT: Revered for two types of tobacco; Connecticut Shade Grown and Connecticut Broadleaf. The Shade Grown is coveted as wrapper leaf for milder cigars. It is very fragile and subject to issues with blue mold, so quite a bit of the production of this leaf has been moved to Ecuador, where the Shade Grown leaves are thicker and more resilient. Connecticut Shade Grown is known for its mild creamy sweetness.
Connecticut Broadleaf is much darker and richer than Connecticut Shade Grown, It is used primarily in a curing process that produces MADURO tobacco. Maduro means “ripe” in Spanish. The Broadleaf tobacco is aged longer and at higher temperatures that accentuates the basic characteristics of the raw tobacco, making the already rich flavors even richer, deeper and more pronounced. This process also increases the density of the nicotine content, making it much fuller bodied than the Shade Grown tobacco.
PENNSYLVANIA: Grown in “Amish Country,” Pennsylvania cigar tobacco is typically smooth and rich in flavor with little spice. It is finding its way into more and more premium cigars.
MEXICO: In the past, most Mexican tobacco leaves were used as the binder and filler in cigars. They were first known for tobacco that is a variant of Sumatra-seed tobacco. More recently, Mexican tobacco has snuck into some of the best cigars in the world with the name SAN ANDREAS (Mexican tobacco had a less than stellar reputation in the past.)
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (DR): A majority of the tobacco that comes out of the DR is derived from Cuban-seed varieties. The soil and growing environment in the DR produces a smoother, milder and more complex tobacco with very little spice.
CUBA: Cuban tobacco leaves are strong and full-bodied, with spicy and aromatic flavors which make the Cuban cigar renowned for its suppleness. Much of the mystique surrounding Cuban tobacco is driven by the lack of access we have had to it in the United States due to the embargo that started in 1962. In reality, while there are very good Cuban cigars, much of their tobacco crop has suffered from poor agricultural management and the rushing to market of what stock they do produce. It’s a little known fact that Cuban cigar manufacturers use tobacco grown in other countries — especially Nicaragua, who’s tobacco has much of the same characteristics — in their “Cuban” cigar production. The box may say “Hecho En Cuba,” but just because it’s made there doesn’t mean all the tobacco comes from there. With loosening trade policies coming from the US, we hope that the Cuban tobacco industry gets the help they need to return their cigars to greatness.
ECUADOR: Ecuadorian grown tobaccos tend to be smooth, creamy and, in the case of the sun grown crops, nutty in flavor. Much of the wrapper leaf in Connecticut Shade Grown cigars flourishes under the cheesecloth draped fields of Ecuador because it is more hardy than US Connecticut grown, but produces less spiciness than tobacco grown in neighboring Latin American countries.
HONDURAS / NICARAGUA: The highest quality Cuban-seed and Connecticut-seed tobaccos come from these Central American countries. Both countries produce full-bodied tobacco with strong, spicy flavors and heady aromas.
CAMEROON: This area of West Africa is known for their high-quality wrapper leaf. The Cameroon leaf originated from the Sumatra seed that was imported from Indonesia. It is known for its neutral characteristics, nuttiness and that makes it an ideal wrapper for full-flavored fillers. Most Cameroon tobacco production is limited to small plot family tended “fields” so it is usually more expensive than tobaccos grown on huge farms in Latin America.
INDONESIA: Sumatra tobacco hails from the series of islands that make up Indonesia. Their tobacco is sometime referred to as Java or Sumatra. The Sumatra wrapper leaves produce a rather neutral flavor, making them perfect for mild cigars.
PHILIPPINES: The tobacco that comes out of the Philippines is a mild tobacco that used in all their cigars. The mild tobacco is a hybrid strain the Philippines produced and it’s very aromatic.
BRAZIL: Brazilian cigar tobacco, like their coffee, is dark and full of full-bodied flavors.
JAMAICA: Like Indonesia and Philippines, Jamaican tobacco is light, mild and creamy.
THE FIFTY MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION
How does a cigar company make their cigars taste the same year after year after year given all these variations? Well, there are guys and gals that smoke samples of tobaccos 300+ days a year to make sure that each ingredient leaf in your favorite cigar tastes like the last. Over 100 sets of hands will touch the tobacco in your cigar from the moment the seeds are collected from the prior year’s harvest until you remove the cellophane, cut and light your cigar.
While most of those hands are doing common tasks, a few are those of experts that make sure that each leaf in your cigar creates the experience for which it was intended.
MORE ABOUT CIGARS…