What goes into cigars? The answer to this question is the key to assessing the quality of a specific cigar. All but the thinnest cigars include three elements: (a) the filler tobacco at the center, (b) a binder leaf which holds the filler together and (c) the outer wrapper, which is rolled around the binder. Cigars which are made by hand (as opposed to machine-made cigars) use ‘long filler’ tobacco: leaves which run the length of a cigar. In a handmade cigar, the filler, binder and wrapper are combined manually by hand to create a cigar. The ‘cap’ is the last item constructed onto the cigar by the roller.

Let’s examine the three tobacco’s that comprise a premium cigar a little closer:

WRAPPER

The wrapper is like the expensive wrapping paper with which you would wrap an important gift. It is made up of half a tobacco leaf and is rolled around the body of the cigar. The wrapper of a cigar is carefully selected not only for its taste, but for its beauty. (The wrapper can contribute up to 70% of the total flavor of a cigar.) It must be flawless, for the wrapper is all you see when you look at a fine cigar. The wrapper should not be dry; it should not flake or crumble when touched. The quality of a cigar is often judged by its wrapper.Generally speaking, the lighter the wrapper color, the milder the taste (i.e., Connecticut Shade). The darker the wrapper, the more full-bodied the cigar will be (i.e., maduro wrappers). Cigars are usually described as ‘mild, medium or full-bodied’ (just like referring to wines).   Cigar novices will prefer a milder cigar while an experienced cigar smoker may prefer a darker wrapper for a fuller bodied taste.

  • Although there are approximately 100 different wrapper shades identified by all the major manufacturers, the two most popular are Connecticut Shade wrappers (from the State of Connecticut, USA) and a maduro wrapper.

Connecticut Shade is the most expensive tobacco in the world! This wrapper gets its name from where and how it is grown. The fields where the wrapper plants are grown are covered by tents made of translucent material. The tents filter and diffuse the sunlight before it reaches the plants. This makes the leaves smooth, with a thin and fine texture and a delicate red-brown color. Under the cover of the tent, beneficial heat and humidity are trapped, creating a tropical growing environment. The tent also protects the plants from wind, rain and hail. Connecticut Shade is world famous for its smooth complexion, wonderful light brown shade and a delicate, smooth, yet complex flavor.

  • The term ‘Maduro’ comes from the Spanish word for ‘ripe’. The leaves are said to be ripe because they come from the top of the tobacco plant and are the last to be picked; therefore, they are darker, thicker and richer than their brothers from the lower part of the plant.

Maduro wrapper cigars are easy to identify because they are dark brown to black in color. The dark brown color comes about because after harvesting the leaves are arranged in large square piles called ‘bulks’. The pressure from the weight of the bulks and bacterial action create heat and fermentation; the tobacco is said to ‘sweat’. As the tobacco sweats, it becomes progressively darker and sweeter to the taste; impurities are driven out. Once a pre-determined temperature is reached, the bulk is broken down, re-stacked, and the process is repeated again and again until the desired color and taste are achieved.

  • Another popular wrapper comes from West Africa and is called a ‘Cameroon’ These wrappers are darker in color than a Connecticut Shade, than but not quite as dark as a maduro. Cigars made with Cameroon wrappers offer a taste in the middle of a mild-bodied Connecticut Shade and the fullest-bodied maduro cigars. The traditional farming methods and the rich soil of Western Africa give this wrapper a distinctive rich taste and dark brown color when properly aged.

BINDER

If you were to remove the wrapper layer from a cigar, the next layer you would see is called the binder. The binder does just what the name implies – it binds the cigar together. Binder tobacco is not seen by the cigar smoker. Because it is not seen, the tobacco used is not selected for its flawless beauty, but rather for its function. Binder tobacco is picked for its strength, flavor and burning characteristics. Good binder tobacco acts as a fuse; it insures a long, slow, even burn while the cigar is being smoked.

FILLER

Filler tobaccos are the innermost leaves of the cigar. The leaves that make up the filler tobaccos make up the majority of the volume of the cigar, but oddly, they do not contribute the majority of the flavor of the cigar. (The wrapper contributes the majority of the cigar’s flavor – up to 70%.)

All quality, premium cigars use ‘long filler’ leaf. This means that the filler leaves are whole and intact. Inexpensive machine-rolled cigars use ‘chopped’ or short filler tobacco. Chopped filler uses broken leaves and tobacco scraps. The use of long filler leaves is evidenced by the long cylindrical ash that grows on a premium cigar. The ash of an inexpensive cigar, using chopped or short filler flakes, drops off like a cigarette ash.