According to experts, the cigar making process begins when plants are started indoors where they spend from eight to 10 weeks germinating. Replanted in fields, plants develop for several months which gives them time to mature and develop their signature aromas.

Strung on wood strips and hung from curing barn ceilings, leaves are air-dried. In damp weather, heat may be used to advance the drying process. Once dry, tobacco leaves are segregated into wrapper, binder and filler categories, bundled into casks and left to age, a process that can take between six months and five years.

A stripping process readies the leaves for rolling. Every move – from sorting and packing to the rolling process – is exacting and precise. Alternately, machines may be used to roll them. In either case, the finished product isn’t sold until it is inspected by examiners to meet criteria and standards imposed by the cigar brand.

What are the ingredients that go into the wrap?

Three main components required for a proper wrap are listed below:

-A wrapper. This is the exterior part of the cigar that holds the contents together and hosts the band that identifies the brand. Some smokers prefer a dark wrapper for a stronger hit that can result when a wrapper leaf is allowed to undergo a longer aging process.

-A filler. As the material that delivers strength, fill may be a composite of materials taken from all parts of the plant not reserved for wrappers or binders. Fillers provide unique flavors and textures.

-A binder. Think of this leaf as the component that keeps the filler in check and provides a surface over which the wrapper is secured. Preparing binder leaves requires the removal of veins from areas located around the base or low middle sections.

How are the wraps made from tree leaves?

The wrapper leaf contributes between 40- and 50-percent of the flavor and aroma, so the ability to choose the right leaf can have a major impact on the smoking experience. Once tobacco is properly cured and seasoned, a professional hand roller takes handsful of filler leaf and manipulates it to form the shape of a small cigar.

A binder leaf compresses and compacts the fill. Flour paste, gelatin or Tragacanth acts as a glue during the over-wrapping stage. This takes practice; if not done correctly, the finished product can be too tightly or loosely packed. Over the next few days, each cigar is rubbed against hard surfaces to further compact and bind ingredients.

How is tobacco grown?

Tobacco starts life in the same way every agricultural product does: Seeds so small they require palletization plus coating with inert substances are planted in individual growing vessels inside greenhouses. Starter plants remain there for 60 days before being transferred to the ground where they continue to mature for around two months before leaves are ready to be harvested.

Subject to weather irregularities that -- if extreme could kill an entire crop -- the care and feeding of these plants play a seminal role in producing cigar tobaccos, including a regular watering schedule and the application of granular fertilizers plus undertaking measures to eliminate pests, cull unhealthy leaves and remove invasive vegetation that can interfere with a plant’s growth cycle.

How important is the binder when making a cigar?

Gary Korb calls binder leaves “The Loneliest, Hardest Working Leaf in the Bunch” when describing the role they play in the process. Citing Richard Carleton Hacker's Ultimate Cigar Book, Korb lists of 5 reasons to give binder leaves respect:

  1. They encase the filler in ways that keep the cigar burning evenly.

  2. They are harvested from mid and lower primmings that are thicker and more elastic so they bind the fill during molding and pressing stages.

  3. Binder leaves are cured differently than filler and wrapper leaves. They aren’t sewn together like other leaf types, thus eliminating labor.

  4. Binder leaves contribute to the cigar’s air flow, acting as a primer for the wrap.

  5. Since binder leaves are culled from the plant’s lower half, they get less sunlight, curing and aging time, which limits the amount of flavor they produce, but they make up in aroma what may be missing in flavor.

How do different components of a cigar merge and why this is important?

The role played by a cigar’s construction and blending can’t be understated because without the right mix of filler, wrap and binder the smoking experience won’t satisfy the taste and aroma of inveterate cigar smokers.

In fact, every blend tells a story – be it overly strong, aromatic or delivering a distinct taste. While a fatter cigar may contain more leaves, it’s not the heft of the cigar that matters but the amalgam of all three leaf types that make cigar smoking the pleasurable experience it is today.

Is cigar tobacco different from pipe or cigarette tobacco?

According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, tobaccos act as major pathways that activate carcinogens, so when undertaking a study comparing cigarette, cigar and pipe smokers, results were surprising. Cigarette smokers were more adversely affected than either pipe or cigar smokers.

Additionally, DNA adducts levels were significantly lower in pipe and cigar smokers than in cigarette smokers. Study results concluded that “pipe or cigar smoking was associated with lower exposure to products of tobacco metabolism than cigarette smoking.” Conclusions reached? “Pipe or cigar smoking to present fewer health hazards" than cigarettes.

Approximately 75-percent of cigar smokers don’t inhale or smoke every day, which is why smoking-related disease isn’t as pervasive in cigar smokers. That stated, cigar smoke impacts saliva and nicotine absorption tends to be greater than it is in cigarette smokers.

Second-hand cigar smoke is more toxic due to the fermentation process and there are higher concentrations of toxins in cigar wrappers due to their porosity. Further, cigar smokers are at risk of developing lip, tongue, larynx, mouth, throat, pancreas, bladder, heart and lung cancers. Early tooth loss may also be a result of cigar smoking, according to the Journal of the American Dental Association.

Areas best known for cigar production

According to British authority Samuel Gawith and an amalgam of other websites tracking cigar origination, these 10 nations are most often cited as the world’s top cigar producers:

  • Brazil

  • Cameroon

  • Cuba

  • Dominican Republic

  • Ecuador

  • Honduras

  • Jamaica

  • Mexico

  • Nicaragua

  • U.S.A.

The top U.S. tobacco growing states (in order of production) are:

  • North Carolina

  • Kentucky

  • Virginia

  • Tennessee

  • Georgia

  • South Carolina

  • Pennsylvania

Are there distinguishing characteristics between products originating in Cuba and the Dominican Republic?

In terms of reputation for excellence, Cuba is considered cigar mecca. Unique flavors are a hallmark of the Cuban cigar and while commercial trade was banned between the U.S. and Cuba for decades, brands like Cohiba, Montecristo, H. Upmann, and Partagas remain distinguished brands. The Dominican Republic is frequently listed as the second most prolific tobacco cultivator.

What about Central and South America cigar tobacco producing nations?

Nicaragua remains one of the top cigar producing nations. Their products are known by their spicy, distinct flavors found in signature brands include My Father, Perdomo and Padron. Honduras’s tobacco is strong, dark and earthy, a direct result of “the Cuban seed Corojo tobacco which was first grown in Honduras before leaving for Cuba.” Famous brands include Room 101 and CLE. Mexico is said to produce the best wrappers in Central America and are responsible for the taste and texture of Norteno and Black Abyss products.

In South America, Brazil’s tobacco growing industry produces dark, strong leaves with a rich and dark flavor best represented by brands like Davidoff Escurio and Liga Privada No.9. Ecuador only entered the tobacco market a decade ago, but the nation is fast gaining a reputation for producing products with distinct tastes as a result of Ecuador's climate where perfect cloud cover and humidity produce a spicy, delicious cigar wrapper. Top Ecuador brands include Rocky Patel, Montecristo and Tatuaje.

Where can one find the best cigar?

Hands down, the best of the best grown, aged, rolled and seasoned cigars come from Cuba, while the most satisfying, non-Cuban smokes, originate in “the somewhat beleaguered country of Nicaragua where there’s a heightened emphasis on the nation’s rich tobaccos."

What about other parts of the world?

The tobacco-growing industry in Cameroon is an outlier and home to an interesting tobacco output that rarely makes headlines like tobacco grown in Cuba, Central America and even Jamaica. But historians know that tobacco has been a major cash crop for both Cameroon and the Central African Republic since the early 1900s when this area was colonized by the Dutch who introduced Sumatra seeds to this area of the continent.

French colonists supported the tobacco industry but political turmoil and French control led to its decline in 1993. But Cameroon emerged to become a top name in wrappers which are coveted additions to brands like Arturo Fuente, Cohiba, H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon, Partagas, Nub Cameroon and Rocky Patel Vintage 2003.

While Jamaica’s tobacco growing industry was decimated in 1988 due to a natural disaster that wiped out the nation’s tobacco plantations, the country has recovered and now produces the beloved Macanudo that has no equal in terms of smokers who wouldn’t think of smoking another cigar.

When did the cigar become a cultural phenomenon?

This phenomenon was launched when Christopher Columbus landed in Cuba and happened upon a cottage industry made up of indigenous people “twisting up tobacco leaves and enjoying a rustic smoke.” All of the factors found in a great smoke today harken back to 1730 when Columbus brought tobacco to Europe and introduced the filler, binder and wrapper combination that is not much different today.

How has the cigar evolved?

Cigar smoking had been institutionalized by the turn of the 20th century and until 1920, hand-rolling was the sole method of manufacturing cigars. The advent of mass production fueled by world wars impacted the world’s tobacco growing and despite a slump in production during the 1940s and 1950s, lighter tobacco emerged from the fray.

President John F. Kennedy’s passion for a good cigar was so strong, before he imposed an embargo on Cuban goods, he "ordered his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, on a treasure hunt around Washington D.C. for every H. Upmann petit corona he could find. After Salinger rounded up 1,200 of them Kennedy put the embargo into effect” in 1962.

About the advancement of cigar lounges

As fads and trends wax and wane, cigar smoking is currently experiencing a renaissance in part due to the availability of exotic brands and countries of origin plus the rise in smoking establishments. Calling them “A Smoker’s Last Refuge,” David Savona explored the resurrection of cigar lounges (aka cigar bars) and unearthed geographic information likely to gladden the heart of every cigar smoker.

As a result of stringent smoking bans imposed upon public places, lounges have sprung up across the nation. Some are large and well-appointed venues loaded with amenities like large-screen TVs, couches and a level of camaraderie that has pervaded these establishments for centuries. “Cigar lovers hang out, talk and smoke, and shoot the breeze," said Sathya Levin, a cigar company vice president.

How do smokers preserve their cigar supplies?

While dedicated cigar smokers invest in humidifiers to maintain stringent conditions that keep cigars fresh for extended periods of time, Business Insider journalists report that innovative cigar smokers are known to resort to containers, jars and Ziploc bags to keep cigar stashes in good shape.

Smokers intending to keep supplies around for “more than a few months” may use coolers to maintain the relative humidity needed for proper storage. Cigar smokers who have not invested in humidors are known to put together homemade humidors with less than $20 worth of supplies (distilled water; humidification device; hydrometer) capable of maintaining the integrity of a supply until that humidor is removed from an avid cigar smoker’s wish list.

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