pre castro cuban cigars tabacos de puriscal tobacco cigar cigars cigarillos curchill cuban tobacco tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars
cuban tobacco cigars cuban tobacco cigars cuban tobacco cigars

Facts About Tobacco
Expert leaf processing optimizes tobacco's potential locked in its seed ... but can't improve the tobacco from inferior seed.


"No amount of knowledge or meticulous care in leaf processing ... curing, fermenting, and aging ... can improve the quality of tobacco. One can only ruin good tobacco by incorrect leaf processing." The speaker is John Vogel, geneticist and director of the farm and factory of Tabacos de la Cordillera, in Puriscal, Costa Rica ... the world's only producer of cigars using tobacco from pre-Castro seeds.


  Over 45 years of cigar smoking has dealt me my share of havanas, both pre- and post-Castro. Most of the latter have been excellent examples of inadequate leaf processing. Castro must be in a hurry to get his product to market, because his cigars assail the upper throat with a rasty irritation, cause queasiness and occasionally even a spinning head. Sometimes, with Cuban and other cigars, I notice a slight burning at the corners of the mouth from impurities in the resins, which have collected in the saliva. I've cut plugged havanas open and seen tell-tale blotches of olive green on the filler, evidence of inadequate curing or fermentation.  
  We are standing in Vogel's warm and dry curing barn, as the annual monsoonal rains pound the farm outside, now devoid of plants. Thousands of harvested leaves hang in the curing barn, slowly changing during the 6 weeks or so of the first of the three stages of leaf processing. Tobacco, from seed to the point where it's ready to be prepared by the factory workers and handcrafted into cigars, needs anywhere from two to three years to create flavorful and aromatic cigars with good burning properties.  





  Up, maybe 20 feet to the top of the rafters, the leaves are in various stages of curing, depending on when they were "primed" (cut), over a period of a couple of weeks. When the tobacco is harvested, workers run needle and cord through the stems of pairs of leaves, and hang dozens of these pairs astraddle broom-handle diameter, 15-foot poles. Agile workers then scale the precarious wooden rafters to hang the poles horizontally, tips of the leaves pointing downward. Workers open or close the windows, depending on the temperature in the barn, to aid the chemical changes in the leaves during curing. Sometimes in cool weather, charcoal fires are stoked in containers on the barn's floor to elevate the temperature.  
  Changes During Curing  
  Proper, complete curing, according to Vogel, involves two stages. He explains: "During the initial stage, the severed leaf actually remains alive, but undergoes a slow process of starvation. At first, the leaf is rich in starch. The starch converts to sugar, some of which is respired during this and succeeding stages, in the forms of carbon dioxide and water. Green chlorophyll disappears, leaving the leaf yellow greenish yellow. Changes occur in the nitrogenous compounds present.  
  "Next, the leaf dies. The consumption of starch and sugar is checked. Products of the changes in nitrogenous compounds which occurred while the leaf remained alive are further broken down. Ammonia forms and there is a considerable loss of nicotine. The color changes to brown as a result of oxidation processes. Throughout the curing, the leaf undergoes gradual drying, finally losing most of its water, as well as a considerable amount of dry matter. Curing completed, the leaves are tied in bundles of about 25 leaves, and transferred to a specially constructed building for fermentation. At this time the tobacco is raw, rather bitter, lacking in aroma, and relatively high in nicotine."  
  Freshly cured tobacco is unsuitable for manufacturing cigars. Aging is necessary to complete its development. This is essentially a process of fermentation accompanied by chemical change. This curing fermentation is customary with cigar tobacco, and may be hastened by suitable procedures in handling the tobacco before storing. It takes advantage of the fact that stored tobacco actually undergoes spontaneous annual fermentations. As a rule, 2 to 3 years of storage are required to accomplish this aging by natural fermentation.  
  Some types of cigar tobacco ... wrapper tobaccos, for example ... are fermented by "bulk sweating." Workers arrange the tobacco into "bulks" ... stacked layers of tobacco bundles, arranged in varying shapes and sizes, according to local custom.. In northern latitudes the buildings are heated to facilitate fermentation. In warmer climates artificial heating is not necessary.  
  The workers build the tobacco bulks up with great care ... layer after layer of bundles of leaves ... up to about 4' high. The tips of the leaves point inward toward the center of the bulk. Fermentation by bulk sweating is the same as composing, which gardeners know how generates heat spontaneously. Thermometers are inserted in tubes that penetrate to the center of bulk, and workers watch as the temperature in the bulk reaches what is considered a safe maximum for the type of leaf. Because of the impurities mentioned above, inadequately fermented tobacco is undesirable, while excess fermentation causes "spent" tobacco that tastes like straw. Upon seeing the optimal temperature,, workers immediately disassemble and reconstruct the bulk, moving tobacco that previously formed the outside ring of leaves to the interior. Workers gently but vigorously shake each bundle of leaves, which Vogel explained as a way to shake out loose leaf particles and more importantly, to aerate the leaves and release the gaseous waste products. The bulk construction and fermentation process are repeated perhaps 2 or 3 more times, with the peak temperatures gradually lowering, until the fermentation has been completed. Workers them sort the tobacco ... leaf by leaf in the case of the more expensive wrapper types ... sizing, retying, and packing them into bales. The bales are then allowed to sleep for months, until they are ready for sale, or to make cigars, both of which Tabacos de la Cordillera engages in. Growers pack some cigar-filler and binder tobaccos in bundles and deliver them to the buyers. The leaves may then be bulk-sweated as above, or table sorted and packed in wooden cases for sweating.  
  Changes During Curing and Fermentation  
  In many respects the fermentation of tobacco may be regarded as an extension of the curing process. This is illustrated by a brief statement of some of the changes in shade-grown cigar wrapper tobacco during curing and fermentation. Though these changes are not fully understood, it is known that there is a further loss of nicotine ... 10-15 percent in shade-grown, and as much as a third in cigar filler. Volatilization as well as decomposition of nicotine takes place throughout the curing, fermentation, and aging of tobacco, but most rapidly during those stages of fermentation when the temperature in the bulk or bale is highest. The reduction of nicotine has an important relationship to she smoking quality of the tobacco, reducing pungent, biting, taste and unpleasant aroma.  
  Other changes occur during fermentation, including further loss in weight and some change in color. Tobacco tinged with green usually loses its greenish cast; and colors tend to darken and become more uniform. The texture of the tobacco changes. In the case of shade-grown wrapper tobacco, the leaves become more pliable and elastic ... necessary attributes for wrapper purposes. Some physical changes are adverse, as when the tobacco has been packed too densely, has fermented too much, or sweated too hard. Then the tobacco is apt to be harsh and rough to the touch, or in extreme cases to show evidence of mold, must, or rot.  
  © Unastar, SA, 2005
Reprinted from Smokeshop magazine, December, 2005, with permission from author Dale Scott.



© Copyright Puroserve, S.A., 2005-2009