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Tobacco Tricks

 
     
 

Some cigar manufacturers resort to artificial means to alter the smoking properties or appearance of their cigars. The time-honored way of creating maduro or oscuro wrappers is to ferment the leaves over a longer period of time than normally. To hasten the process, leaf processors usually resort to scalding the wrapper leaves with steam. This shortcut yields a quick maduro, but it also affects the taste negatively. 

 
 


 
  Another trick is to apply a treatment of glycerine to the outside of the wrapper, which gives the cigars the oily sheen smokers look for. Often, this results in a wrapper that you can see is so oily it just doesn't look natural.  
     
  A widely-used artificial treatment is the application of betún (beh-TOON). Betún is made by putting tobacco stems and shreds, molasses, sugar, lemon or other citrus juice and rinds, rum and other ingredients ... depending on who's doing it ... in a container of water, and letting it steep for several days or longer. The result is a liquid that looks like black coffee. This liquid is sprayed lightly on the filler leaves, or brushed lightly on the outside of the wrapper. "Lightly" is important ... betún contains nicotine, and too much of it will produce a spinning head, queasy stomach, and torpidity. (Ingested, a teaspoon of betún will result in nicotine poisoning that will kill you almost immediately.) These are much the same sensations inadequately aged or fermented leaf produces. The "right" application makes the smoker thinks he's smoking a powerful (usually oscuro) cigar, especially favored by smokers of Castro's modern Havanas. Even if not over-applied, betún has a sharp and bitter bite, and causes a peppery brining on the tip of the tongue and later, at the back of the tongue and upper throat. In some cases, the burn can be felt at the corners of the mouth. Then sprayed on filler, betún is invisible. But betún-painted wrapper is conspicuous . Rather than being dark brown and with a natural, healthy sheen, the wrapper looks more like asphalt in the hot sun ... black and too shiny.  
 
     
     
  And, on the Subject of the Modern "Cuban Taste" ...
(From "Cuban Soil, Cuban Sun" on our Cigar School page)
 
     
  In an interview with industry giant Emilio Reyes for an article in SMOKE magazine (Summer, 2007), he revealed an astounding fact. But first, to introduce the Reyes family, of Santiago, Republica Dominicana, they have been a major tobacco grower continuously since 1840, They supply cigar producers with over 70% of all of the tobacco grown on the island ... some of the world's most prestigious brands included. Beginning with Don Emilio's grandfather Julio, they have been selling tobacco to Cuba for the past century. (This revelation in itself should cause some head-scratching among those who say, "If the tobacco isn't grown in Cuba, the cigars aren't Cuban.") Don Emilio, a fifth-generation tabacalero with 48 years experience, is a world authority on leaf processing. In 1991, he was invited by Cubatabaco to straighten out their ailing tobacco production. For 5 years, he stayed on as a working consultant in all aspects of tobacco cultivation and processing, as well as in cigar production. A statement he made in the interview merits special emphasis:
 
  "Except for two years wen I was working in Cuba ... 1993 and 1994 ... Cubatabaco did not, and does not now, ferment any of their wrapper tobacco."  
     
  What!? That explains the "modern" Cuban taste ... the residual impurities in their unfermented wrappers burn the throat and even the corners of the mouth, lay a gnawing trail of impurity-laden saliva down the gullet into the stomach, sometimes hiccups, and can even cause wooziness. It seems modern Cuban-cigar devotees have categorically mistaken the effects of alkaloid toxicity, thinking it was a nicotine buzz ... both render about the same physical sensations. Rare is the modern smoker who has truly experienced what Cuban cigars once were ... and still should be. Castro may well be the world's greatest counterfeiter of Cuban cigars. And, why should Cubatabaco take the pains to ferment their wrapper, when smokers accept the harshness that typifies their product as being The Real Thing?  
     
  Emilio Reyes' explanation confirms the same statement made earlier by our director, John Vogel. Former tobacco researchers at Cuban Land, with whom John has maintained his career-long association, revealed this fact to him.  
     
  Cubans nowadays use a different method to obtain the same smoking sensations. They simply don't ferment the wrapper leaf. Unfortunately, the residual sugars, starches and carotene cause the same unpleasant symptoms mentioned above, and are harshness on the palate. This peppery taste is a characteristic of some of the strongest tobaccos, predominately those developed and grown in Cuba's Pinar del Rio region. But in the old days, it's power was tamed by fermenting, and though spicy, it wasn't harsh.  
     
  Our director, John Vogel, uses none of the artificial techniques mentioned above or otherwise. All our tobacco is grown semi-organically, and is fully and naturally aged and fermented. We do not use either betún, glycerin, or any other additive or artificial process.  
     
  Cigar fads of the past have come and gone ... the light-green candela and tan "American Market Selection" wrappers on cigars back in the '40s through '60s are dismal examples. Both were monuments to bad taste. Cigar smokers of today are largely oblivious to the smooth, sophisticated Cuban cigars of the island's Golden Age. Somehow, they've bought the notion that power should translate to a biting harshness, with the symptoms described above. Ironically, this is largely accompanied by a lack of flavor ... again, many people mistake strength for flavor, when the truth is, mild cigars can be loaded with flavor, while it can be lacking in strong cigars.  
     
  Our new "Fundación Ancestral" line of cigars is the Alternative to modern Cuban cigars ... much more flavor, equally powerful, but without the harshness of unfermented wrapper. They're also the Alternative to betún-laced Cuban wanna-be cigars. Enjoy the flavor and power of pure ancestral Cuban-seed tobacco, without any of the tricks.  
     
     
  © Copyright Unastar SA, 2005  
     
 
 

   
       

 



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