Four More Things I’ve Learned Working @ BCP
Some of you may remember my first piece for the Best Cigar Prices blog called Four Things I’ve Learned in my First Three Months @ BCP. Well, it’s been a few more months, and taking a page from the Hollywood playbook, I thought it would be a good idea to write a sequel.
Looking back on those formative days as the new kid in the warehouse, I can tell you I barely scratched the surface of cigar knowledge. But now, almost five months later and with more exposure and study I can confidently say…….that here’s still tons more to learn. However, I did pick up a few more interesting tips that I thought may help my fellow cigar newcomers. So, without further rambling, I present: Four More Things I’ve Learned Working @ BCP. Starting with,
1. The Different Parts of the Tobacco Leaf (and why that’s something you should know)
I sat down with Jeff Brown, who many of you may know from our Facebook videos. He’s the guy who gives away the free stuff so if you don’t follow us and watch his weekly videos you really should start. Aside from his generosity, he’s also one of the few Certified Master Tobacconists in the U.S. and lays down a lot of knowledge about all things cigars. So, if you want to know something about the hobby, he’s the go-to guy. Anyway, (now that I’ve kissed up to the boss thoroughly) here’s what he taught me about the different parts of the leaf that go into a cigar.
Not only are all tobacco plants not the same, the same can be said for the different sections of the tobacco plant. That’s right, there are sections. And you thought this would be easy.
The top section of the plant which has the heaviest, darkest leaves with the most flavor and nicotine strength is known as the Ligero .
The middle section of the plant which appropriately has a very medium body and flavor and tends to be the sweetest portion is known as the Seco.
Lastly is the bottom section of the plant which has the lightest leaves and flavor and is known as the Volado.
Cigar-makers blend these 3 portions of the plant in various different ways in order to achieve different characteristics and flavor profiles. For example, to create a very full-bodied, heavy cigar they’d likely incorporate a lot of ligero leaves. For a milder, sweeter smoke they’d probably lean more toward the seco and volado leaves. Considering which of these leaf types to use is often the starting point of creating a cigar blend.
2. The Curing Process
Once the leaves of a tobacco plant have matured enough in the field to be picked they are taken to a Curing Barn. Once in the barn, the leaves are hung up to dry, usually on bamboo rungs that are mounted throughout the whole building. Drying the plants this way not only takes the moisture out of the leaf, but also gets rid of a lot of the ammonia and bitter taste that can be found in uncured or green leaves. Traditionally this process is done using just natural heat and gas heaters, however, growers like the Plasencias (who produce tobaccos used in Rocky Patel cigars, along with many others) now use digitally controlled air ducts that go through both the floor and the ceiling of the curing barn. This allows them to control the temperature and humidity around the drying leaves. All that fancy science means they end up with more evenly dried tobacco, which means you get better cigars.
3. Fermentation, Stripping, and other fancy words
After leaving the curing barn the leaves go through a Fermentation process. This means they are put into big piles called pilónes where water is then poured on and burlap is put over the top. The leaves are then left to “stew in their own juices,” as it were. This allows the sugars in the plant to break down and expels any fertilizer, nitrogen, boron, potassium, and magnesium that the plant held on to while in the ground (YEAH SCIENCE!) Depending on the company and what cigar they are producing, fermentation could go on for months or even years. Once the tobacco is fermented it gets Stripped, which simply means that the leaves are deveined and the stems removed. This is done by hand by a group of designated “strippers.” Then, all those wonderful leaves that lots and lots of people worked really hard for go to get assembled into finished cigars.
4. How Cigars are Assembled
This is the part where people with more finger dexterity and patience then I could ever hope to achieve in this lifetime work to roll the finished product that you’ll eventually pull out of your humidor. They do this by working in teams of two. One person acts as a “Buncher” or “Bunchero” and the other as a “Torcedor.”
The buncher takes the appropriate amount of filler and binder leaves and folds them on top of one another by hand in a certain way that allows air to pass through them. Sounds pretty easy, right? WRONG! This job requires a certain feel that can only be achieved by years of practice. In fact, some companies limit the number of cigars that a buncher works on per day in order to ensure that the process is not rushed. The bunched tobacco is then placed into a press which is slowly turned until the cigar is firm.
The torcedor then takes the properly bunched filler and binders and applies the wrapper leaf firmly and evenly around it, finishing it off with a circular piece of tobacco known as the “cap” at the top of the cigar. This also takes years of training, and I believe, super powers. At this point the cigar’s construction is complete and it’s off to take a nap in the aging room (more about that next time) before it gets packaged and shipped.
Like I said, there is a lot more to learn when it comes to cigars. The great amount of time and effort that so many people put in to make sure you get the best smoke that they can provide was incredibly interesting to learn about, and I’m looking forward to learning even more and spewing those lessons back to you as best as I can in the near future. Thanks for reading, we’ll talk again soon. – Matt