How Tobacco Leaves are Prepared for Cigar Making

Every avid cigar collector should have an idea of how their prized cigar collection came to be. Of course, looking at a cigar and one would have a pretty good idea of how it is made. It is just a bunch of dried tobacco leaves rolled carefully to form cylindrical shaped objects and then shipped all over the world. But cigar making is more than that.

The making of cigars begins with the cultivation of the tobacco plants. They start as plants that are propagated first indoors before they are transplanted in the fields after six to ten weeks. As they plants are grown, they are carefully pruned in order to let the leaves grow to its necessary size.

Some of the plants are grown to produce leaves that become the outer wrappers of cigars. These selected plants are usually covered with cloth, especially the leaves to protect them from the sun. It takes about three to four months before the plants are ready and mature enough for harvest.

After the tobacco leaves are harvested, they are made to cure for several days in order for them to develop their characteristic aromas. From being fresh bright green leaves, they are cured until they become dry brown or yellowish. In the curing process, the leaves are made to hang attached to narrow strips of wood called laths. They can either be air cured in dry weather or flue cured if the weather does not permit the former.

In flue curing, the laths are hung in a small barn that is heated until the temperatures inside reach 32 to 77 degrees Celsius. The temperature is carefully monitored in order to prevent rapid drying which can damage the leaves.  Sometimes, sawdust or hardwood is burned in the curing barn to impart some aroma on the drying tobacco leaves.

After the curing process, the leaves are then separated by its color and size. The best leaves are usually set aside to become the outer wrapper. Large tobacco leaves are sorted to become the inner wrapper or binder for the cigar while the small or broken leaves become the cigar filler.

The leaves are then bundled in groups of 10 to 15 leaves called "hands". The "hands" are then further packed and placed in boxes called "hogsheads". This is where the leaves are made to go through a fermentation process. The leaves are kept for a period of six months to five years in these boxes during which, the taste and the aroma of the tobacco leaves develop. High quality cigars usually make use of tobacco leaves that have been fermented for two to five years.

After being fermented, the leaves are carefully sorted and then have the main veins of each leaf removed. The leaves are then stacked in piles called "books" or "pads" which are then wrapped in bales and then stored for another round of fermentation. It is at this point that the leaves may also be shipped. Just as the leaves are finally ready to be made into cigars, they are steamed first in order to restore lost moisture and make them flexible and then sorted again.

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