Tobacco is grown in two different ways, depending on how the tobacco leaves are going to be used.
The wrapper leaves are grown in so-called “tabaco tapado” (covered fields). The plants are protected from the sun by a thin cloth so that the tobacco leaves can attain a soft, smooth texture. The lower leaves make a lighter wrapper and the upper leaves a darker one. The leaves for fillers and binders (capote) are fully exposed to the sun. Here a distinction is made between three main varieties: the Ligero is the strongest tobacco and gives a cigar its strong flavour. It is located as the top of the plant. The Seco is of medium strength and important for the aroma. The Volado is at the lower end of the plant and is the mildest in flavour. It is valued for its combustibility and its role as binder.
After leaves have been dried in the curing house, the cured leaves are taken to the escogida or sorting house. In the escogida the leaves for the wrapper, filler and binder are submitted to an initial natural fermentation process, during which the flavour of the filler leaves grows softer and the colour of the wrapper leaves more uniform. This process is monitored constantly in order to maintain the desired temperature and humidity parameters. The wrappers are classified into over 50 varieties according to size, colour and texture to make sure that a habano is made from only the best leaves. After resting for a while, the wrapper leaves are packed into bundles so that they can mature, like a fine wine. The tobacco rib at the lower part of the main vein (middle rib) is removed from the leaves for fillers and binders. At the same time the final classification according to size and character is carried out. The leaves are then placed between boards and “ironed”. It is only the leaves for fillers and binders that are fermented for a second time and the packs are larger and the fermentation longer than the first. After the second fermentation, the sun-grown filler and binder leaves are packed in containers known as “pacas” and transported to warehouses in Havana where, together with the packed wrapper leaves, they are stored in tercios (bales covered with royal palm leaves) and submitted to a lengthy ageing process lasting up to three years. As with good wines, the longer the leaf ages, the better the quality.
Colour: The producers of Cuban cigars distinguish between over 60 different shades that can be reduced to the following basic colours:
Description: Clarissimo/yellow to olive green
Explanation: Leaves lower down on plant picked early and then smoked in charcoal to retain their very mild taste; very popular in the 1950s and 1960s in North America.
Description: Claro Claro to claro/light blond to brownish yellow, gold
Explanation: Leaves lower down on plant picked later; popular as wrapper in the 1960s.
Description: Colorado Claro to Colorado/ light brown to red brown
Explanation: Leaves near the top of plant picked later; an attractive palette of colours
for over 20 years.
Description: Maduro Colorado to Maduro/ deep to very deep brown
Explanation: Leaves near the top of plant, mature and oily with strong, intensive flavour.
Description: Oscuro, Negro / blackish brown to black
Explanation: Fully matured leave at the top; usually from Brazil or Nicaragua.
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