This article is part of the Bespoke Guide to Cigars.
Hand-rolling cigars is a complicated and delicate process, with plenty of room for flavor variation. You already know the end product — now learn what makes ‘em so good.
It all starts with growing the tobacco. Even at this earliest stage, various factors can lead to the dizzying range of tobacco variations you will find. From the kind of soil, seed, and climate the leaves are grown in to the care and harvesting they receive.
Drying and Fermenting
The leaves have to be dried out and fermented before they can be used. The length and intensity of those processes are a critical step to progressing the flavor, which requires a high level of expertise and some serious facilities. The process usually happens in large barns where the leaves are air-dried, which differs from non-cigar tobacco that has other drying techniques that alter the nicotine and sugar content.
Now the leaves get to relax — sometimes for up to two years or more. With temperature-controlled aging facilities, the tobacco matures as it rests. As the leaves oxidize and lose their green color, compounds develop in the tobacco that lends subtle new flavors (like tea, rose oil, or aromatic fruit) and adds smoothness to the finished product.
Curing and subsequent aging allow for the slow oxidation and degradation of carotenoids in the tobacco leaf. This produces various compounds in the tobacco leaves that give cured tobacco its sweet hay, tea, rose oil, or fruity aromatic flavor that contributes to the "smoothness" of the consumed product.
Once the ideal time is reached, the leaves have to be re-hydrated, or “cased.” There are different techniques, like resting the leaves in a high-humidity room or running them through a fine mist, but all that’s important is that they’re delicately moistened so that they’re supple enough to craft into a cigar.
When they’re ready to be rolled, the leaves are deveined and then separated by type and strength. They’re then expertly blended into groups to create the exact proportions to be used in each cigar. The process is a delicate art: the same way a brewer carefully chooses his malt and hop types, which tobaccos to use is a hugely important choice for the cigar maker.
The organized leaves are given to a roller, along with instructions on how much of each leaf to use. Then it all comes together: each cigar is hand-rolled, either by one person or a small team. It starts with a center layer of high-quality leaves that drive the flavor, plus a dense layer of filler. Then comes the binder, which holds the tobacco’s bulk together. Finally, it’s all wrapped in flavorful and (hopefully) presentable outer leaves for the wrapper.
And once that’s all finished, all that’s left is for you to enjoy it.