If you've ever tried rolling your own cigarettes (of one kind or another), you know that it's a skill that takes some practice. And if you put an amateur's roll up against a nice cigar from your humidor, you'll quickly see the differences: rock solid tightness, a clean and smooth exterior, an even burn, an easy draw... a nice cigar is a work of art. Which may make you wonder: How the heck do they make these things? Just how are cigars made?! We're so glad we asked that question on your behalf! Here's step-by-step how cigars are made:
Step 1: Getting some leaves from the garden
It all begins with a little plant called Nicotiana Tabacum, or the tobacco plant. Leaves are removed from the plant and taken inside. They're then strung on wood strips called "laths" to dry out and cure. This takes a month or two, and then it's on to the next step.
Step 2: Aging
Why does everything good have to age? What is nature trying to tell us? After curing tobacco leaves are fermented in bundles called "hands." These hands are packed into boxes or casks called "hogsheads." Sometimes, they're also stored in old liquor barrels to impart flavor to the leaves. The fermentation process takes a long time - at least a few months, but generally 2+ years for decent cigars. Hopefully, you're not in a rush to have a smoke any time soon!
Step 3: Stripping
"Cigars put my wife to shame with how long they take to get ready! When can we make a cigar?" Soon. It's now time for stripping. The main vein has to be removed from the filler leaves so that they'll burn properly. A thimble knife is placed on the finger of the worker in charge of stripping and leaves are cut. Once ready, they're placed into piles called "books," wrapped in bales, and then steamed to restore some moisture.
Step 4: Rolling
At this point, the leaves are ready for hand rolling (many factories use machines to roll cigars, but let's focus on the time-honored method in this post). Little leaves and broken leaves will become filler, the central leaves that make a cigar smokable. These filler leaves are bunched together. Then, larger leaves are used for an inner wrapping called the "binder." This binder will hold things in place so that the true outer layer can be done artfully. Also, it's worthwhile to note that many cigars are mixing and matching leaves from different plants to create a rich, complex smoke - all the leaves don't come from the same plant.
Step 5: Wrapping
It's time for magic hands. Now we need a wrapper! Wrapper leaves are typically large and have been taken good care of. They're usually shade grown or protected from excess sun by a cloth wrapping in the field. Now they're all grown up and ready to become the exterior wrapper of a cigar. Cigars at this stage are sitting in an open wooden mold to keep their shape while the wrapper is prepared. Once laid out properly, the cigar is deftly wrapped and trimmed to create an aesthetic look and feel. Instead of having some dude in Nicaragua lick up on every cigar, a vegetable paste is used to seal them shut. A circular piece is also cut out of another leaf to form an end, which is also sealed with veggie paste. We've now got a cigar. But is it a good cigar?
Step 6: Quality control (without which no good cigars would ever be made)
At this point, cigars are measured, inspected, and even smoked to ensure quality. They have to be the right size, smoke well, taste good, and deliver an experience worth dropping a few dollars on. If they pass the test, they're banded, sometimes wrapped, and then boxed for shipping. After that, they take a little trip around the globe and wind up in your hands so you, like a kid on Christmas morning, can tear open a box and marvel at the brown beauties all laid out in a neat row, ready to be smoked and enjoyed. Thanks torcedors (that's "cigar rollers" to the gringos in the crowd) - you make the world a better place!