WHAT MAKES CUBAN CIGARS SO SPECIAL?
Premium Cuban cigars contain only one ingredient, cigar tobacco. In the far western region of Cuba the soil produces a distinctive flavour which is attributed to a unique micro climate. This combination of climate and soil phenomenas’ create the unique flavour of the tobacco grown in Cuba. It has even been discovered that taking the same Cuban tobacco seeds and planting them elsewhere does not result in an identical flavour. There can be similarities, but only Cuban tobacco tastes like Cuban tobacco.
Cigars are composed of three types of tobacco leaves, whose variations determine smoking and flavor characteristics:
Wrapper: A cigar’s outermost layer, or wrapper (Spanish: capa), is the most expensive component of a cigar. The wrapper determines much of the cigar’s character and flavor, and as such its color is often used to describe the cigar as a whole. Wrappers are frequently grown underneath huge canopies made of gauze so as to diffuse direct sunlight and are fermented separately from other rougher cigar components, with a view to the production of a thinly-veined, smooth, supple leaf.
Wrapper tobacco produced without the gauze canopies under which “shade grown” leaf is grown, generally coarser in texture and stronger in flavor, is commonly known as “sun grown.” A number of different countries are used for the production of wrapper tobacco, including Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Cameroon, and the United States.
While dozens of minor wrapper shades have been touted by manufacturers, the seven most common classifications are as follows, ranging from lightest to darkest:
- Candela: (“Double Claro”) very light, slightly greenish. Achieved by picking leaves before maturity and drying quickly, the color coming from retained green chlorophyll.
- Claro: very light tan or yellowish
- Colorado Claro: medium brown
- Colorado (“Rosado”) reddish-brown
- Colorado Maduro: darker brown
- Maduro: very dark brown
- Oscuro: (“Double Maduro”) black
Beneath the wrapper is a small bunch of “filler” leaves bound together inside of a leaf called a “binder” (Spanish: capote). Binder leaf is typically the sun-saturated leaf from the top part of a tobacco plant and is selected for its elasticity and durability in the rolling process. Unlike wrapper leaf, which must be uniform in appearance and smooth in texture, binder leaf may show evidence of physical blemishes or lack uniform coloration. Binder leaf is generally considerably thicker and more hardy than the wrapper leaf surrounding it.
The bulk of a cigar is “filler” — a bound bunch of tobacco leaves. These leaves are folded by hand to allow air passageways down the length of the cigar, through which smoke is drawn after the cigar is lit. A cigar rolled with insufficient air passage is referred to by a smoker as “too tight”; one with excessive airflow creating an excessively fast, hot burn is regarded as “too loose.” Considerable skill and dexterity on the part of the cigar roller is needed to avoid these opposing pitfalls — a primary factor in the superiority of hand-rolled cigars over their machine-made counterparts.
By blending various varieties of filler tobacco, cigar makers create distinctive strength and flavor profiles for their various branded products. In general, fatter cigars hold more filler leaves, allowing a greater potential for the creation of complex flavors. In addition to the variety of tobacco employed, the country of origin can be one important determinant of taste, with different growing environments producing distinctive flavors.
Short filler:The fermentation and aging process adds to this variety, as does the particular part of the tobacco plant harvested, with bottom leaves (Spanish: volado) having a mild flavor and burning easily, middle leaves (Spanish: seco) having a somewhat stronger flavor, with potent and spicy ligero leaves taken from the sun-drenched top of the plant. When used, ligero is always folded into the middle of the filler bunch due to its slow-burning characteristics.
If full leaves are used as filler, a cigar is said to be composed of “long filler.” Cigars made from smaller bits of leaf, including many machine-made cigars, are said to be made of “short filler.”
If a cigar is completely constructed (filler, binder, and wrapper) of tobacco produced in only one country, it is referred to in the cigar industry as a “puro,” from the Spanish word for “pure
Cigar Shapes and Size
The industry standard measure for diameter is known as ‘ring gauge’ and is expressed in 64th of an inch, although some countries prefer to use millimetres. Ring gauges vary from 26 (i.e. 26⁄64 th of an inch or 10.32mm) to 57 (i.e. 57⁄64 of an inch or 22.62mm).
In Cuba, the sizes are called vitolas. The vitola de galera is the size name the factories use – the factory name. The vitola de salida is the size name you find on a box – the market name.
Sometimes the market name is the same as the factory name, but not often.
The same size is often known by different market names in different brands, and different brands may sometimes use the same market name for different sizes.
On top of this, some vitolas have popular generic names like ‘torpedo’.
Confused? The following examples are listed by factory name with their popular names too.
Popular Name: Petit Corona
Dimensions: 5 1/8 ins x 42 ring gauge, or 129 mm x 16.67 mm diameter.
The Mareva is by far the most popular of all the sizes. Its 42 ring gauge allows three filler leaves to be used to their full in the blend and it is as near as you get to a ‘standard’ girth for Habanos. The Mareva or Petit Corona offers around 30 minutes of smoking pleasure.
Popular Name: Corona
Dimensions: 5 5/8 ins x 42 ring gauge, or 142 mm x 16.67 mm diameter.
A Corona is the size to crown a memorable dinner, or perhaps to give you time for contemplation on a busy day. With the same girth as the Mareva, it offers over half an hour of essential relaxation.
Popular Name: Lancero
Dimensions: 7 1/2 ins x 38 ring gauge, or 192 mm x 15.08 mm diameter.
When elegance is the order of the day, the slender length of the Lancero is hard to beat. There is a shorter version too, the Coronas Especiales, which measures just 6 inches. Both originated at Havana’s El Laguito factory, the home of Cohiba, and boast the finesse of a twist of leaf on the cap. This one will take the best part of one hour to smoke.
Popular Name: Siglo VI
Dimensions: 5 7/8 ins x 52 ring gauge, or 150 mm x 20.64 mm diameter.
Many consider this to be the ultímate shape and size for a Habano. Today it is acknowledged for its excellent combustion that releases the full flavour of its filler blend during the hour or so it takes to smoke. This size was chosen for the first Gran Reserva Habano.
Popular Name: Petit Edmundo
Dimensions: 4 3/8 ins x 52 ring gauge, or 110 mm x 20.64 mm diameter.
The trend for heavy gauge cigars combined with a reduction in the amount of time available these days to enjoy them has seen the popularity of the Petit Edmundo – as well as similar sizes like Petit Robusto– increase. It burns well whilst drenching the palate with flavour for the 20 to 25 minutes you should allow to smoke it.
LAGUITO NO. 3
Popular Name: Panetela
Dimensions: 4 .ins x 26 ring gauge, or 115 mm x 10.32 mm diameter
A quarter of an hour will suffice to smoke this tiny example of the Torcedor’s art. Perfect, for instance, to enjoy during an interval at the theatre. In fact one similar vitola is called the Entreacto, literally ‘between acts’.
Popular Name: Edmundo
Dimensions: 5 1/3 ins x 52 ring gauge, or 135 mm x 20.64 mm diamete
The Edmundo is part of a group of heavy girth sizes that have grown in popularity in recent years. Halfway between a robusto and a Cañonazo, it commands a loyal following for its good draw and balanced release of flavour for the 50 minutes or so it takes to smoke.
JULIETA NO. 2
Popular Name: Churchill
Dimensions: 7 ins x 47 ring gauge, or 178 mm x 18.65mm diameter.
Originally from the Romeo y Julieta factory. It is said that Winston Churchill smoked some 300,000 Habanos during his long life. Not all matched these dimensions but this was his size of choice. Another feast for the palate to be enjoyed for over an hour.
Popular Name: Robusto
Dimensions: 4 7/8 ins x 50 ring gauge, or 124 mm x 19.84 mm diameter.
Modern constraints on time have made this stocky shape the first choice for many experienced smokers. Slow burning and packed with flavour, most of the joys of a really large cigar can be savoured in 30 to 40 minutes.
Popular Name: Torpedo
Dimensions: 61⁄8 ins x 52 ring gauge, or 156 mm x 20.64 mm diameter.
The sizes shown so far are what is called parejo or straight-sided. This is a figurado. Many believe that the Piramide or Torpedo, with its tapered head and shoulders, has special advantages when it comes to combustibility during the hour or so it takes to smoke.
Popular Name: Double Figurado
Dimensions: 5 3/4 ins x 46 ring gauge, or 145 mm x 18.26 mm diameter.
Pointed at both ends, this Double Figurado shape is perhaps a better candidate for the title of ‘torpedo’. A century ago most Habanos looked like this but today the shape is rare except in one brand – Cuaba, where every size is Double Figurado.
Popular Name: Tres Petit Corona (TPC)
Dimensions: 4 ins x 40 ring gauge, or 102 mm x 15.87 mm diameter.
The Perla is one of a group of smaller vitolas, some a little longer, others a little fatter than this one. They share the ability to deliver the true taste of a Habano in 20 minutes or so.
Popular Name: Double Corona
Dimensions: 7 5/8 ins x 49 ring gauge, or 194 mm x 19.45 mm diameter.
When time allows, there are few experiences for the taste buds to match the steady revelations of a Double Corona. Its colossal leaves may surprise you at first with their delicacy before they build to a crescendo of flavour. A good hour and a quarter is needed to smoke one.
How to spot an authentic Cuban cigar:
Cuban cigars are handmade and tend to be very rich and flavourful. They burn with a greyish ash rather than white ashes that are common in non-Cuban cigars.
Cuba has gradually introduced a warranty seal in all of their packaging. This allows consumers to guarantee authenticity and the serial number can be referenced online at http://verificacion.habanos.com/ to guarantee authenticity.