The cigar smokers guide to the leaf
In the cigar world we talk about the tobacco leaves that are used A LOT, and thats because it has a massive effect on the cigar, especially the wrapper. If you have been following my reviews for a while you will have noticed that I like to do a bit of a write up about the wrapper leaf in each one. So today I thought why not put together a bit of a guide to all things tobacco leaf.
Firstly, let's look at the types of leaves (or Primings) a tobacco plant produces.
Leaves from different parts of the tobacco plant are used in specific areas of cigar construction, and each leaf has its own name: Ligero, Viso, Seco, Volado, and Medio Tiempo or Corona.
Medio Tiempo (meh-dyo tiyempo) or Corona to some, are the very top two leaves of the plant. In the past, these leaves were just thrown in with the Ligero leaves. They’re rare, very small and get more time in the sun than the rest of the leaves
Ligero (pronounced lee-HERR-oh) is the leaf found near the top of each tobacco plant. It is slower to mature than the leaves in the middle and bottom of the stalk. Cigar-makers use Ligero to add power to a blend and usually put the Ligero in the very center of the filler bundle as it burns slowly.
Viso (vee-soh) grows on the middle stalk of the tobacco plant below Ligero. Viso delivers more flavour and possesses more oil than Seco, but the leaves are less intense than Ligero. Viso also burns more slowly than Seco but more steadily than Ligero.
Seco (seh-ko), or dry, and it’s found in the middle of the plant. Seco is used to temper the blend in a cigar and it is relatively mild.
The leaf at the bottom is called Volado (voh-lah-dough) and it lends virtually no flavour, but it burns really well. All cigars pretty much need all three leaves in them to taste good.
Now let's look at the wrapper leaves and the types used.
Before we jump into the types of leaves, let's look at the different colours, how they come to be and why.
Generally speaking the colour of a cigar wrapper is an indicator of how much fermentation and oxidation the tobacco leaf has gone through. The darker the colour, the greater the degree of fermentation and the denser the flavour.
DOUBLE CLARO/CANDELA Created through a quick drying process that locks in the tobacco leaf’s chlorophyll, Candela cigars are green both in colour and flavour. Though they were once quite popular in the U.S., they’re now one of the rarest styles to find in stores.
CLARO Claro wrappers are made from tobacco plants that are picked early, kept out of the sun, and left to air dry in a dark and well ventilated room. They are a light tan wrapper that has lost all the greenness of a Candela. These wrappers add very little to the flavour of a cigar, putting the focus on the flavour of the filler tobaccos instead.
COLORADO CLARO Colorado Claro wrappers get their name from the light red colour referenced by their Spanish name. They’re given more time to mature than Claro wrappers, and contribute a soft and fruity element to cigars.
COLORADO The middle of the cigar wrapper colour scale, Colorado wrappers are a brownish red. They contribute a full-bodied flavour, but have much softer aromas than any of the darker wrappers. Growing methods can be a combination of shade-grown and full sunlight.
COLORADO MADURO A dark red wrapper, Colorado Maduros are the first of the truly dark and 'raisinated' wrappers. They contribute to a full-bodied smoke, and generally have a fairly assertive flavour and aroma. Quite an uncommon style of wrapper.
MADURO Meaning “mature” in Spanish, Maduro cigar wrappers have a reputation for the sweetness of their flavour and aroma. They come in shades from deep red to brown to almost black, a colour that’s achieved through long fermentations at higher temperatures.
DOUBLE MADURO/OSCURO The darkest of the dark, Oscuro wrappers are only commonly found in Mexico and Brazil. They’re made from leaves that have grown to full maturity, and are fermented for an exceptionally long time.
Right. now we are ready to look at the types of tobacco leafs that are used.
First up, Connecticut Broadleaf - A favourite for many.
Connecticut Broadleaf is grown in the open sunlight, mostly in the Connecticut River Valley. it grows as a short, bushy plant with very wide leaves, hence the name, and being grown fully exposed to the sun causes the leaf to grow thick and full of sugars. After curing they get very dark so it is among the prized wrapper leaves used to make many maduro cigars. The plants are stalk cut meaning the entire plant harvested at one time.
Next we have Habano
Habano cigar wrapper is a leaf grown from a Cuban seed, hence the word “Habano” or “Havano,” referring to Cuba's capitol. Habano tobacco wrapper is darker in colour, has a much spicier flavour, a richer aroma, and has been grown in Nicaragua's Jalapa Valley and Estelí since the 1990's.
More important than the pronunciation are the reasons we like Habano cigar wrappers. Mainly we like the Habano wrapper’s flavor. It’s spicy, rich and the color is generally dark. Chocolate is commonly tasted in Habano wrappers. And the Habano cigar wrapper is going on many of your favourite cigars.
While Nicaragua Habano is less common than Ecuador Habano, the varietal can be found on a handful of stronger cigars.
Popular releases like Rocky Patel The Edge use the Corojo (core-ro-ho) leaf that originated in Cuba, but today is grown in Honduras and in Western Kentucky and even a little in Dominican Republic. Cubans used the leaf for wrappers that carried a significant level of spice, but the susceptibility of the Corojo leaf to disease led the Cubans to abandon it and develop hybrids like Habano 2000. Honduras grows pure Corojo, but hybrids are grown in many other regions.
Criollo (cree-o-yo) is a type of tobacco that is thought to have been present in Cuba around the time Columbus landed there. The word, in the agricultural context, means “native seed.” In Cuba, Criollo was used mostly as filler. You’ll find Criollo in many countries and none of them really have anything to do with the Cuban Criollo. The Nicaraguan Criollo grown in Jalapa, near the Honduran border, for example, is quite sweet. The Criollo grown near Estelí is earthier and nuttier. Honduran Criollo is generally creamier and smoother. You can try it in the Camacho Criollo Robusto included in the Camacho Robusto Assortment. Criollo is gaining more popularity as a wrapper these days.
Mexican San Andrés
Mexican San Andrés is arguably as popular as Connecticut Broadleaf. Like Connecticut Broadleaf, it’s thick, naturally sweet, and most-often stalk cut prior to curing. In 1880, Cuban tobacco grower Alberto Turrent left his Cuba and moved to Mexico’s San Andrés Valley in Veracruz, the eastern side of the country on the Gulf of Mexico. He had Cuban tobacco seeds with him and planted what would become the first Mexican San Andrés tobaccos. Today, after 6 generations, the A. Turrent farms are still the largest producer of San Andrés wrappers in the world. The soil in Veracruz is volcanic and dense. It’s extremely humid. All of this contributes to the unique flavour of the San Andrés cigar wrapper.
Connecticut Shade Tobacco
Broadleaf’s cousin, growing side-by-side in the Connecticut River Valley, is Shade. While this refers primarily to growing tobacco under shade, the stuff in Connecticut is tall and elegant in flavour. Connecticut Shade is essentially a hybrid of Asian Sumatra and Cuban leaf that was obtained long before the embargo. Blocking the sun creates a thinner, more elastic leaf. The flavour is generally mild.
Sumatra is a black tobacco leaf that was originally found in Indonesia, but the most popular version is Ecuador Sumatra. Used primarily as wrapper leaf, we love the colour, oil and spice found in this version.
Cameroon tobacco, as the name indicates, comes from the African nation of the same name and also neighbouring Central African Republic. The Cameroon strain was born from Sumatra seed. Cameroon is now used mainly as wrapper leaf to lend flavour to mild filler blends. Cameroon tends to convey notes of butter, pepper and leather.
Rosado, meaning rosy, is a really interesting and uncommon wrapper leaf. Grown initially in Cuba, the Rosado leaf is difficult to cultivate, but when you taste the spice and cedar, you’ll appreciate the effort. It’s similar to Habano, but with a reddish tinge.
Piloto, or Piloto Cubano, is named for a town in Cuba in the tobacco-growing region of Pinar del Rio. Piloto is robust in flavour and full-bodied, usually carrying some spice. In Cuba, when the crop is right, the leaves are supple and strong. In 1962, after most of the cigar industry was nationalised, some Piloto seeds were smuggled out of Cuba and into the Dominican Republic (DR) in envelopes stuffed with cotton. Tobacco farmers began growing Piloto in the DR.
The other main type of tobacco grown in the DR is Olor (oh-lore). Olor is pretty much indigenous to the DR. Its leaves are thinner and less resilient than Piloto’s, but Olor is much sought after for its complexity and burning qualities.
So there you go! hopefully that all gives you a bit more knowledge on the leaf! Do note that this doesn't cover every single type of tobacco plants out there, but its a pretty good list of the general ones used for premium cigars.
What's your go to wrapper?
This was written while enjoying a Furia Tisiphone by DH Boutique which we just might see hit the NZ shelves soon...