Let's Talk About Cigar Wrappers

When buying a new car, the first thing one notices is the color and style. Does the color appeal to the buyer? Does the overall shape and design of the car something the driver wants to be seen driving around in? When choosing a cigar, pretty much the same things are considered. While all the parts in a cigar play an important role in determining the overall quality of a cigar, the wrapper is the one element that captures a cigar aficionado’s eye. So, let’s talk about the wrapper.

The wrapper, as its name implies, is the tobacco leaf that is wrapped around the binder and filler. Not only is the wrapper responsible for the cigar’s appearance, it is what gives the cigar its dominant flavor. Therefore, the dream of every wrapper grower is to produce the perfect wrapper leaf.

To be considered wrapper worthy, a tobacco leaf must meet some exacting standards. The leaf must be evenly colored, shiny, elastic, clean, and solid but thin. It must be large and without holes; its veins must be barely visible. One more requirement, the wrapper leaf must burn properly giving off as much white ash as possible. As you can imagine, growing and processing wrapper leaves is not a very easy task. In fact, many wrapper growers lose countless hours of sleep worrying about their crops.

A leaf’s stalk position will determine its color and taste. The leaves towards the top of the tobacco plant are darker in color and stronger in taste in comparison to the leaves towards the bottom. However, this is not always the case. For example, when rolled on the same bunch, a light-brown, Cuban-seed wrapper is stronger in taste when compared to an oily, dark-brown, Cameroon wrapper. If you like to smoke mild- to medium-cigars, then you might want to try a cigar with a maduro wrapper. Although almost black in color, maduros are typically mild and sweet when compared to brown wrappers.

Tobacco leaves are delicate and can be damaged easily. It is why they are picked by hand. Even though a great deal of care is taken in handling the leaves a lot of breakage does occur in the handling process. From the time the wrapper leaves are picked in the field to the time they are rolled onto a cigar, the leaves are handled anywhere from 15 to 20 times. It is estimated that 20% of the leaves picked will be double broken and cannot be used as wrappers. Another 15% will be half broken meaning only one side of the leaf will be suitable for wrapping.

Once picked, the leaves are hung to dry in a curing barn. Curing the tobacco helps drain the water from the leaves and helps to break down the chlorophyll. The leaves start to turn from yellow to brown during the curing process. After they are cured, the leaves undergo a fermentation process, which releases ammonia and impurities from the tobacco. At this stage, the tobacco starts to develop its taste and aroma. The fermentation process can take several months.

From the time they are cured up to the time they are rolled, wrapper leaves undergo constant sorting. This ensures a specific line of cigar stays uniform. The leaves are classified by color and size and stacked in bales.

Wrapper leaves are classified by color according to their tone and brightness. For example, shade-grown tobaccos are classified in five colors. For air grown tobaccos such as Sumatra and Cameroon, there are up to 17 different color classifications.  

When classifying by size, the wrapper leaves are sorted by the following sizes: 13, 15, 17, 19, and 21 inches. Handmade cigars are wrapped in leaves that are 15 inches and up. This method of sorting lets the manufacturer know what size cigars they can produce.

After the wrapper leaves have been cured, fermented, aged, and sorted, they are passed on to the skillful hands of the cigar roller (aka torcerdor). Rolling cigars by hand may look like an easy task, but it takes years of practice to become a great cigar roller. The torcerdor must not only have the manual dexterity to roll a perfect cigar, but he or she must know how to properly stretch the wrapper leaf and wrap the bunch precisely to form a perfect cigar.

To wrap it up, a cigar’s wrapper leaf is the one part of the cigar everyone notices. It is the last leaf to be applied to a cigar. It’s what cloaks the binder which holds the filler. In most cases, the wrapper’s color can tell you a lot about the cigar’s flavor. In addition, the color of the leaf, lets you know the leaf’s stalk position. The darker wrappers are usually from the top of the tobacco plant. Whereas, the lighter ones are from the middle of the plant. A great deal of time is spent in handling and processing a wrapper leaf. Once the leaf is ready to be applied to the cigar, it is then given to the cigar roller who skillfully wraps the leaf around the binder. In the hands of a master roller, an expertly crafted cigar is not only a thing of beauty to be enjoyed, it is a work of art.

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