A UNIQUE BLEND OF SUN, SOIL AND SKILL
Extracts by Kind permission of the copywrite owners© 1993 Hunters & Frankau Ltd
From Seed to Barn
PREPARING THE LAND
The roots of tobacco plants are delicate and demand the loosest possible soil if they are to thrive. So, during the burning heat of summer, the Veguero must plough his fields several times. This also helps to convert the wild vegetation into natural soil nutrients.
SEEDS TO SEEDLINGS
Forty five days after planting the seeds, (there are two seed varieties, each of which produces distinctly different tobacco plants known as Corojo and Criollo) the seedlings have reached a height of 15 - 20 cm (6 - 8 "), they are ready to be planted out.
GROWING THE TOBACCO
Planting out is phased from October onwards to spread the supreme effort demanded by the crop and, above all, the harvest. During the 45 to 50 days it takes for the plants to reach full maturity each must be visited regularly for weeding, pest control and, most importantly, to have their buds and side shoots removed.
Corojo plants for the all important wrappers require a very special treatment. They must be protected from direct sunlight by muslin cloth to retain a smooth, silken, even texture and appearance.
Fifty days after planting out, the harvest can begin. Harvesting tobacco is a herculean task not only because each leaf must be picked by hand one by one but also because only two or three leaves can be taken at each time.
There are eight or nine pairs of leaves on a Corojo plant. Each Level on the plant has its own name. Leaves from these leaves are picked separately, as they reach maturity, at intervals of six or seven days. Thus harvesting the leaves of a single plant takes over forty days to complete.
Criollo plants bear six or seven pairs of leaves, classified generally into Ligero, Seco, Volado and Capote. The leaves of the foot of the plant offer the least flavour, being the oldest and most shaded. Further up the plant the younger leaves are exposed to the sun and therefore have a greater intensity of flavour. The harvested Corojo and Criollo leaves are taken to large Casas del Tobaco for air curing, prior to fermentation.
From Barn to Bench
All Havana tobaccos are air cured. It is a natural, time consuming process demanding constant supervision to ensure that the temperature and humidity remain within limits. Very different from the flue curing process used for cigarette tobaccos.
Air Curing takes around fifty days to complete. First the leaves turn yellow. Then, through oxidation, they assume the golden brown we all know and are ready for their first fermentation.
Sufficient moisture is present to start the first fermentation which lasts for up to thirty days. This reduces the resins in the leaves and they assume a more uniform colour prior to the stripping and classification.
STRIPPING AND CLASSIFICATION
To prepare them for the handling, the leaves undergo a Moja.
The wrappers are sprinkled with pure water to avoid any staining and left intact after a preliminary classification. Stripping and final sorting is carried out much later at the factory in Havana.
Filler and binder leaves are moistened with a mixture of water and tobacco stems. The thickest parts of there stems are stripped out. They are then fully classified according to size, colour, texture and type of leaf
The leaves now classified, are re-bundled and stacked in Burros. The sheer size of a Burro, combined with the moisture retained from the Moja, triggers off a much more powerful fermentation which lasts up to six days.
The tobacco undergoes a chemical change enhancing its flavour and aroma whilst eliminating any remaining impurities.
AIRING AND PACKING
AGEING IN TERCIOS
While the tercios are stored in warehouses, awaiting a call from the cigar factory, the tobacco leaves undergo an ageing process which refines their flavour and aroma still further. They are now ready to leave their cradle, the Vuelta Abajo, and travel to Havana on the next stage of their gradual transformation into fine Havanas.
From Bench to Box
Their very delicate nature demands extra care to restore their supple silkiness before they are given a final classification and sorting. This is achieved by a special Moja, or moistening, performed only during the cool early morning hours. Excess water is shaken out and the leaves hung overnight to ensure the moisture is even.
Next morning the expert, tender and caring hands of the Despalilladoras remove the stems whole, deftly bisecting the leaves. leaves hung overnight to ensure the moisture is even.
FILLER & BINDERS
These leaves do not need moistening. The ageing of each of the four leaf types demands different periods of time. For example, the full flavoured Ligeros needs to mature for two years or more while the lighter Volados and Capotes can be judged to be ready after twelve months.
The Master Blender monitors the progress of each leaf type.
Only when they reach perfection are they admitted to the Liga. Intense security surrounds the blending for it is here that jealously guarded secret recipes for each Havana brand are held.
Blends of leaves, sufficient to make fifty cigars, are issued to the Torcedores.
The Galera is the heart of any cigar factory. It is here that the Torcedores , graded according to their ability, create the different brands and sizes. Their only tools, a wooden board, a Chaveta , a guillotine, a pot of natural vegetable gum and, above all, their fingers.
The average daily output of one of these craftsmen is 120 cigars.
Samples of each Torcedor's work in bundles of fifty cigars are regularly removed by the quality control team and checked for length, shape, girth, appearance and above all, the weight. If the strict tolerances are not met the cigars are rejected.
A serious matter for the Torcedores who are all paid on piece work.
THE CONDITIONING ROOM
From the benches the cigars go into the factory's Escaparate . This is a secure room lined with tall cedar cupboards. The cigars are shelved here for at least three weeks, sometimes for several months, under ideal conditions, i.e. between 16º C and 18º C and 65% to 70% relative humidity.
This environment enables them to loose some of the additional moisture gained during rolling.
The final stages in the factory are dedicated to achieving a perfect presentation of the Havanas. First the Escogedor , sorts them into no fewer than 65 different shades. A second Escogedor sorts them into a part dressed or temporary cigar box, so that the finer tones range from dark to light, left to right. He also selects the best face of each cigar, the faces you see on opening a box of Havanas.
The Anilladora takes the cigars out of the temporary boxes to dress them with cigar bands. In no circumstances may the Anilladora alter the order or face chosen by the Escogedor . The band is placed on the selected face of each cigar which is then carefully replaced in the prescribed order of colour tones.
LABELLING AND FINISHING
The part-dressed boxes which were sent to be filled with cigars now return from the Anillado for their final embellishment, including the all-important Government Warranty seal. The boxes are made of cedarwood which allows the cigars to breathe and continue to mature.
It has been some years in the making but at long last another fully finished box of Havanas is now ready for its journey to some distant land where it will finally find a connoisseur's welcome.
The seal of perfection
You will find three of them burnt into the underside of the box.
One says "Hecho en Cuba", Made in Cuba. Since 1985 the distinctive Cubatabaco leaf emblem has been added and since 1989 the words in script "Totalmente a mano", which means totally by hand.
The latter establishes that the cigars are fully handmade in the traditional Cuban manner. An important point, as European Union rules permit partly machine made cigars to be described as "hand made".
If the Warranty Seal or any one of these marks is missing you can be sure that the box does not contain genuine hand made Havanas
THE EMS LABEL
The fifth identification mark is the EMS label - English Market Selection - introduced in 1992. It is applied only to boxes of Havanas imported directly to the UK from Cuba. EMS labels are individually numbered so that the importer can trace accurately the history of each box should the need arise.
THE HABANOS CHEVRON
One further identification has been added to boxes from 1994 onwards is the word Habanos meaning Havanas in a chevron across a corner of the box