PICTURE was taken in 2001 during our grand opening of Tobacco Habana store #2 in the Houston, TX area.
Tobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a process that combines use of heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the large leaves to rot. This first part of the process, called curing, takes between 25 and 45 days and varies substantially based upon climatic conditions as well as the construction of sheds or barns used to store harvested tobacco. The curing process is manipulated based upon the type of tobacco, and the desired color of the leaf. The second part of the process, called fermentation, is carried out under conditions designed to help the leaf die slowly. Temperature and humidity are controlled to ensure that the leaf continues to ferment, without rotting or disintegrating. This is where the flavor, burning, and aroma characteristics are primarily brought out in the leaf.
Once the leaves have aged properly, they are sorted for use as filler or wrapper based upon their appearance and overall quality. During this process, the leaves are continually moistened and handled carefully to ensure each leaf is best used according to its individual qualities. The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, unbaled, reinspected, and baled again repeatedly as it continues its aging cycle. When the leaf has matured according to the manufacturer's specifications, it will be used in the production of a cigar.
Quality cigars are still hand-made. An experienced cigar-roller can produce hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist—especially the wrapper—and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately. Once rolled, the cigars are stored in wooden forms as they dry, in which their uncapped ends are cut to a uniform size. From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can be "laid down" and aged for decades if kept as close to 21°C (70°F), and 70% relative humidity, as the environment will allow. Once cigars have been purchased, proper storage is usually accomplished by keeping the cigars in a specialized wooden box, or humidor, where conditions can be carefully controlled for long periods of time. Even if a cigar becomes dry, it can be successfully re-humidified so long as it has not been handled carelessly
Some cigars, especially premium brands, use different varieties of tobacco for the filler and the wrapper. "Long filler cigars" are a far higher quality of cigar, using long leaves throughout. These cigars also use a third variety of tobacco leaf, a "binder", between the filler and the outer wrapper. This permits the makers to use more delicate and attractive leaves as a wrapper. These high-quality cigars almost always blend varieties of tobacco. Even Cuban long-filler cigars will combine tobaccos from different parts of the island to incorporate several different flavors.
In low-grade and machine-made cigars, chopped up tobacco leaves are used for the filler, and long leaves or even a type of "paper" made from tobacco pulp is used for the wrapper which binds the cigar together. This alters the burning characteristics of the cigar, causing hand-made cigars to be sought-after.
Historically, a lector or reader was always employed to entertain the cigar factory workers. This practice became obsolete once audio books for portable music players became available, but it is still practiced in some Cuban factories. The name for the Montecristo cigar brand may have arisen from this practice.
Families in the cigar industry
Nearly all modern cigar makers are members of long-established cigar families, or purport to be. The art and skill of hand-making premium cigars has been passed from generation to generation; families are often shown in many cigar advertisements and packaging.
In 1992, Cigar Aficionado created the "Cigar Hall of Fame" to recognize families in the cigar industry. To date, six individuals have been inducted into the Hall of Fame for their families' contributions to the cigar industry:
Edgar M. Cullman, Chairman, General Cigar Company, New York, USA
Zino Davidoff, Founder, Davidoff et Cie., Geneva, Switzerland
Carlos Fuente, Sr., Chairman, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia., Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic
Frank Llaneza, Chairman, Villazon & Co., Tampa, Florida, USA
Stanford J. Newman, Chairman, J.C. Newman Cigar Company, Tampa, Florida, USA
Angel Oliva, Sr., Founder, Oliva Tobacco Co., Tampa, Florida, USA
Perhaps the best-known cigar family in the world is the Arturo Fuente family. Now led by father and son Carlos Fuente, Sr. and Jr., the Fuente family has been rolling their Arturo Fuente and Montesino cigars since 1916. The release of the Fuente Fuente OpusX in 1995 heralded the first quality wrapper grown in the Dominican Republic. The oldest Dominican Republic cigar maker is the León family, who have been making their León Jimenes and La Aurora cigars on the island since 1905.
Not only are premium cigar-makers typically families, but so are those who grow the premium cigar tobacco. The Oliva family has been growing cigar tobacco since 1934 and their family's tobacco is found in nearly every major cigar brand sold on the US market. Some families, such as the well-known Padrons, have crossed over from tobacco growing to cigar making. While the Padron family has been growing tobacco since the 1850s, they began making cigars that bear their family's name in 1964. Like the Padrons, the Carlos Torano family first began growing tobacco in 1916 before they started rolling their own family's brands, which also bear the family name, in the 1990s.
Families are such an important part of the premium cigar industry that the term "cigar family" is a registered trademark of the Arturo Fuente and J.C. Newman families, used to distinguish and identify their families, premium cigar brands, and charitable foundation. Even the premium cigars made by the cigar industry's two corporate conglomerates, Altadis and Swedish Match, are overseen by members of two cigar families, Altadis' Benjamin Menendez and Swedish Match's Ernesto Perez-Carrillo.