Have you ever wondered from what a cigar is made? As people will often argue, cigars are made from pure tobacco. However, there are lots of different types of tobacco.
In fact, a genuine handmade cigar is made from at least three different types of tobacco, which you will learn about in this guide. These are often simply referred to as the filler, binder and wrapper.
However, what are they and what are their functions in a cigar? The art of rolling and making cigars is centuries-old so they’re not arbitrary! You can learn all about a cigar’s construction and anatomy in this guide and much more!
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In this guide, you will learn the separate parts of a cigar as well as the different types of tobacco leaf used to build it. Like wine or any fine beverage, the construction of a cigar is a meticulous and time-consuming process.
Similarly, the fruit of the labour is the result of harmonious blending of different types of tobacco and a faultless assembly that exploits their unique characteristics. This resource will help you further understand what constitutes a cigar’s blend so you can recognise it.
Learn the basics of a cigar's construction. This easy guide makes it simply to understand!
In its most rudimentary form, a cigar can be divided into three functional parts, which consist of the head, foot and the body or barrel. The cigar’s head is the often-capped area, which touches your lips. Meanwhile, the foot is the part reserved for lighting and the body or barrel is the space in between.
Different Parts Of The Tobacco Plant
Before further exploring the different ways tobacco is used to make a cigar, it’s worth taking a quick glance at the tobacco plant. A single plant consists of leaves that are cultivated a series of primings as they ripen.
These are each harvested as layers from the bottom upwards in the following order:
Simply knowing these three parts and their characteristics will vastly improve your understanding of cigars and how they’re blended.
The first priming of a tobacco plant consists of the leaves found at the base sometimes referred to as the Mañanita and Libra de Pie. With a lower sun exposure than the other leaves, the Volado consists of very little flavour.
However, it’s a very thin and light tobacco that offers superior burning qualities than the following primings because it’s more combustible. Therefore, it’s included in a cigar’s blend to ensure an even and consistent burn when smoked.
In Cuba, the section just between the Volado and Seco is sometimes referred to as the Capote. This is the Spanish word for “binder” and offers a balanced leaf with characteristics of both primings.
As can be deduced from the name, the Seco is the second priming found in the plant’s middle section. Unlike the volado, it is coarser and offers a mild flavour. As well as the Seco, sometimes this area is referred to as Uno y Medio depending on the seed.
Additionally, the Seco is quite a large area and may include a “Viso” just above it. Both of these sections consist of a series of primings within themselves depending on the seed:
- Centro Fino: Fine leaves with a rich but restrained potency.
- Centro Ligero: Not to be confused with the Ligero, it features bulk of Seco leaves.
- Uno y Medio: The first Seco layer that often features Capote leaves.
A well-balanced and oily leaf, its flavours may be understated but it is considerably aromatic. As a general rule, the Seco can be considered a compromise between the thin Valedo below and thick Ligero above.
The leaves harvested from the very top of a tobacco plant are known as the ligero. Exposed to the most sun, it is a thick and heavy leaf that is extremely potent in flavour.
In order to maximise its potency, it is left to overripen as the last leaves to be cultivated. With the previous layers having already been harvested, the nutrients will slowly concentrate in these remaining leaves to provide a full-bodied flavour.
Nevertheless, the Ligero itself consists of several levels, which varies from seed to seed:
- Medio Tiempo: Three or four thick, small leaves at the very top that are the most potent.
- Corona: Top section of the Ligero beneath the Medio Tiempo.
- Centro Gordo/Centro Alto: Thick and potent leaves at the Ligero’s base.
Whilst the majority of the above primings are often used, the Medio Tiempo is quite rare due to its extreme potency. This may be included in some of the boldest and most intense cigars but lacks subtlety for the majority of flavourful blends.
However, because they are extremely coarse and thick, Ligero leaves don’t burn well. Therefore, it’s important that they are used in combination with lower portions to ensure an even combustion.
Overall, the Ligero is somewhat less aromatic than the Seco, which is why both are carefully used together for a harmonious blend. Whilst the Ligero offers potent flavours, the Seco provides enticing aromas.
How Tobacco Types Are Used In A Cigar
Now that you have learned the different parts of the plant, let’s explore how they are used in a cigar. The different types of tobacco in a cigar are often broken down under the following three groups:
If you want to jump to a specific one, simply use their links above. Alternatively, scroll down to read more.
In order to make it easier to understand, we’ve not only provided graphics but a real-worlds cigar. Although we’d like to assure that no cigars were harmed in the making of this guide, we’d be lying. However, it was sacrificed for a good cause.
As the illustration below shows, each of a cigar’s components is made using different types of tobacco. Although a blend of several types will be blended to create a unique aroma profile, note how the primings are generally arranged within a cigar.
What Is A Cigar Wrapper?
Whilst professionals and enthusiasts alike will argue that all the parts of a cigar are equally important, the wrapper receives the most attention. It is both the most expensive and refined leaf used when making a cigar and can come in a plethora of colours.
A cigar’s wrapper is the outermost leaf that covers the cigar. Unlike the other parts of a cigar, it is the only one that is supposed to be seen. This means that its appearance is just as important as the aromas it produces.
Traditionally, Cubans will argue that the wrapper or “capa” only plays an aesthetic role. However, there are others that state that the wrapper accounts for at least half of the cigar’s flavour.
An attractive wrapper is a thin and delicate leaf with few visible veins and a smooth texture. Because of this, Ligero tobacco cannot be used as it’s often too thick and coarse. Instead, it is usually sourced from the Seco primings.
Once the tobacco has been selected, a very careful curing process ensures that it is without any blemishes with a consistent colour. An oily sheen is often quite desirable too, which often rules out the use of Velado leaves.
During the growing process, the selected leaves are meticulously cultivated in prime conditions. For instance, some tobacco may be grown under a cheesecloth-like gauze to prevent it becoming thick under the sun’s rays.
However, there are a multitude of ways that the wrapper leaves can be grown, which will affect both their appearance and flavour. To learn more about these, you can head to our dedicated cigar wrapper guide.
What Is A Cigar’s Binder?
As the wrapper is both fragile and delicate, it isn’t strong enough to hold the cigar’s contents on its own. Therefore, a coarser leaf is often selected to securely hold everything in place.
This is the binder, a robust tobacco that has a texture reminiscent of parchment. The binder has only one function, which is to literally bind the cigar’s contents together whilst acting as a suitable surface for the wrapper.
Whilst both Seco and Velado tobacco can offer the requirements of the binder, the leaves used are often sourced in a section in between. This is known as the Capote and features certain characteristics of both primings.
As such, it’s a relatively thin tobacco that features few oils and very little aromas or flavour. In fact, it’s quite tasteless and unsightly. Nevertheless, it is very strong and offers superior burning consistency.
What Is Cigar Filler Tobacco?
In short, the filler accounts for the majority of a cigar’s tobacco. As the name suggests, this is what “fills” the cigar. Although the Cuban industry will argue that it defines the cigar’s final flavour, others will suggest that the wrapper plays a role in this too.
Nevertheless, a well-blended selection of filler tobacco is essential. Overall, a cigar will consist of a variety of different tobacco primings to achieve this.
The most potent Ligero leaves will often be bundled in the filler’s centre as they’re the slowest to burn. Working towards the exterior, the filler will feature a mix of Seco to provide rich aromas as well as Velado to ensure an even burn.
Depending on the blend sought by the maker, cigars can feature any combination of these tobaccos in the filler. However, they will likely consist of all three in order to create an oily and potent cigar that’s rich in aroma with a steady combustion.
Long Filler Vs. Short Filler
Firstly, a cigar can consist of two types of filler. These are “long” filler (Folhas Inteiras) and “short” filler (Fumo Picado). In fact, the length of a cigar’s filler is often indicative of its quality. Usually, the longer the filler, the primer the cut.
If the filler is too short, it’s less likely to be successfully used for properly rolling a cigar. As such, only long filler is used for rolling handmade cigars. Meanwhile, cheaper machine-made cigars consist short filler, which are small pieces of tobacco.
Nevertheless, it’s not unheard of for rollers to use some shorter leaves to fill any uneven spots in their cigars. However, this is a practice generally avoided on the most premium cigars.
Conversely, lower quality leaves are cut into smaller pieces so they can be rolled by a machine. Regardless, a machine would struggle to roll long leaf, which is another reason that handmade cigars are much more premium.
Consequently, it’s often cheaper tobacco that’s relegated to machine-made cigars, which are sometimes treated with chemicals to adjust the flavour.
Now that you have read about the different types of tobacco and the parts of a cigar, discover our more of our cigar resources: