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Written by Kevin Godbee

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

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We touch them, we feel them, we smoke them and we enjoy them but very few of us ever stop to consider the anatomy of a cigar. We tend to look at them as a complete, singular unit and yet there are many parts to a cigar and every one of them has to be perfect if cigar smokers are to get the best from their smoking experience.

 

 

While we don’t need to know anything about the anatomy of a cigar to actually smoke it and enjoy it, there is some value in taking the time to learn about the individual parts that all go together to produce a perfect cigar. Not only will it give us a greater appreciation of the cigar maker’s art, but it will help us understand what the experts are talking about when they’re reviewing the latest cigars to arrive in the country.

 

There are two distinct ways of looking at a cigar; one is by looking at it length-ways, and the other is by looking at a cross-section of the cigar.

 

Anatomy by Cross-section

Let’s start by looking at the cross-section of a cigar. Here it’s worth noting that it’s quite possible for a hand-rolled cigar to be made entirely from the leaves of one tobacco plant. Even though the various layers of a cigar use different leaves, each of these leaves can be found at the same time on a tobacco plant - where they’re found on a plant governs where they are used in a cigar.

 

The wrapper - or "volado" - is the first thing we all see in a cigar, and this is important because the wrapper governs the way a cigar looks and feels. Presentation is very important, for the way a cigar looks has a psychological effect on us and if it looks good, then we are more inclined to believe that it will provide the rich smoking experience that we’re looking for in a fine cigar.

 

The leaves that are used for the wrapper come from the bottom of the tobacco plant. These leaves are smooth to the touch and that’s important because it’s the wrapper that touches your lips as you smoke. In a good cigar these leaves will burn well but you may be surprised to know that they have very little flavor. The flavor that is so enjoyable comes from other parts of your cigar.

 

The binder - or "seco" - is the next part of the cigar that we come to as we move towards the center. The leaves for this part of the cigar are tough and coarse, and come from the middle of the tobacco plant. They’re generally a lighter color than the leaves used for the filler and they have a bit more flavor than the leaves used on the wrapper.

 

If you were to see the leaves that are used for the binder, you would notice that they are so coarse that they even look a little woody - but don’t let that you off; when you’re smoking a good cigar you won’t even see the binder.

 

The filler - or "ligero" - forms the very heart of a good cigar. The leaves for this part of the cigar come from the top of the tobacco plant. Handmade cigars are rolled with long leaves forming the filler, while machine-rolled cigars use tobacco leave that has been chopped up.

 

The top of the plant is where most of the natural oils that a tobacco plant produces are to be found so the filler leaves are dark and full of flavor. A craftsman will use only the best leaves in the filler to ensure that the end product is a quality cigar.

 

anatomy002 


 

In many ways we have already talked about the most important parts of a cigart. After all, it’s these parts that have the greatest impact on the taste and feel of a fine cigar. However we should also look at a cigar’s anatomy by length.

 

The cap is important because this is what stops the wrapper from opening - and what a disaster that would be. The cap is simply a loose piece of tobacco applied to the cigar with some form of natural glue and the cap holds your cigar together.

 

The body of the cigar is obviously the main part of it. This is what we like to touch and feel and roll between our fingers before we buy the cigar and certainly before we light it. There’s a certain pleasure in rolling the body of a fine cigar between your fingers and letting your imagination dance around the sensations that your fingers are sending to your brain. It can build anticipation and add to the pleasure of smoking the cigar.

 

The foot is the part of the cigar that we clip and light. You may also see this part of a cigar referred to as a "tuck".

 

And there you have the anatomy of a cigar. I hope you paid attention, because there’ll be a test on this next week. Of course the best way to prepare for such a test is to smoke one or two of your favorite cigars and feel that beautiful anatomy between your fingers.

 






Comments 

 
0 # Where are you getting your information?Donnie Allison 2009-08-12 05:34
Why would you think that the wrapper leaf contributes so little to the flavor? It is a well respected opinion in the cigar community that the wrapper actually contributes quite a bit to the flavor of the cigar. Also the plants that are usd to grow wrappers are usually grown under some type of cover like gauze to help protect the leaves.

Also, the entire filler is not made up of ligero but rather it is added as is needed for the blend.

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0 # Kevin Godbee 2009-08-14 01:54
First of all, I want to thank you for reading my article and commenting on it. Secondly, I do not want to get into a long drawn out debate, but would just like to answer your question as to my thinking and opinion on this.

The impact of the wrapper on the taste of a cigar is one of the most debated issues in the cigar world. To assign a value to the impact is impossible since each blend differs as do their wrappers.

However, I would say you are half right. The wrapper can have a very significant impact on the flavor of some cigars, but not all, and not to the extent that the "group mentality" of the "cigar community" will try to have you believe.

If one just considers the volume of tobacco, the wrapper is less than 5% of the cigar. How can people say it accounts for over half of the taste?

The impact of the wrapper also depends on how you personally smoke your cigars. If you hold it in your mouth for a long time, versus setting it in the ashtray, this will have an effect.

Connecticut wrappers are generally quite mild, but they sometimes cover a full-bodied cigar. Another common misconception is that ALL cigars with light wrappers are mild and ALL cigars with dark wrappers are "strong". Not true.

Connecticut wrappers are also usually shade-grown, but not always. This is what you are referring to when you say, "usually grown under some type of cover like gauze to help protect the leaves".

However, not all wrappers are shade grown. As a matter fo fact not all Connecticut wrappers are grown in Connecticut. Many Connecticut wrapper cigars are rolled with leaves grown in Ecuador from U.S. Connecticut seed.

I respect your opinion, and I agree with you 50%.

I do not agree with a blanket statement that the wrapper effects the majority of the flavor of every cigar. It's 5% of the volume of tobacco and it is not always the strongest leaf. It is definitely the most attractive leaf though.

Thank you again for reading and commenting.

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0 # Article needs editing.BigEasy 2009-08-14 23:13
Kevin, please read your article and consider editing it. Your article index doesn't match your article. Also, check your spelling (cigart). The filler is also known as the "blend". The filler can contain combinations of Seco (dry, light flavor) and Ligero (less dry, strong flavor) leaves. The filler (blend) is what defines the overall body of the cigar, but the wrapper contributes to it as well.

Donnie is 100% right when he says the wrapper "contributes quite a bit to the flavor of the cigar." It's not all of the flavor, but the wrapper "contributes" to the character and flavor of the cigar. If you put a maduro wrapper around a Seco filler, you will taste the difference from a Claro wrapper.

Finally, I have never seen anyone clip the foot of the cigar before they light it. The head (cap) is clipped to allow the smoke to come through.

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0 # Parts of a Tobacco Planttzaddi 2009-08-16 13:23
On the tobacco plant, each leaf is harvested by priming a specific leaf position on the plant. The absolute top (picudura) and very bottom leaves (libre de pied) are not used. The remaining leaves are split into sections. The top 30% is called Ligero, the middle 40% Seco, and the bottom 30% Volado. Even from the same plant, a ligero leaf will be quite different from a volado leaf in terms of size, flavor, strength and cumbustion. Typilcally the higher up on the plant, the smaller and thicker the leaf. The flavor will be stronger and they'll burn slower. These leaves will require more time in curing, fermentation and aging. The lower on the plant, the larger, broader and thinner the leaf will be; the larger, broader and thinner the leaf is, the quicker the combustion, and the mellower in strength and flavor will be.

There is a great article titled Unraveling the Wrapper Mystique in the Winter 2006/2007 Smoke magazine

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0 # shawn taylor 2009-08-17 09:42
I thought that I posted a comment to this article but do not see it. Just to comment on what you've said in response to donnie. I do believe that many in the cigar community feel that the wrapper contributes greatly to the flavor of a cigar. wrapper tobacco is handled quite carefully in order to preserve appearance and in order to promote the best the leaf has to offer. I disagree with your statement that this is exaggerated. Only a person that knows nothing about cigars will think that a dark wrapper means 'fuller, bolder, or stronger' and a light wrapper means 'mild, light, and weak or low nicotine.' the fact of wrapper being grown under shade is correct and it also has to do with appearance. shade allows for smaller veins and smoother texture. you comment on connecticut in ecuador? they grown some of the best wrapper there b/c of the climate. the area of growth is said to be under constant overcast skies, thus acting as a natural shade. All Im pointing out is that your article is misleading to a person that doesnt know better. In all my research of this wonderful world of cigars I've never heard of anyone making a cigar the way you discribed. I dont know this for a fact but would consider that even those that are 100% corojo or 100% ligero, the tobacco would come from different regions in order to produce a blend that is not overpowering in a certain sense. meaning, a cigar that is made if 100% ligero would not all come from jalapa b/c you may get too much of one side. anyone in their right mind may make a 100% ligero but it's not all coming from the same region for fear of no complexity what so ever. esteli is known for strong full tobacco. if you made a full ligero cigar from tobacco only from esteli? forget it. no one would want it. I 'd be willing to bet a box on it.

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