The Cuban cigar is made of three components from two types of tobacco plants. The leaves are fermented, graded, and aged before being rolled by torcedores. The cigars are then conditioned and graded by color and texture before being wrapped and exported.
The hand-rolled Cuban cigar is the benchmark of all cigars. It is made up of three components derived from two varieties of tobacco plants: criollo and corojo. The components that make up the cigar include the tripa or filler in the center and a capote or binder around the tripa, both taken from the criolla plant. A hood or wrap is then stretched and rolled around the outside; this is taken from the corojo.
To begin with, the tobacco leaves are stacked in pilones three feet high. The leaves are stored at temperatures no higher than 95ºF (35ºC). Fermentation breaks down the resins and creates a uniformity of colour. The leaves are then graded by size and color before a second fermentation.
After three weeks, the leaves are placed in bundles called tercios. They are set aside for a few months in cigar factories to age. Before rolling, the leaves are gently separated and lightly moistened with high pressure water. The stems are removed and the remaining leaves are graded according to size, color and texture.
The cigar filler is made from three leaves: volado, seco and ligero, and the progress of each is monitored throughout the process. Once perfection is achieved, they are taken to the mixing room, known as the liga. Great secrecy surrounds individual cigar blends.
Rollers known as torcedores sit at benches, seven or more to a row. They use a crescent blade and a wooden board. Two to four leaves are combined with the binder and rolled into bunches, depending on the blend. After being pressed into a wooden mold, they are wrapped and trimmed. They are then covered with leaves and a natural rubber.
An expert twister can roll around 150 cigars a day. These are placed in bunches of 50 and checked for quality. The cigars are then placed in conditioning rooms for up to three weeks for the flavors to gel. The most respected and highest paid cigar factory workers are called escogedores, or color graders. They work at incredible speeds, classifying cigars based on color and texture.
There are 65 different shades in the cigar making process. Other workers arrange the cigars in boxes from dark on the left to light on the right. The cigars are then removed from the boxes and wrapped. The women who wrap the cigars are called anilladoras and use a simple measuring rule and an eraser. The cigars are then ready to be exported all over the world.