A cigar’s outermost layer, or wrapper, is the most expensive component of a cigar. The wrapper determines much of the cigar’s character and flavor, and as such its color is often used to describe the cigar as a whole. Wrappers are frequently grown underneath huge canopies made of gauze so as to diffuse direct sunlight and are fermented separately from other rougher cigar components, with a view to the production of a thinly-veined, smooth, supple leaf.
Wrapper tobacco produced without the gauze canopies under which the “shade grown” leaf is grown, generally more coarse in texture and stronger in flavor, is commonly known as “sun grown.” A number of different countries are used for the production of wrapper tobacco, including Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Cameroon, and the United States.
While dozens of minor wrapper shades have been touted by manufacturers, the seven most common classifications are as follows, ranging from lightest to darkest:
- Candela (“Double Claro”): Very light, slightly greenish. Achieved by picking leaves before maturity and drying quickly, the color coming from retained green chlorophyll.
- Claro: Very light tan or yellowish
- Colorado Claro: Medium brown
- Colorado (“Rosado”): Reddish-brown
- Colorado Maduro: Darker brown
- Maduro: Very dark brown
- Oscuro (“Double Maduro”): Black
Beneath the wrapper is a small bunch of “filler” leaves bound together inside of a leaf called a “binder”. The binder leaf is typically the sun-saturated leaf from the top part of a tobacco plant and is selected for its elasticity and durability in the rolling process. Unlike the wrapper leaf, which must be uniform in appearance and smooth in texture, binder leaf may show evidence of physical blemishes or lack uniform coloration. Binder leaf is generally considerably thicker and more hardy than the wrapper leaf surrounding it.
The bulk of a cigar is “filler” — a bound bunch of tobacco leaves. These leaves are folded by hand to allow air passageways down the length of the cigar, through which smoke is drawn after the cigar is lit. A cigar rolled with insufficient air passage is referred to by a smoker as “too tight”; one with excessive airflow creating an excessively fast, hot burn is regarded as “too loose.” Considerable skill and dexterity on the part of the cigar roller is needed to avoid these opposing pitfalls — a primary factor in the superiority of hand-rolled cigars over their machine-made counterparts.
By blending various varieties of filler tobacco, cigar makers create distinctive strength and flavor profiles for their various branded products. In general, fatter cigars hold more filler leaves, allowing a greater potential for the creation of complex flavors. In addition to the variety of tobacco employed, the country of origin can be one important determinant of taste, with different growing environments producing distinctive flavors.
The fermentation and aging process adds to this variety, as does the particular part of the tobacco plant harvested, with bottom leaves having a mild flavor and burning easily, middle leaves having a somewhat stronger flavor, with potent and spicy ligero leaves taken from the sun-drenched top of the plant. When used, ligero is always folded into the middle of the filler bunch due to its slow-burning characteristics.
If full leaves are used as filler, a cigar is said to be composed of “long filler.” Cigars made from smaller bits of leaf, including many machine-made cigars, are said to be made of “short filler.”
If a cigar is completely constructed (filler, binder, and wrapper) of tobacco produced in only one country, it is referred to in the cigar industry as a “puro,” from the Spanish word for “pure.”
SHAPE & SIZE
Cigars are commonly categorized by their size and shape, which together are known as the vitola.
The size of a cigar is measured by two dimensions: its ring gauge (its diameter in sixty-fourths of an inch) and its length (in inches).
Parejos are designated by the following terms:
Title Length in inches Ring gauze
Cigarillo ~ 3 + ½ ~ 21
Rothschild 4 ½ 48
Robolo 4 ½ 60
Robusto 4 ⅞ 50
Small Panatela 5 33
Ascot 4 ½ 24
Petit Corona 5 ⅛ 42
Carlota 5 ⅝ 35
Corona 5 ½ 42
Corona Gorda 5 ⅝ 46
Panatela 6 38
Toro 6 50
Corona Grande 6 ⅛ 42
Lonsdale 6 ½ 42
Churchill 7 47–50
Double Corona 7 ⅝ 49
Presidente 8 50
Gran Corona 9 ¼ 47
Double Toro/Gordo 6 60
These dimensions are, at best, idealized. Actual dimensions can vary considerably.
Irregularly shaped cigars are known as figurados and are sometimes considered of higher quality because they are more difficult to make.
Historically, especially during the 19th century, figurados were the most popular shapes, but by the 1930s they had fallen out of fashion and all but disappeared. They have, however, recently received a small resurgence in popularity, and there are currently many brands (manufacturers) that produce figurados alongside the simpler parejos. The Cuban cigar brand Cuaba only has figurados in their range.
Figurados include the following:
Torpedo Like a parejo except that the cap is pointed.
Cheroot Like a parejo except that there is no cap, i.e. both ends are open
Pyramid Has a broad foot and evenly narrows to a pointed cap.
Perfecto Narrow at both ends and bulged in the middle.
Presidente/Diadema shaped like a parejo but considered a figurado because of its enormous size and occasional closed foot akin to a perfecto.
Culebras Three long, pointed cigars braided together.
Chisel Is much like the Torpedo, but instead of coming to a rounded point, comes to a flatter, broader edge, much like an actual chisel. This shape was patented and can only be found in the La Flor Dominicana (LFD) brand.