For thousands of years, people were using tobacco and it may seem as if everything about it should be well known by now. But even today new types of natural tobacco appear and it rarely leaves faithful admirers indifferent. It’s unfortunate though that the “Black mark” fell on us in this age — each day it’s getting more difficult to smoke, prices are rising on tobacco products, government is getting strict with bans on smoking in all kind of places and overall oppressing us in our rights… But tobacco industry doesn’t stand still, it keeps on making new products and resurrecting good old stuff.
What do we actually know about this magical plant? “Magical?” you might ask? Well, just see for yourself: since it’s appearance in history (6000 years B.C.) it’s been accompanied with magic rituals. Ancient man believed that spirits live in tobacco smoke and to ask for their help one must smoke tobacco leaves. Famous Native-American “ceremonial pipe”, which ended wars by smoking tobacco. Think of tobacco smoke which was used to cover arable land so that there is a rich harvest. Or even a small line of smoke from a tobacco bundle held by a shaman, which opened ways to other worlds and drew shadow images of past, present and future. And do you recall a famous cigar in the hand of a voodoo priest? After all, smoke from a cigar starts the main ritual of worshiping the high voodoo priest Baron Samedi!
Cigar expert, Habanosommelier,
President of the first Russian professional fumilla school
Author of numerous articles in cigar magazines.
Lecturer in wine school “Enotriya”
Author and leader of tasting and master-classes for sommelier and bartenders
If we’ll throw aside all these magical practices, then in the end we have a plant which is very demanding, capricious and which, without human help, could never become what it is today - a thick and fragrant puff of smoke. Yes, without human help, wild tobacco could not even grow - it is too gentle and requires constant care...
But how do you get raw tobacco materials suitable for further use? Tobacco doesn’t grow everywhere. It requires very warm weather, specific moisture level, plenty of sun, fertile soil and thousands of working hands that will take care of it. Such conditions can be found in tropical latitudes, in savannas of the Wild West and in the plains between the jungles in Africa and Asia. But the place where tobacco feels the best is on the islands of the Caribbean Sea.
Tobacco is an annual plant. It means that it is planted every year and every year it’s harvested. Tobacco grows from the seed. Tobacco seeds are extremely small and somewhat similar to poppy seeds. From such a grain in just 3-4 months a huge "Christmas tree" with a height of up to 2 meters grows up. At each stage of growth, a farmer approaches each tobacco bush at least 150 times.
Saplings grow in special nurseries for about 45 days. Before planting, the soil is carefully treated and tilted, following certain standards. Animals are still being used to tilt the soil to avoid its compaction.
Tobacco grows under open sky which creates a rich bouquet of aromas in the plant. As each plant reaches the desired size, the upper bud is plucked out to concentrate the development on larger leaves.
After about 40 days the time for harvest comes. This is hard work, as each leaf must be plucked off by hand. Only one or two leaves can be removed at a time. Thus, harvesting takes place in several stages at certain intervals. To collect all the leaves from one plant, it takes about 30 days. The leaves from plantation are then moved to barns for drying process.
The first stage to which freshly picked leaves are subjected is a slow and time-consuming drying process in the air, during which excess moisture is released and color gradually changes from light green to golden brown. The leaves are dried in a traditional way in sheds and barns. The leaves are stitched in pairs and threaded one after another on poles which are reinforced on high racks. As the leaves dry the pole is raised higher and higher. It is necessary to constantly adjust the ventilation and lighting to create natural fluctuation of temperature and humidity. The process takes about 50 days.
First fermentation of tobacco leaves
The first fermentation undergoes in the shed of the tobacco grower. After drying, the leaves are bound into bundles, stacked and covered with fabric. The natural moisture which remains in tobacco after drying causes the first fermentation. Combination of humidity and density of large mass of leaves creates heat. The process is controlled to make sure that humidity and temperature doesn’t go over certain stats. Fermentation is mainly determined by the leaf: it removes excess amounts of sugars and ammonia, lowers acidity and diminishes the amounts of tar and nicotine content. The first fermentation takes about 30 days.
Dortting and leaf classification
First of all, the leaves are moistened and ventilated – it makes it easier to handle them and lowers the risk of damage. Then they are classified. They are sorted and grouped depending on their taste and flavor. There are three categories: Ligero, Seco and Volado. Volado leaves are gathered from the bottom of the plant and have the smallest strength. Seco leaves are taken from the middle part of the plant, they are the most fragrant. Ligero leaves are collected from the top of the plant, they have the highest saturation of flavor and strength.
Second and third fermentattion
After selection and classification on categories by the degree of strength or flavor saturation, which will be important for the design of blends, the leaves continue to be ennobled. Next step is the second fermentation. Tobacco is stacked, which are covered with a cloth. During fermentation, you should carefully monitor the temperature. If the temperature rises too high the stack is dissembled and when cooled down – stacked again but in reverse order (leaves from the top go to the bottom and vice versa). It can happen a few times during the time of fermentation.
Afterwards the leaves are moistened for the subsequent procedure — stripping. During the process main vein is removed. After that, the leaves are smoothed out, stacked and pressed. The third fermentation takes place in barrels.
Baging of leaves
After the final fermentation leaves are ventilated on platforms for a few days. Then they are packed and transported to the warehouse to go through the careful process of aging. Aging takes place in special conditions (16-18 C ° temperature and 65-72% humidity) and lasts for a few years. Leaves with the greatest strength are kept the longest — for about 3-12 years. Just like wine — tobacco leaf gets better with age.
And only after aging the leaf falls into the hands of a blending master - a man which will create a blend of leaves from different crops, age, countries and continents so that the consumer gets to let out pleasant clouds of smoke, enjoying each and every puff ...