The devil is in the details. For cigar connoisseurs, this means learning how to separate so-so cigars from premium smokes by being able to understand the basics of cigar composition: specifically, the wrappers, binders and fillers.
Read on, and we’ll explain everything.
Components of a Handmade Cigar
The colour of your cigar’s wrapper has its own signature character and flavour. The rule of thumb is lighter wrappers have a dry taste while darker wrappers add a hint of sweetness.
Wrappers are leaves grown in different conditions, like full sun or shade. Leaves grown in sunlight tend to be darker, while shade-grown wrappers have a coarser texture and a bold flavour.
Additionally, the colour of the wrapper is dependent upon the tobacco strain and processing technique used. Some may argue that wrappers are responsible for the flavour of the cigar, while others believe it’s the filler that provides the flavour.
The binder is a leaf from the top of a tobacco plant. This leaf can have imperfections such as blemishes, and its primary purpose is to house filler tobacco. Usually, binder leaves are grown to become wrappers, but they’re downgraded to a binder if a defect occurs.
Binder and filler together are commonly known as a bunch, and it’s the bunch that creates the cigar’s flavour.
Filler is a bundle of hand-folded tobacco leaves with airway vents down the centre for smoke to travel up. It’s crucial to the cigar that these bundles are packed just right because if it’s too tight, it’ll burn too hot.
Cigar filler can either come from one country of origin (otherwise known as a Puro or pure cigar, like Cuban cigars that only use Cuban tobacco) or a blend of multiple countries to create a complex flavour, strength and aroma.
How Types of Tobacco Influence Flavour
The flavour of a cigar is largely dependent on two things: the wrapper colour and which tobacco priming (harvested leaves) are selected.
Colour classification of wrappers—from light to dark—is another common way to distinguish the flavour of your cigar. These are the seven most common wrappers (light to dark):
- Candela (Double Claro): A light, greenish-tinted leaf picked and rapidly dried before the leaf has matured, locking in chlorophyll.
- Claro: A lightly tanned leaf grown in the shade with a mild flavour so claro tends to dominate the cigar’s flavour.
- Colorado Claro: A brown leaf that’s grown in indirect light and picked after it’s mature.
- Colorado: These shade-grown brownish-red leaves have a pleasant aroma and a robust flavour.
- Colorado Maduro: A brown leaf that’s lighter than maduro but darker than a colorado.
- Maduro: A dark shade of brown from a mature tobacco leaf that’s cured for a long time until it reaches a robust, lightly aromatic, and sweet-tasting flavour. The maduro is one of the most popular cigar choices.
- Oscuro: A black leaf from the top of the tobacco plant that’s left on the plant passed maturity and fermented for a long time for a richer flavour.
- Double Maduro: Mexican and Brazillian tobacco plants ferment longer and get rougher, so they earn the name ‘double maduro.’
Tobacco Leaf Blends
The tobacco plant itself is large, so the tobacco primings used—top, middle or bottom—will influence the cigar’s flavour.
- Volado: At the base of the tobacco plant are the volado primings that are known for their excellent burn quality, so almost all cigars will utilize volado in their blend. Otherwise, volado is virtually flavourless.
- Seco: The middle primings or seco are oily leaves offering mild flavour and rich aromatic appeal.
- Ligero: This thick sun-drenched top leaf priming is full of flavour but lacks combustibility and aroma, so is often paired with volado.
Short vs. Long Filler
To evaluate the quality of a cigar, it’s all about the filler leaf length. Premium hand-rolled cigars offer full, long filler leaves, while short-filler cigars use shorter leaves found in machine-rolled cigars.
Cigar Wrappers, Binders & Fillers Explained
When it comes to the anatomy of a cigar, three central components go into making the smokes you know and love: the wrapper, binder and filler.
Each component influences the overall flavour, aroma, combustibility and quality of the cigar. For instance, a puro handmade cigar features long fillers, so it’s a premium quality cigar. In contrast, convenience store cigars are often machine-rolled and use short filler, so it’s not considered a quality product.
Of course, some people aren’t interested in smoking a quality cigar—and that’s fine. However, chances are, if you’re reading this article, you’re after the smooth, unhurried, fully-realized cigar experience, and that’s when the knowledge imparted here will be invariably useful.
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