Welcome to the second installment in our Cigar Shop University series where we cover everything we know and love about our favorite pastime. From history to geography to culture and more. This week’s article is about where cigar tobacco is grown and what it means to you.
From Farm to Cigar Shop
Most of us have a favorite cigar shop or tobacco store. The atmosphere of a cigar shop is something special. Just thinking about it you can probably imagine the feel of the door handle in your hand. Hear the door chime welcoming you. You step inside and the warm, comforting aroma of cured tobacco fills your nose. You stroll up to the counter to see a friendly face. Many of us buy cigars online too. The convenience of being able to browse hundreds of options while you’re still in your boxers is one of our favorite blessings of living in the Internet age.
Have you ever thought about the origin of the cigar you’re about to enjoy? Someone took great care in growing the tobacco that became your cigar. In selecting the land where it would grow. What about the soil it was grown in? How did the climate affect the flavor characteristics? What about the country and culture it came from? In this second installment of our Cigar Shop University series, we’re going to take a look where the tobacco for cigars comes from. In a future story, we will explore more about cigar anatomy and how cigars are actually made.
The Cigar is Born
Anthropologists and historians say tobacco cultivation for human consumption began thousands of years ago. The early predecessors of the cigars you find in your favorite cigar shop today appeared around 1,000 years ago in Mexico and Central America but was soon found in the Caribbean too. Columbus brought tobacco to Europe in the 15th century. It’s a testimonial to tobacco’s popularity that the first tobacco plantation appears in a New World colony in Virginia in 1612, barely 75 years after Columbus’ return to Spain.
Tobacco is inseparable from American culture. Believe it or not, America might not be here if not for the help of tobacco. The founding fathers used American tobacco as collateral for the loans France gave us to finance the Revolutionary War. At first tobacco smoking is mostly in pipes, but it didn’t take long for the western world to develop its own delicious interpretations of the Mayan’s ancient plantain leaf wrapped cigars. Today the cigar is a fully matured product enjoyed by connoisseurs and laymen alike around the world. Whether you go to a cigar shop in person or prefer to buy cigars online, you are a part of that proud and storied tradition.
Cigar Tobacco Source Nations and Regions
Today, tobacco for cigars is grown primarily on Caribbean islands and in Central American countries. But it is also grown in the Eastern U.S., Brazil and in the Mediterranean and parts of Southeast Asia. As you might have gathered from that, most tobacco prefers rich sandy soil or clay loam and a milder climate. Subtropical, tropical and Mediterranean climates with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters seem to work well as do some African climates. Note that this isn’t a complete list and that most cigars crafting uses tobacco from different sources. This way the cigar maker can dial-in the precise character and flavor they are looking for.
Tobacco and Cigar Geography
Tobacco for cigar wrappers, binders and fillers is grown in well over a dozen countries around the world on nearly every continent. But the list of countries and regions famous for cigar tobacco is a bit shorter. These are the places where climate, soil, culture and history came together in just the right way to produce the some of the finest cigar tobaccos in the world. Since Smoke Inn is an all-American cigar shop and the U.S. is a major consumer of cigars, here’s a list of countries and regions where most cigar tobacco for U.S. consumption is sourced:
- Dominican Republic
- United States
- Indonesia (Sumatra/Java)
That’s a Wrap
Cigars are crafted much like a recipe. More than one type of tobacco finds its way into different parts of a cigar. There’s often more than one source country or region for the tobacco in any cigar as well. Cigar makers generally different tobacco for the wrapper than they do for the binder or the filler. Part of the art and science in cigar making is identifying the right tobacco for each part of a cigar. The wrapper or outer layer of a cigar is very important. Cigar makers take great care is selecting the tobacco for the wrapper and in choosing only the finest quality, unblemished leaves, free of veins or color variations. The wrapper has a significant effect on the flavor experience of a cigar, it is at least as important as the rest of the cigar. A lot of thought goes into making a cigar before it reaches your favorite cigar shop.
There are two primary categories of cigar wrappers:
- Natural: Lighter color, lighter flavor.
- Maduro: Darker color, longer fermentation, more complex and robust flavor.
Aside from those categories, there are perhaps dozens of wrapper types sourced from different places. Here are just a few examples:
- Connecticut Broadleaf (USA)
- Cameroon (Cameroon)
- Corojo (Cuban seed, Central America grown)
- Ecuador Connecticut (CT seed, Ecuador grown)
- Nicaragua (Nicaragua)
- San Andres (Mexico)
In summary, the origin and type of wrapper is a key element of any cigar. It will influence the flavor and character of the entire cigar. When you’re exploring different cigars, pay attention to wrappers and learn what you can about them. Make note of the type of wrapper on the cigars you enjoy. We’ll cover wrappers in more detail in future installments.
Tobacco Cultivation and Cigar Production
Another thing to know about where cigars come from is that where tobacco is grown and where the cigar is made are often different places. Even the seeds the tobacco is grown from may be from a different country. For example, Smoke Inn’s Tatuaje Cohetes Reserva Broadleaf features a Connecticut Broadleaf wrapper over a Nicaraguan binder and Nicaraguan fillers.
Whereas cigars with an Ecuador Connecticut wrapper have a wrapper grown in Ecuador from Connecticut seed. One fine example of the latter is the Davidoff Winston Churchill variety, which Ecuador Connecticut wrapper with a rich subtly spicy blend of five Dominican and Nicaraguan filler leaves. These two cigars are just a tiny sample of the complex alchemy that goes into creating a unique cigar. It takes a masterful knowledge of the character of dozens of different tobaccos and a complete understanding of how they will interact with one another to one another.
Cigars and Cigar Shops Belong to the World
While there are specific countries and regions that are best known for producing fine cigars and cigar tobacco, the truth is that cigars are enjoyed by people every continent where a cigar shop can be found. Cigar tobacco is grown in parts of Italy and Spain, Western Africa, Indonesia and even China. In the main cigar tobacco producing countries, like Nicaragua, the cigar industry is an important part of the economy and culture. However, cigars are a part of high culture throughout Europe, all the way into the icy reaches of Scandinavia where no tobacco grows outside a climate-controlled greenhouse.
What Does All This Mean?
It’s not important that you remember each and every country of origin for every part of your cigar (unless you want to). What matters here is understanding that cigars are crafted from different types of tobacco and that tobacco comes from different countries and regions. It’s wise to pay attention to wrappers as you learn about cigars and sample different types since the wrapper has a profound influence on flavor traits.
Make note of the wrapper types on the cigars that appeal to you most. One of the best parts of being a cigar smoker is exploring different varieties and discovering what you enjoy most. Over time, you will probably find that your mood or the time of day has an effect on what cigar you want at the moment. For example, many smokers enjoy certain types of cigars after dinner or dessert. Rich, warm maduros like the Ashton Aged Maduro are a popular after dinner or desert smoke you might try.
The Cigar Shop: Your Passport to the World of Cigars
Cigars are as much an American tradition as barbeque, heavy metal music and Harley-Davidson. In fact, we secured a loan from France to liberate our country from England using tobacco as collateral. The U.S. began growing tobacco for export barely 75 years after Columbus first introduced it to western civilization. Today we get to benefit from all that exploration and experimentation. Cigar culture is at it’s peak. After a slow decline in the 1980s-90s, cigars began a steady climb upwards in popularity here in America. We have cigar aficionados to thank for much of that.
A lot of the growth happened because cigar makers chose to double down on creating masterpieces and the Internet helped get the word out. Buy cigars online makes exploring new smokes easier than ever before. The number of choices can seem a little overwhelming to some in the beginning though. But don’t worry, we’ve got you! Smoke Inn’s Cigar Samplers are a fantastic way to whet your appetite as you begin to explore everything our cigar shop has to offer. We think you’ll find they make the decision process easier when you want to buy cigars online.
Membership has its Privileges
Another way to explore the cigar landscape is joining Smoke Inn’s Cigar of the Month Club. We recommend this option especially for people who are new to cigars or have stuck with the same few options for years and are eager to broaden their horizons. Smoke Inn’s own Honest Abe hand selects five unique, premium cigars for your enjoyment every month.
If you’ve been an aficionado for years and feel like taking your exploration to the next level, consider joining our exclusive Connoisseur Club. Limited to a maximum of 500 members, this exclusive group goes above and beyond our standard cigar subscription service. Members receive 5 cigars a month, but these aren’t just any cigars. They are bespoke and unbanded creations we secure via our direct relationship with the industry’s most talented master blenders. Connoisseur Club members also receive exclusive content from the most acclaimed cigar makers in the world.
Explore with Smoke Inn
Smoke Inn is here to be your guide and provisioner of fine cigars and associated accoutrements. Wherever you are reading this from, we are happy to deliver the best cigars the world has to offer to your door at very competitive prices. We’re more than just a cigar shop though. We’re a community and a resource for you.
We hope you’ll find these Cigar Shop University pieces informative and entertaining. We’re looking forward to bringing you more in the weeks ahead including deep dives into the stories behind some of the most illustrious cigar makers, the scoop on cigar anatomy, and lots more. If you happen to be in our neck of the woods and you haven’t done so yet, why not pay a visit to one of our brick and mortar cigar shops in South Florida? We’ll have the straight cutter ready.
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