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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Maduro Education - by Steve Saka

Thanks to Jim Luftman, CRT from Blue Havana II Cigars for bringing this article to our attention, and thanks to Steve Saka for creating (perhaps accidentally) such an extraordinary piece of educational content.  Maduros are an interesting and potentially tricky topic for cigar enthusiasts.  This excellent and thorough article by Mr. Saka should help dispel some of the myths and mis-information in the marketplace. 

Hi All,
Every couple of weeks or so I do a google search on Drew Estate, Liga Privada, Acid, etc… and this thread was one of the new hits.

I am scoping it out and was cruising along fat and happy until I read
(name omitted) contention that we manipulate the wrapper color on Liga Privada, so I decided to reply – for better or worse.
First off, on this topic – yes some manufacturers have in the past and still do manipulate their maduro leaf to achieve a darker, more even color, but let me share with you some info:
Maduro is a color designation but it is also a reference to specific
varieties of air cured black tobaccos which require longer fermentation at a high bulk temp. For example, most Habano seed capas will seldom be allowed to exceed 110 degrees in a bulk, while some CT Broadleaf will require temps over a 125 degrees to just get it going. So while any cigar can be maduro in color, true maduro cigars are ones wrapped with CT Broadleaf, PA Broadleaf, San Andreas Negra, Costa Rican Morron, Brazilian Matafina, Arapiraca, etc. So it is important that just because a cigar may be maduro in color, it does not mean it is actually a cigar with Maduro wrapper.
Each variety of maduro capa has it own specific traits, for example CT Broadleaf is a very large, elephant shaped leaf with an inherent
natural sweetness and an absolute pain in the ass to work with on the floor, while Arapiraca is long and thin, very elastic and extremely spicy – these are the typical(s) not the not always.
When you work with maduro capas on bench, they must be incredibly wet to handle. In fact, cigars rolled with maduro capa must be done on a metal tabla vs. the traditional wood one you see in almost all cigar rolling photos. The also require special wicking (drying) right after their manufacture in order to prevent flat faces and streaking before being place in the traditional escaparates. Another unique trait of maduro cigars is they almost always shrink at least one ring size, i.e. you use 52 ring mold, but after 60+ days of aging the will almost always be 51 (and sometimes 50) in gauge. Some makers use larger molds, i.e. a 54 to make 52s, while others like ourselves just list the original mold size on our frontmarks.
As for modifying the color, there is a variety of ways of achieving this, naturally and artificially.

Maduro Shades
1) Naturally – by leaving the tobacco in the pilon/bulk longer and/or
allowing to ferment at higher temperatures before each turn of the bulk.
2) Naturally – by bale resting the tobacco for 6 months plus after fermentation – this doesn’t typically change the hue as much as it evens the color out to the darkest shade on the leave achieved in the bulk.
3) Naturally – utilizing water in which tobacco stems have been allowed to steep for sometimes weeks as the water added to the bulk for the purposes of fermentation. This is a very time honored, Cuban practice which not only results in a darker leaf, but also a spicier one.
4) Steaming – also called cooking or steeping. This is not hieved in some giant vat like some of the posters have written, doing so would destroy the leaf. Rather it is done in a small vessel typically 10 gallons in size to which steam is applied for approximately 60 minutes.  This technique is not only done to achieve a very dark color, it also mellows the tobacco out making it much mellower and milder to smoke.
5) Painting – this is done by typically achieved by wiping down the  cigar gently after it has been constructed with some sort of mixture.  This can be done wither Naturally or Artificially – some are recipes that are all natural just using the oils from the stems or picadura or the are artificial ones that contain coloring agents. Again there is a  long history of the natural methodology, the artificial stuff really only came into practice within the premium industry during the boom.
6) Maduro-Matic – this is a name use to describe technique #5 but done with a machine in which the wrapper is passed through roller s. Almost always the coloring used it artificial.
There are other techniques, but the above covers the bulk of the methods employed.
Obviously the natural techniques are a-ok, so I believe the primary concern as a consumer is the artificial ones. The question is how can you tell the difference?
First off it is done really well, it is very hard for someone who doesn’t really intimately know tobaccos and how to manufacture cigars to tell the difference.
Just having some dark stains come off the wrapper alone is -NOT- a fair indicator, because all natural maduro wrappers will cause staining to the skin with moisture due to their inherent oiliness. If you ever have  to opportunity to visit a cigar factory, just look at the hands of the workers, unlike the manicure perfect hands shown in the pictures in magazines and books, every worker’s hands are stained, even those working with BW color shade leaf. And those rolling maduro, their hands are sometime near black! Everyone just stages those photos, we pick out a pretty roller(a) with nice hands, she washes up, we clean up the bench, etc. etc. just to make a pretty picture. FWIW, it’s tough to even take good pictures of people rolling cigars because they move too fast and their hands are in the way, so 99% of the photos everyone see are posed…
Also if you ever happen to be in any cigar factory, just because you see someone wiping down a cigar with a sponge, do not assume they are dying the wrapper. Almost all factories regularly wipe their finished cigars gently with water (except those with blonde wrappers which are wipe dry with a soft cloth) to remove dust and/or any debris. And that little water bowl’s content become quite brown after just wiping a couple of dozen sticks.
So it is not uncommon that from a really oily maduro for you to be able to get staining while you smoke or if you were to wipe the cigar along a sheet of paper.
However, there typically is a difference in the staining, a certain hue and depth to it. I really cannot explain it in text, but someone with true tobacco experience can tell.
One of the best ways for the consumer to tell if the wrapper has been artificially colored is the following:
Is the wrapper too perfect? The color is always even everywhere with no color difference in the veins or texture, is the wrapper always extra extra dark, does it seem to stain far more than other cigars. Now if you think it is painted, well this is pretty easy to check – peel the wrapper off, look at its underside, almost all capas will be a SIGNIFICANTLY different hue on the underside. Now don’t confuse slight difference because the oil always migrate to the exterior, so the exterior will always be shinier – keep this in mind.
When it comes to steamed leaf the color will appear the same on both sides, however it will always be nearly jet black and the actually grain of the leaf will be matte. Sometimes if it is really over steamed you will even notice a slight grayness when you reflect light across its surface. But again, don’t confuse the grey of a cigar with plume vs. one that is due to steaming.
I hope this provides everyone with some info to assist in making your own judgments, but at the same time I ask that people exercise judgment when they start claiming such and such a cigar is artificially darkened. Please understand that this is our livelihood and false accusations not only can be parroted, but very damaging and unjustly so.
At Drew Estate we only employ the natural #1 and #2 techniques described above and I take issue with anyone stating differently and please ask for others to refer them to my comments if you ever see this accusation again – much thanks.
Hope this helps,
Steve Saka

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Certified Tobacconist Advantage

PM Magazine: What’s the advantage of buying cigars from a certified tobacconist?


Jorge Armenteros: As the president of Tobacconist University, I have dedicated almost 15 years to this question.  In fact, I wrote The Tobacconist Handbook (available on to try and improve the culture of professional tobacconists.  Above all, a certified tobacconist is schooled in fundamentals and understands the differences between tobaccos and what makes them special.  Ultimately, very few tobaccos and/or cigars are premium or luxury products.  The best cigars in the world take years or decades to create and a certified tobacconist can help a consumer enhance their own appreciation by sharing that knowledge.
…. the joy of our business is to introduce smokers to something outside of their comfort zone and watch them fall in love with it…

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Humidor Etiquette

Retail walk-in humidors must be rigorously maintained. Their temperature, humidity, air quality, and sanitary standards must be perfectly kept to preserve the cigars and protect the customers that smoke them. People walking in and out of retail walk-in humidors bring germs, dirt, and debris into the environment, so many steps must be followed to protect the cigars. Firstly, Tobacconists must regularly dust, sweep, mop, and vacuum their humidors. But it takes both customers’ and Tobacconists’ efforts to maintain the integrity of the cigars in a walk-in. Ultimately, Humidor Etiquette is about following the ‘golden rule’ and doing unto others as you would have done unto you. The following etiquette rules apply to both consumers and Tobacconists who use a retail walk-in humidor.
The natural aromas of a walk-in humidor are a subtle co-mingling of different tobaccos from all over the world. Part of the reason Tobacconists make their walk-ins accessible to customers is so that they can enjoy the smell of aging tobaccos. Lit tobaccos will overwhelm the natural aroma of a walk-in and excessive smoke can taint the flavor of the cigars. Not smoking in a walk-in is part courtesy to the next customer and a way to protect the cigars themselves.

Ultimately, the head of a cigar will enter your mouth, so cigars must be treated with the same care and respect as food. Maintaining clean hands when touching cigars is imperative. It is important for Tobacconists to have sanitary soap and hand sanitizer on hand for personal and customer use. In addition, when inspecting cigars you should only touch the foot and shaft area. Never touch the cigar above the band (head and shoulders) since someone will eventually put that cigar in their mouth.

As consumers, we all have the right to smell the wrapper and foot of a cigar. In fact, that is part of the enjoyment of picking a great cigar. While smelling cigars can be part of the pre-selection process in a walk-in, it must be done in a sanitary and respectful way; as the nose contains germs and mucous that must be kept off cigars. If the cigar is wrapped in cellophane, push the cigar half-way out of the cellophane. Cellophane smells like cellophane so there is no point in sniffing it: when finished, you can push the cigar back in. Whether smelling just the wrapper or the foot of the cigar, always keep the cigar at least one inch from your nose and/or facial hair. One inch is close enough to sample the aroma of the tobacco yet far enough to minimize contamination.
Now that we have covered the proper techniques to touch and smell cigars, we can address the more general process of picking one out. Some customers take the first cigar out from on top of a box, while others like to scrutinize every single cigar. To each his own method; there is no right or wrong. But, when pulling cigars out of a box, one must be very careful not to tear the wrapper or damage the head: in particular, the cigar foot is highly susceptible to damage. If you take cigars out of a box, lay them in a safe place and return them carefully when you have found your perfect cigar.

One of the biggest economic challenges for retail Tobacconists with walk-in humidors is minimizing the amount damaged cigars: it is a massive expense unique to our business. While some cigars come damaged from the manufacturers/distributors, most damage occurs because of consumer mishandling. Retail Tobacconists absorb the cost of damaged cigars since they cannot be sold at standard retail margins. If you see damaged cigars in your retail Tobacconist’s walk-in, let them know: they will thank you for it.

Sometimes you take a cigar all the way to the cash register and then decide that you don’t want it – that’s ok. As long as you’re handling the cigar properly, you can return it to the walk-in. When returning a cigar to the humidor, it is always best to place it in the proper box with the head up and cigar band facing forward. This is called “facing” and retail Tobacconists do it every day to honor the brand, cigar maker, and our customers.

Most retail Tobacconists will not allow customers to buy a cigar, take it out of the shop and return it at a later date. Due to cigars’ precise humidification and temperature requirements, plus the fact that they will end up in your mouth, cigars must be treated like perishable food.

OFF THE FLOOR Keeping cigars off the floor is obvious, but it is also important not to place boxes on the floor, either. Placing cigar boxes on the floor contaminates them with the same dirt, debris, and germs that people’s shoes have been tracking in. This piece of humidor etiquette is particularly important for Tobacconists to heed since it is easy to forget when stocking and organizing the walk-in.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Padrón 46th Anniversary

On September 7, 2010 almost two hundred cigar lovers gathered at the Grand Havana Room in New York City to celebrate the Padrón family’s 46 years of cigar making, along with Tobacconist University.  These are the speeches delivered that evening: first an introduction by the President of Tobacconist University (TU), Jorge Armenteros, CMT and then a speech written by José Orlando Padrón and delivered in conjunction with his son Jorge Padrón.

On this evening we introduced the Padrón Family Reserve No. 46 cigar to the world.  And while most companies would encourage as much media coverage as possible, the Padróns wanted to host an intimate evening with family, friends, and their most passionate customers.  Thankfully, these videos were captured by TU staff for posterity and historical reference; which explains the low light.  Fortunately, we have been granted permission to post these here and share them with you.  If you ever wanted to get into the hearts and minds of the Padrón family, this is your opportunity.  Here are the extraordinary moments and speeches that marked this very special anniversary.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Proof of Lies

The Surgeons General said there ‘is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke’, and suddenly smoking bans spread around the globe.  But, this statement defies logic and the fact that the dose makes the poison.  This is true in epidemiology, science, and medicine; it always has been and always will be.  That is why you can consume pesticides, hormones, and harmful pharmaceuticals in your food, water, and consumer products and still survive.  The dose makes the poison.

The Surgeons General, EPA, FDA and every government, and every non-governmental agency that has promoted smoking bans has lied to you.  In fact, a quiet street has five times more carbon monoxide than a smoky bar, and there is absolutely no significant evidence showing that second hand smoke causes lung cancer (and there have been plenty of studies).  In fact, you should be more worried about the fumes you inhale on the street than the aroma of tobacco.  We all know that you can run a hose from your car exhaust into the vehicle and be dead in a few minutes.   Yet, I have spent countless hours in cars in Nicaragua with the windows rolled up (to avoid the dust) and inhaled 2,3, and 4 people’s cigar smoke.  The gentleman in the picture has been doing that for decades and he is 83!  The fact is, we have been lied to and our entire society has been re-engineered to treat smokers like second class citizens because of second hand smoke.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Enough Is Enough

Enough is enough!  This afternoon I had the TV on and watched advertisements for herpes medication, some kind of condom and/or cream that heightens orgasms, men singing about erectile dis-function, and a clitoral stimulator; all of this on ‘normal’ TV that children can watch after they get home from school.  But, of course you will never see any kind of ad for any kind of tobacco because that is illegal, ‘attractive to children’, and ‘bad for you’.  Not that I’m against erections, sex, or medicine, but there is a time and place for everything, right?
Unfortunately, that is not the worst or most absurd part of my day.  Tonight, the Brooksville City Council (near Tampa, FL) will consider an ordinance which will ban city employees from smoking or having any kind of nicotine in their system – yet, I’m not sure if those nannyists realize that nicotine is found in tomatoes and eggplants too!  Regardless, this kind of anti-smoker and anti-tobacco bigotry is LEGAL! And that is SHAMEFUL!  Undoubtedly, fat and/or other unhealthy people are next on the list for employment discrimination.  And they wont be able to say they didn’t see it coming.  We told you so!  Remember, no one is free while others are oppressed!
“There is no such thing as a little freedom.  Either you are all free, or you are not free.”
-Walter Cronkite
Sorry Mr. Cronkite, here is the new America….

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Research Expeditions

It has been an exciting and busy few months here at TU.  We were at the Nicaraguan cigar festival in December (2009) and the Dominican Procigar festival in February, 2010.  In the process I have spent hundreds of hours with great tobacconists, the Padrón family, the Garcia family (My Father Cigars), Pete Johnson of Tatuaje, Drew Estate, and I have had the pleasure of visiting with La Aurora, the Kelners at Davidoff, and the Quesada family at MATASA.   In addition, I just returned from a week long visit with the Padrón family in Nicaragua.  The Padrón family has been extremely generous with their time and I cannot find adequate words to express my gratitude.  Their commitment to every step of the cigar making process, our industry, and supporting retail tobacconists is unrivaled.  To date, we have over 300 Certified Retail Tobacconists and Apprentices at TU. 

Even after more than twenty expeditions to Cuba, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Honduras, I manage to learn exponentially more every trip.  The amount of knowledge, skill, labor, and organization that goes into great cigar making is staggering!  Plus, there is artistry and intuition at play.  Every trip leaves me more in awe of the process.  And I have been particularly privileged to learn from the best cigar makers in the world – and had a great time in the process.

Moving forward, we will be developing content and disseminating much of our research through our facebook, twitter, and youtube channels.  Furthermore, we will be developing new videos and content for our academic curriculum to enhance your educational experience and appreciation.  I hope you will share this content with your friends and legislators as we strive to bring credibility to the luxury tobacco industry.   And above all, I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Traditionally, cigar tobaccos (and Burley type tobaccos) are air-cured by hanging and drying the leaves in curing barns.  Recently, we released academic content which Jose “Don Pepin” Garcia helped us create on the topic of Stalk-Priming.  This research led us to the expertise and experience of the cigar makers at Drew Estate who are using another exciting technique called Stalk-Curing.  Drew Estate is producing a cigar called the Liga Privada T-52 which is Stalk-Cut (not primed) and it is Stalk-Cured.   Stalk-Curing is the process of air-curing the tobacco leaves while they are still attached to the stalk.  While this process takes up exponentially more space, costs more, and takes longer, it does produce an extraordinary end product.  Stalk-Curing allows the leaves to absorb more nutrients from the stalk while they are drying.  Now, you will have to smoke a T-52 to taste the extraordinary results!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Storing & Aging Cigars

Michael Herklots, CMT Academic Contribution
Certified Master Tobacconist #1776
Storing & Aging Cigars
Fortunately the cigars available in the American Market are for the most part ready to be smoked. The manufacturers have invested the time to age the cigars appropriately before shipping to the retailers. However like fine wines, additional aging on cigars (box age) will change those cigars over time. Not all cigars will benefit from long-term aging. As a general rule of thumb, the stronger and more complex a blend is to begin with, the more potential for that cigar to change from additional aging. The milder the cigar is to begin with, the less the potential the cigar has for drastic change over time. Aging allows the essential oils within the tobacco to “marry” and to mellow as well.  What is aggressive and obvious on a newer cigar will become more complex and subtle.

I recently lit up a Davidoff Millennium Lonsdale (one of my favorite cigars to age) that was 4 years old. Now, the Davidoff Millennium Lonsdale is also one of my favorite cigars right out of the box. It’s full-bodied with abundant flavors of spice, earth and leather yet still balanced. With four years of age, the cigar was toned down a bit. Though still full in body, the obvious spiciness I expect in a “new” Lonsdale was slightly muted making the overall flavor a little more delicate and restrained. It was almost velvety in character, with an incredibly long and complex finish. I can’t say I prefer one to the other, but rather I enjoy both equally just for different reasons. But to experience the difference between the two is quite interesting.  And, since cigars are manufactured in a “non-vintage” style, it’s possible to compare new and old side by side.

A great humidor is essential for proper aging and storage. For long-term aging, it’s always best to purchase cigars by the box. This way you have enough cigars to gauge how they’re changing month-by-month or year-by-year.

A desktop model can hold any where from fifty to several hundred cigars.  Most desktop humidors are wood lined and utilize a passive humidification system.  This is generally a sponge-like element that holds water within it without letting the water drip out.  As the water evaporates, it maintains the humidity within the humidor.  Generally these humidors need to be refilled with distilled water every 3-8 weeks depending on the humidor’s seal, interior, and the system itself.    Additionally, desktop humidors require the cigars to be removed from their original box and stored as “singles” within the humidor since the passive humidification system is usually not powerful enough to penetrate a sealed wooden box of cigars.

If you prefer to store your cigars in their original boxes, a cabinet humidor is the best method of storage.  They range in style from end tables and credenzas to industrial “retail” style cabinets.  These cabinets use active humidification systems.  Usually only requiring a standard electrical outlet, this type of humidification system works in tandem with a hygrometer and actively regulates the humidor’s humidity by turning on and off accordingly.  These types of humidors tend to be much lower maintenance than their little sister desktop models, and are also much more stable as the active humidification does not produce the same “ebbs and flows” of a passive humidification system.  This steady humidity as well as the increased capacity permits the collector to keep cigars in their original boxes within the humidor, making absolutely certain that the cigars are stored and aged exactly the way the manufacturer intended.

If your cigars come in cellophane, and you’re storing several different kinds of cigars next to each other in a desktop model humidor, simply push the cigar’s foot to the open end of the cello and wrap the excess cello around the cap.  This ensures all of the tobaccos (including the fillers) are exposed to humidity.  If you’re storing your cigars in their original boxes in a cabinet humidor, then you can remove the cellophane and place the cigars back in their box.  This brings the cigars a little closer to the humidity, and also allows the cigars to marry with each other in the box as they age.  If you’re not aging for the long term, then frankly it doesn’t much matter.

So buy a box of your favorite smokes, write the date on the bottom and enjoy one every month. Keep a little Dossier of your own tasting notes in order to gauge how they’re changing and if you like the changes that are occurring.