Tobacconist University
Get Certified    |    Campus Store    |    R&D Lab    |    FAQs

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.