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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

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