In the last edition of our ongoing educational emails about cigars, we talked about primings—or the different types of leaves that grow on the tobacco plant—and the importance of the varying levels of thickness in the leaves. We’ll probably circle back around to that in the near future, but today I want to talk briefly about the next of many steps in the journey of the tobacco leaf once it’s collected. It is known as the curing process.
After each priming, the leaves are moved into a curing barn, where they’re hung to cure for about 45 days. The leaves are tied together at the base and hung over bamboo sticks or rope. This is done because when the tobacco leaf is removed from the plant, they consist mostly of water and are very heavy. Over time, up to 60 percent of the water is naturally removed during the curing process.
During the first eight to 10 days of curing, the leaves experience a change color, transforming from green to yellow. After another eight to 10 days, the leaves turn from yellow to brown. After this takes place, it takes another 18 to 20 days for the center veins to fully dry. The center veins hold the most moisture and take the longest to cure. Taking adequate time with this part of the process is important to the future performance of the leaf, as it will affect both combustion and aroma.
The weather plays a key role in this process, too. Tobacco curing requires a certain level of humidity, ideally around 80 percent. The goal is to keep the climate as stable and as natural as possible so that the tobacco isn’t forced to change too quickly. If the humidity gets too high, the doors can be opened to let in some dry air. If the ambient environment is cold and rainy, a small oven or fire is used to heat the barn. If it’s too dry, water is put on the floor to help increase the humidity.
Following the completion of the tobacco’s 45-day (or longer) curing process, the leaves are then carefully collected and moved on to the next stage.
Harvesting tobacco is a delicate and time consuming process, to be sure—and one whose understanding can bring a deeper appreciation to even the most experienced cigar smoker. Stay tuned for the next in our ongoing series of educational emails, where we’ll get into detail on what happens next in the long journey of the tobacco leaf . . . from the earth to your hands.