While it seems like a no brainer that tobacco leaves are sorted before being used to create your cigar, it may amaze you the number of times that tobacco is sorted before it is eventually used. In fact, some tobacco factories sort their tobaccos as many as 5 or more times! Lets take a look at when and why the tobacco is sorted…
Before tobacco is hung in a curing barn, it is sorted by varietal of tobacco as well as size and priming. In some cases certain tobaccos even have their own curing barn (such as with the Davidoff Royal). The leafs are also sorted by size so that leafs of similar sizes are arranged stem to stem. This is done to allow maximal airflow and prevent the growth of mold as the leaves dry out. Also, within the barn the tobaccos are arranged by priming as well, this is because higher primings of tobacco are thicker and take longer to dry out.
Post Curing Sorting
After the tobacco leaves are done hanging, they are roughly sorted by leaf quality. These are looking for obvious flaws in the leaves that will prevent them from becoming wrappers. Damage can happen in many ways in the fields and barn (such as someone walking into the plant etc). Any holes will prevent the leaves from being used as wrapper. The tobacco leaves are then place into Pilons for fermentation based on the quality of the tobacco as well as the priming.
Post Fermentation Sorting
Once the tobacco leaves are done fermenting in the Pilons they are again sorted for quality purposes. This time not only are the leaves judged for any damage to the leaf, but also any discoloration that may have occurred during the natural fermentation process. While the Pilons are turned and leaves rotated several times during the fermentation process, some leaves are left with uneven color. Tobacco that is used for binder typically has some slight discoloration or very minor damage to the leaf. Also, sorters are looking for any water spots that might have occurred during the fermentation process.
“Low Inventory” Sorting
At the beginning of the cigar manufacturing process, wrapper standards are very high, taking only the very best of the leaves for wrappers. Later, when a manufacturer is running low on wrapper or binder, sometimes they will do a secondary sorting of the tobacco. This is most common with wrappers, but can also occasionally happen with binder leaves. This secondary sorting is looking for any binder leafs that have minor flaws that can be instead used for wrappers (while working around flaws obviously) or filler leaves that are large enough to be used for binder purposes. Rest assured, manufacturers do not put out cigars with wrappers that do not meet their standards!
The final sorting occurs after the cigars have been rolled and before they are put into boxes. Cigars are arranged on a table before being placed in a box, this is to minimize the small color difference that occurs naturally in the wrapper leaf. Traditionally, this final sorting is done only by women, who have a better eye for color differences. Any cigars that are significantly off by color standards are then discarded.