Understanding Connecticut Tobacco
When you think of a Connecticut cigar, the first thing that comes to mind is a light colored, rather mild cigar. While this is certainly the case in some instances, a cigar that uses Connecticut Broadleaf is neither light in color, nor is it a mild smoke. The term Connecticut typically refers to a variety of tobacco whose genetics originate from the Connecticut River Valley or tobacco that is grown in the Connecticut River Valley. While top cigar of the year lists rarely contain Connecticut cigars, they make up a very significant portion of US cigar sales and appeal to a wide audience. So let’s dig in!
Connecticut tobacco cultivation originates from the Connecticut River Valley, dating all the way back to 1640 when seeds were planted in Windsor, Connecticut. Seeds that were brought to the United States from Cuba and other Spanish colonies over time have adapted to climate and soil. These early varieties were grown under direct sunlight which created a rougher texture and was usually used as binder and wrapper. Descendants of these early varieties are now known as Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco. Broadleaf is prized for its dark, thick leaves that give rich tasting notes of spice and leather.
Around the year 1900, Connecticut tobacco growers were facing increased competition from Ecuador, specifically the Sumatra region. However, when Sumatran seeds were brought to Connecticut to grow, they were getting scorched by the sun and dying. In order to use these seeds, tobacco farmers pioneered a technique called shade-grown tobacco, where a cheesecloth is placed above the tobacco plant while growing to prevent direct sunlight. The results were fantastic, and this technique quickly spread to other varietals of tobacco and other growing regions. Not only does this cheesecloth limit the sunlight that can damage fragile leaves, it also increases the temperature and humidity of the air around the tobacco plant increasing yields. Connecticut shade tobacco is highly sought after because of its thin, supple leaves with small veins. This gives tasting notes of graham cracker, cream and butter with unmistakable smoothness.
Connecticut tobacco has created unique and interesting flavors that cigar makers all over the world seek. However, price pressures have resulted in cigar makers looking elsewhere to grow. For instance, the highest shade-grown tobacco from Honduras typically retails for $20-$25/lb, while high quality US Connecticut Valley grown wrappers usually sell for $45-50/lb. One popular region to grow Connecticut tobacco is Ecuador. This region is similar in climate and soil content, but has lower labor, land and shipping costs. Also, the constant clouds and mist that are present in Ecuador eliminate the need for cheese cloth needed to grow in the United States. This tobacco resembles tobacco grown in the Connecticut valley, but the different soil mineral content and growing conditions bring out slightly different nuances in the flavor and appearance.
While there are some similarities when it comes to varieties of Connecticut tobacco, it is a broad category in both appearance and taste. While Connecticut Valley, shade-grown tobacco is what most people think of, there is a lot more then meets the eye.
Check out the video below from Phil Zanghi of Debonaire House.