Why Are There Stems In My Cigar?

Nate Simonds

Crafting fine, handmade cigars is a true art, defined by the harmonious blend of two simple ingredients: tobacco and time. These cigars begin their journey with tobacco leaves, and at the core of each leaf lies a stem, a natural element of long-filler tobacco. More often than not, a plugged cigar is blamed on this essential part of the tobacco leaf, however, this is a sign of a premium cigar that uses whole tobacco leaf. Many cigar aficionados would be surprised to find out that leaving the tobacco stem is done intentionally by cigar manufacturers. 

Within the vascular system of a tobacco plant, the stem plays the vital role in delivering nutrients to the entire leaf. These nutrients travel through the central midrib before branching into smaller veins across the leaf. Although veins and stems may not be pretty to look at they hold the potential to infuse cigars with flavor. In fact, the presence of a dried stem or two within the filler does, in fact, significantly influence a cigar's strength, structural integrity, and combustion rate. 

While the stem is meticulously removed from tobacco leaves by machines destined to become wrappers and binders (in a process called stripping), the leaves selected for the filler retain a portion of their stems. Wrapper leaves being the most delicate of all tobacco leaves have the smallest stems that can be removed easily. This stripping process is also different depending on where your cigar was manufactured. Typically, Nicaraguan and Honduran cigars retain more of their stems than their Dominican counterparts. 

While there is different forms of stripping, the most popular form is called frog stripping, where approximately one-third of of the stem is expertly lifted from filler tobacco, resulting in a leaf that bears a resemblance to a pair of frog's legs. This is done post fermentation and takes skill, strength and the assistance of a thimble. While we were in Honduras, Christian Eiroa challenged us to try removing the stem noting that it looks long hours of practice to perfect the craft. The thickest part of the tobacco stem is typically found near the plant's stalk, and this segment is the portion that is carefully eliminated. This leaves behind the smaller portions of the stem that adds flavor, strength and structure desired by blenders.

It's worth mentioning that the thickness of the tobacco leaf influences the thickness of the stem that remains within the filler leaf. Therefore, it's entirely normal to discover fragments of stem within your fine cigars. This is not a flaw but an integral aspect of the meticulous production process that imparts character and complexity to each cigar. Cigars are often discussed in terms of thirds and the transitions between each third. Where stems lie in the bunch influences this dramatically and rollers meticulously align the tobacco leaves to create this complexity.

Nobody enjoys a plugged cigar, and the usual culprit is that the bunch was simply rolled to tight causing the tobacco leaves to not form the proper air channels for good airflow. Next time you are dealing with a cigar that won't draw use a perfect draw tool to create the airflow you need... That stem you are often pulling out and blaming is there for a reason!

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