To understand cigar construction first you need to learn the various parts of the tobacco plant (Nicotina Tabacum.) The leaves play an extremely important role in the construction of the cigar. It seems obvious, yes - but in this blenders opinion, the wrong types of tobacco paired with other types has as much to do with construction as the method for rolling.
Building the contents of a cigar is relatively easy if you understand why each leaf of the plant above is important to the construction and performance of the cigar.
Volado is located at the bottom the plant. It gets the least amount of sunlight and therefore the least amount of flavor. The leaves are thin and pale, nearly blonde. But why its important is that its highly flammable. Like its close relative Seco - Volado helps to maintain an equal and uniform burn while the cigar is smoked. This is often referred to combustion. It's the process of when you ad heat (fire) to a fuel (dried tobacco) in oxygen environment combustion is the reaction. Volado is regularly used in the manufacturing of Cuban cigars, but is rarely used in Dominican Republic, Honduras or Nicaragua.
Seco is located above the Volado priming and performs a similar function as Volado. However, in my opinion, depending on the leaf varietal Seco can deliver some lower end flavor and aroma notes depending on the color of the Seco leaf. It has a coarse texture and slightly stronger flavor than Volado. Seco also helps to maintain an equal and uniform burn while the cigar is smoked. Seco's in my opinion range in flavor. I think Seco's grown in places like Condega Nicaragua tend to offer more flavor while being highly combustible.
Viso is located above the Seco in the third priming. It texture is coarse with distinct veins and its color is medium brown in most occasions. As you see above the Seco is a lighter shade of brown. The darker the color, more the flavor the leaf has to offer. Viso is a great leaf, it has tremendous attributes and are often overlooked.
Ligero is located at the top of the plant (or first priming) and it is there where the concentration of cooked nicotine begins. The Ligero (Sun Light) is a very strong flavored leaf, yet its combustion isn't very good on its own. It needs Viso and Seco at the least to burn. The leaf is a rough texture, large pronounced veins, patches of black vs brown and the leaf often times looks rugged and unkind. But never judge a book by its cover, this leaf when blended with compatibles Viso and Seco produced the full bodies flavors we all love.
When people talk of construction that are specifically referring to the smoking experience. Does the ash stay firm and hold its shape? Does the ash just fall after a short time? Does the cigar burn evenly or does it leave a jagged edge? Perhaps it burns down one side, or burns too much down the middle creating a hole in the cigar? Does the wrapper come away from the cigar? Does the cigar feel super soft while its hot? There are so many questions about the cigars form that it hurts your brain sometimes. How do we really judge something that's had 300 hands touch at some point during its process?
Construction doesn't effect only the taste but it weighs on the experience. Just imagine saving up a little to buy that ultra premium cigar you've wanted to try but never had the opportunity or consideration to purchase. You've decided today is the day. You're going to live vicariously! You buy this "wonka bar" and peel back the cellophane, carefully cut the head and begin to toast the foot of the cigar - by all accounts the patience is part of the excitement. The head of the cigar, parts your lips. You begin to the draw your first billows of smoke and just as you slow retro-hale the notes of the cigar, it magically reveals themselves to you.
Your palate is engulfed and the flavor is amazing... and then.... the first bit of ash falls in your lap. G*DDAMMIT!! You stand up, let the ash tumble to the floor. Dust off. You were hoping for at least a three inch ash, from the media you've paid attention to, the cigar boasts nearly five inches of ash in recent photos. You aren't as excited as you were. You're now focused on construction rather than enjoyment. But you continue to smoke, then something begins to happen to the ash. The binder begins to burn irregular and begins to open up. You look at the foot, to see a hole. A tube of sorts beginning to form down the left center of the cherry. Its a vein that wasn't properly removed or flattened. You rotate the cigar while drawing hoping that it will correct itself. It's getting worse. You no longer enjoy the cigar. You've wasted your money and your time, but more important to those things - you lost your faith in that cigar. The next time someone has something positive to say about that cigar, you'll quickly chime in with your experience.
Bunching the Cigar Leaves
In most factories, be that Cuba, Dominican Republic, Honduras or Nicaragua. Two people roll cigars. The Bonchero bunches the tobacco leaves based on a recipe and the Torcedor is the one who applies the wrapper and finishes the cigar.
The Bonchero is the sole person responsible for construction. The method of bunching is solely the style of the Bonchero.
There are four methods for bunching.
1. Entubado Bunching
Originally developed in Seville during the 1600s, Entubado bunching is one of the oldest methods of tobacco rolling but is rarely used by cigar manufacturers today due to being too time-consuming. In this bunching technique, the filler leaves are twisted into thin scrolls that are then positioned alongside one another and molded together to form a bunch. This bunch is then rolled together in a binder leaf, creating a tightly wrapped cigar that delivers a beautiful combination of aromas and flavors.
2. Accordion Bunching
Although Accordion bunching is not as refined as the Entubado method, it takes far less time and is thus used more frequently. In this method, the filler leaves are rolled from their edges inwards and piled up on top of each other until the bunching is complete. Then, as with the Entubado technique, they are wrapped together in a binder leaf. Not only does Accordion bunching enable an exceptionally clean draw but as a result, it is also one of the more popular tobacco rolling techniques.
3. Book Bunching
Undoubtedly the simplest method, Book bunching is when individual filler leaves are placed on top of one another and folded together neatly like the pages of a book. However, while this rolling technique is the least complicated, the simple folding does result in less airflow through the cigar, meaning the flavors are not able to mix as easily as they would in Entubado or Accordion bunching. Yet many cigar manufacturers employ this method due to its simplicity, thus maximizing their roller’s output.
4. Lieberman Bunching
Finally, instead of being carried out entirely by hand, Lieberman bunching is ultimately mechanically assisted bunching, carried out by a Lieberman machine as well as a roller. The machine consists of a steel frame and a rubber mat and is placed on the roller’s workstation to enhance the rolling process. In this method, the filler leaves and binder leaf are placed together in a small groove underneath the rubber mat and rolled together by turning a lever, thus creating a perfectly rolled cigar every time. As such, whether the cigars produced via this method can truly be considered as hand-rolled remains to be a controversial topic among connoisseurs. However, due to the roller’s heavy involvement in the process, the consensus among manufacturers is that they can!
The Drawmaster is a device used to test the draw of a cigar to assure its smokeability every time. Cigar manufacturers around the world trust the Drawmaster. They know guaranteed success is not the “luck of the draw” but in the assurance that hard work and diligent oversight have produced a product worthy of their name.
There are many factors that play a roll in the construction of a cigar. Remember no two cigars are identical, they are similar in size, weight and blend but they are never identical. Spend some time at a Continental and you'll more about construction and other things. Thanks for reading. ¥