How Cigars are Made
May 15, 2012 7:25 PM   Subscribe

How Cigars are Made at the La Aurora factory in the Dominican Republic.
posted by Scientist (19 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Very cool to see. What do they dip their fingers in? Some kind of glue?
Also, are cigars filled with tobacco and rolled with leaves? The whole thing is made of tobacco? Correct?
posted by hot_monster at 8:35 PM on May 15, 2012

"The whole thing is made of tobacco? Correct?"

That is what distinguishes cigars from cigarettes. A cigar is rolled in tobacco; a cigarette is rolled in paper or a paper-tobacco melding. This is the subject of a major tax battle in that filtered cigarette-sized cigars are not subject to the usual cigarette taxes.
posted by Ardiril at 8:58 PM on May 15, 2012

I got sidebarred? *Ahem* First, I'd like to thank my mother...

I had long meant to do a big megapost on cigars but I haven't the energy right now. I may yet make such a post, but in the meantime I thought this was interesting enough to stand on its own as a smaller thing.

The stuff they dip their fingers in is a glue called goma and is a vegetable paste. It is edible and flavorless and is used for sealing the cap of the cigar.

Cigars (good ones, anyway) are indeed made entirely of whole (or half, for the wrapper and binder) tobacco leaves. Different kinds of tobacco leaves with different flavors and structural and aesthetic qualities. Tobacco leaves can be big, I have seen some over two feet long and nearly as wide.

As Ardiril says, cheap cigars are also all tobacco, though they use shredded and homogenized tobacco, basically tobacco-based paper. The flavor is markedly inferior but they are much cheaper to make since you can do it fully automatically by machine. Ardiril is also right that this creates an interesting tax loophole. I;ve never smoked a tax-loophole "cigar" that didn't taste absolutely foul, however.
posted by Scientist at 9:06 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Many years ago my dad ran a convenience store and as a teen I found the cigars and cigarillos so very alluring. There was just something about the rich scent and crunchy texture, not to mention all the dangers associated with smoking, that drew me in and even got me to borrow books from the library on the topic. Beautifully designed pamphlets about cigars from my dad's store became precious possessions. I never became an aficionado but I've tried a couple of cigars and cigarillos and unfortunately* I never acquired the taste. Also, there's the rational part of me who thinks starting to smoke as an adult is pretty foolish.

* Somehow it seems sad to find something interesting on an intellectual level but never having to actually enjoyed it with your senses.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:08 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

"absolutely foul" - I smoked cigarettes for 25 years before quitting in 1999, however I sporadically would start up again. Then I tried good cigars and since I developed my taste for them, the really good hand-crafted long-filler cigars, I cannot smoke anything inferior any more. Now I smoke only 3 or 4 cigars over the course of a year, and my appetite for tobacco is well satiated with minimal peril to my health.
posted by Ardiril at 9:41 PM on May 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was surprised to notice the rollers were using their bare hands. I thought you could absorb nicotine directly from tobacco leaves, but maybe that's only when they're fresh, not dried as they are here.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 10:56 PM on May 15, 2012

Those wrapper leaves are probably Connecticut shade tobacco. You can see the shrouded fields and the drying barns in north central CT. I don't know if it's still the case but high school kids used to get summer jobs that involved hot sweaty backbreaking work that left them stinking of tobacco.
posted by longsleeves at 1:14 AM on May 16, 2012

I thought that the secret to a good cigar was that large sweaty factory women rolled them on their inner thighs.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:13 AM on May 16, 2012

I've read that wrappers can impart the majority of flavor to a cigar. From the video, they seem to constitute 50% or less of the finished product. How can they be so significant to the cigar's flavor? And if they do impact the flavor, shouldn't a Nicaraguan or Honduran cigar be referred to (at least from time to time) as a "Connecticut cigar" or the like?

Is there any truth to the claim that pre-Revolution Cubans are outstanding cigars? Could this be a result of better manufacturing before 1959, a longer aging period, better tobacco, or similar factors?

Assuming you don't inhale, are there any health risks associated with occasional cigar smoking, along the lines of one or two stogies a week?

removes naive beanie; replaces with generic baseball cap; tips brim in advance for answers to the above
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:15 AM on May 16, 2012

I was surprised to notice the rollers were using their bare hands

I was wondering the same thing. Could there be a directive not to wear gloves while creating cigars or does it just not matter?
posted by lampshade at 4:25 AM on May 16, 2012

I thought that the secret to a good cigar was that large sweaty factory women rolled them on their inner thighs

The term I always heard was "rolled on the warm brown thighs of lusty maidens". Wow, wrong on just so many levels. But the video would probably get 5 million hits.
posted by Ber at 4:33 AM on May 16, 2012

There are always a couple of guys rolling cigars in public view at Arthur Avenue up in the Bronx. Simply fascinating to watch. And it's a quality product, too, at very reasonable prices. (However, they don't have much by way of smaller-guage, which I prefer myself.)

Worth the trip, especially with Dominick's across the street.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:28 AM on May 16, 2012

Gordion Knott-- cigar smoking still leaves you open to oral cancers and cancers of the esophagus, which are no less serious. Also, because of the burn time there definitely seems to be more second hand smoke lingering about for longer. So I don't think your lungs get a clean pass.

I always heard that a cigar was worth about seven cigarettes in terms of health, which unscientifically passes my 'meh, sure, why not' test, and I don't think I'd feel too good with myself for smoking a pack or two of Marlboro's a week.

I do enjoy the smell. I probably try a Cuban cigar once a year and enjoy it for about half an hour, then realize it's only burnt down by an inch, the romanticism has worn off and I look around to find a more dedicated soul to pass the baton to.
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:36 AM on May 16, 2012

What do they dip their fingers in? Some kind of glue?

My dad is a long-time cigar smoker. Growing up I remember him telling me that cigar-rollers used spit to hold the cigars together. I'm glad that no longer seems to be the case, if only because it would make the video much less appealing.
posted by alms at 7:05 AM on May 16, 2012

cigar smoking still leaves you open to oral cancers and cancers of the esophagus

Absolutely true, although I understand the health risks are negligible if you're only smoking a couple a month or so.
posted by sid at 7:59 AM on May 16, 2012

I've got no dog in this fight* but since I've been considering a cigar purchase (which some help from Scientist, no less) as a prelude to my upcoming nuptials I decided to dig into this a bit deeper since I was under the impression that cigars were a better alternative to cigs.

After wading through some articles and writeups that seemed a bit over the top PC and written in the tone of 'Smoking is bad, never do this' motherly tone, I found this page that addresses some of those research methods. I'm sure there are more out there but it does reveal some of the notions I've (and it seems others here) have heard before that allude to cigars, when used in a certain manner, being less... evil, for lack of a better word, than cigarettes.

End result, my cigar purchase is still firmly on and I feel about the same concerning the risk factors I'm placing on myself by buying 25 or so to keep and smoke as wedding anniversary mementos over the years to come (props to Scientist again for that idea, selling the upfront cost to SWMBO was a piece of cake once I said that was what I was buying them for).

*Ok, full disclosure, both my parents smoked cigarettes as I grew up and I hate them to this day... nasty, stinky things that caused both of them health problems and were hell to quit... So, maybe I do have a tiny, but ferocious, chihuahua in this fight after all.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:37 AM on May 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was surprised to notice the rollers were using their bare hands. I thought you could absorb nicotine directly from tobacco leaves, but maybe that's only when they're fresh, not dried as they are here.

CheeseDigestsAll, it's by no means comprehensive, but I've never seen a cigar roller that wasn't also a PROLIFIC cigar smoker. Ergo: skin absorption is small potatoes to them.

And, by comparison, becoming a coal miner also inherently implies a lifetime of slowly accumulating toxins in your system. Job-based health risks for the poor; news at 11.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:20 AM on May 16, 2012

Thanks, always interesting. The Don Pepin Garcia video was good too.

Coffee, tea, and tobacco are fascinating and compelling to me, the the simplicity of the raw materials, the complexity and art of the production. I’m constantly trying to keep my habits under control, but cigars are just not something I’m prepared to give up. The thing about cigars is once you develop an appreciation the price helps keep your habit under control.
posted by bongo_x at 10:28 AM on May 16, 2012

My understanding from talking to the cigar rollers at my work is that the cured tobacco doesn't cause much absorption through the hands. We actually have a roller who doesn't smoke (Shocking, I know! He's our best roller though, in my opinion.) and he says it doesn't affect him. Now, the people who harvest the fresh tobacco, they definitely absorb more nicotine than they like if they are harvesting it barehanded. That, I am told, is a fairly unpleasant job.

As far as health effects, I think it's definitely hard to say that cigars aren't bad for you. I think they're definitely bad for you. What I have noticed though is that among the smokers I have met (many, since I work at a cigar shop) cigar smokers seem to be much more likely to smoke in moderation (as in rarely, or maybe a couple of times a week at most) than cigarette smokers. There are certainly people who smoke too many cigars (I'm one of them) and that's probably pretty terrible for one's health, but anecdotally I have a feeling that cigars aren't quite as addictive as cigarettes. There's more of an investment of time and money in a cigar, smoking one for most people is more of an event rather than just a quick hit of nicotine.

That's all just speculation based on my personal unscientific observation of course, so take it with a grain of salt.

Also, that "rolled on the thighs of virgins" trope is a persistent myth. I've never heard of that actually being done and suspect it would be rather difficult to make a decent cigar that way.

As far as the wrapper/filler flavor contribution thing, it all depends on the wrappers and fillers that are being used. (Connecticut shade is just one of many wrappers that are grown, it's considered to be an exceptionally good mild wrapper but of course not all cigars are mild. Connecticut grows good maduro wrappers too but that's a different thing...) If you use a mild wrapper and a strong filler blend then you are going to get more flavor from the filler, and vice versa for a strong wrapper and a mild filler. Also a wide cigar has a smaller percentage of wrapper on it than a narrow cigar, and that changes the balance too.

The upshot is that there's a lot of variation in where the flavors are coming from in a cigar, but the wrapper can definitely contribute a lot of the flavor (sometimes even the majority of the flavor, but by no means always) even though it's only on the very outside. Wrapper leaves tend to be quite flavorful and delicious.

As far as labeling origin, a cigar's country of origin is simply where it was rolled. Gordion Knott is right that this doesn't necessarily tell you much about the cigar's flavor when the tobacco can come from most any country you care to name, but it's still a nice piece of information to have. If one is researching a cigar (say, reading about it in a magazine or maybe just in one of the better cigar stores where such things are put on the label) then one will generally be able to find out that the filler comes from Honduras, the wrapper from Sumatra, etc.
posted by Scientist at 11:01 AM on May 16, 2012

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