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From the plant to the cigar: processes of the tobacco leaf

Like all good products, tobacco leaves also take a long time since the plant is harvested until they become a cigar. The fresh, green and moist leaf collected from the fields in which the tobacco plants are grown must go through a series of processes to acquire the color, texture and moisture required for a cigar, as well as the aromas and flavors felt in the smoke.

Harvesting a tobacco plant takes about a month, from making the first cut to harvesting the last leaf. According to the Brand Ambassador of La Aurora, Wascar Aracena, the farmer gradually picks the lower level leaves from the plant, until the top level is reached, depending on the climate.

These are the steps a tobacco leaf undergoes from the moment the plant is harvested until it ends up in a cigar:

  • Curing: when the tobacco is collected in the field, it is taken to a farm, where it will be joined in bundles or “hands”, tied with different colored strings to identify the cut corresponding to the leaf level for the curing process.The curing takes about 40 to 50 days, depending on the tobacco variety. Three factors come into play: moisture, temperature and air velocity. Considering these factors, the bundles or “hands” are constantly moved so that the air aids in the curing.When the leaves are taken to the curing farm, they contain 80% to 85% water. This moisture is important to start the curing process, since it has an important role in the color changing process of leaves, from green to yellow. In the second step of the process, the yellow color turns into brown, and the last step of the curing process is completely physical: it’s when the tissue and the main veins of the leaves are dried. Finally, the dried tobacco is subjected intermittently to moisture and drying in order to make the colors in the leaf tissue uniform.

  • Pre-fermentation aging (raw tobacco):once the tobacco arrives the processors’ warehouses, it is sorted according to its texture, size, and dehydration. It is then subject to the first pre-fermentation aging process (minimum three months) before being destemmed. During this aging process, tobacco acquires the necessary consistency to withstand the humidity to which it will be subjected during the fermentation process.
  • Fermentation: it’s an intense and controlled process with a minimum duration of one year, in which the heat produces significant changes in the chemical composition of the leaves. The tobacco starches are converted into sugars and ammoniacal nitrogen is released, making the tobacco leaf smokable. “The more complete the fermentation, the more balanced the smoke will be”, says the Brand Ambassador of La Aurora.The bundles are undone and placed on piles, sorted by well-identified leaf levels, one leaf placed against each other. The fermentation process is completely natural. The combination of the moisture in the leaves and the pressure (density) of a leaf on top of another in the piles generates heat, which causes the bacteria responsible for fermentation to reproduce. This first process lasts about six weeks before the leaves are destemmed. Tobacco can be fermented 2, 3 and 4 times.
  • Destemming of the filler: in the tobacco leaves used in the filler, stems are cut at two thirds from the head of the leaf towards the ends; while in the case of the binder, stems are cut from the leaf removing completely the main vein. In both cases, they are sorted (selected and separated) by texture, by damage level, and classified according to size: big, medium and small.
  • Aging: normally, the leaves are placed in bales for two to five years. “The better the aging technique, the more flavor and aroma the tobacco will develop”, notes Aracena.

Since a cigar has three types of tobaccos (filler, binder and wrapper), each is handled with different moisture levels: the filler has 16/17 percent moisture; the binder 16/17 percent; and the wrapper 18/20 percent. The goal of the aging process is the homogenization of moistures, which will still be noticeable once the cigar is lit and burning: the tobacco burns irregularly, with the wrapper burning more slowly.

La Aurora is the only manufacturer with a double aging process in Super Premium lines (rum barrels). The making process of a Preferido cigar takes, on average, nine years with two aging processes. The second aging process is made in oak barrels, that previously contained rum, which gives a distinctive touch to La Aurora products: well accentuated notes of wood and toasted notes from the barrel. The last aging process occurs when the cigar is made.

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The cigar roller, the key to a perfect cigar

Cigars can be made by hand, in a mechanized way or with a mixed method, that is, when the bundle is machine-made, with the filler and the capote (binding leaf), but the wrapper is rolled by hand. The cigar roller or torcedor has a vital role in manual processes. In fact, given its important task in the process of hand-rolling cigars, it usually takes many years to be promoted to master cigar roller.

After the tobacco plant cultivation, and the leaf collection, curing, fermentation, aging and selection stages, it is the turn of the cigar torcedor, who usually undertakes his work in the factory, in a well-lit area. When the tobacco is ready, the following stages when it comes to rolling a cigar are:

  • Molding the filler: tobacco leaves are arranged in a cylindrical shape, in a way that allows air to run through the cigar, to allow for drawing while smoking it, and to feel the blend.
  • Putting the capote over the filler and mold the cigar: this tobacco leaf holds the blend of the cigar and, after placing it, the torcedor molds the cigar with the chaveta (cigar knife).
  • Pressing the cigar: cigars are placed in ten-cigar molds and pressed with a press.
  • Preparing the wrapper leaf, cutting it and rolling the wrapper over the cigar.
  • Making the cap of the cigar.
  • Cutting the cigar with the proper measurement and checking it.

For all this work, the main quality a cigar torcedor must have is “awareness,” says the master of La Aurora Luis López, who, after 24 years as torcedor, is now the plant supervisor. “I believe that is the best there is: awareness to make the cigars, because they are going to the market; they are going to be flavored. Awareness is everything”, he says.

López, who works in La Aurora since he was 39, explains how cigars should be handled in order to be perfectly rolled. “We must open the wrapper well, stretch it well in order to roll the cigararrange the tobacco properly in the filler and make a nice head. We must do all this while being aware, so that the smoker is able to enjoy the cigar the way he likes it,” he highlights.

The most complex stage when rolling a cigar is placing the wrapper, since, according to master López, “it can ruin the cigar”. We must have good sense of touch in order to determine if a cigar isn’t well made. This happens when:

  • The tobacco is twisted.
  • The cigar is not straight.
  • The tobacco is wet.
  • The cigar has bumps.
  • The cigar has too much or too little tobacco.

When smoking, these issues are well noticed, because if tobacco is missing, there’s too much air coming through; and if there’s too much tobacco, there’s not enough air coming through. “There must be a balance for a good, perfect smoke”, says Luis López, who learned his trade from his parents, who made cigars to sell in the local town market.

Not all cigars are the same when it comes to the level of difficulty. According to him, the lancero—a fine, long cigar—is very difficult to roll, so he believes only experienced rollers can make it. He also points out doble figurado cigars as being much more complex, and one must be very careful while rolling them. The easiest to roll are the thick, short ones, according to López.

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León Jimenes Doble Maduro, for those who seek powerful flavors

Evolution is always a positive concept. Thus, La Aurora has given one step further in its León Jimenes line by creating the Doble Maduro version. This is a natural evolutionof the León Jimenes cigar brand, created with those who bet on powerful flavorsin mind, in thicker shapes.

Among the tobaccos that compose it, we can highlight its wrapper made of tobacco from Cuban seed sown in Brazil, called CuBra. This is a bright, ripe, velvety and oily leaf that grants the cigar a “spicier feel,so this is a stronger cigar, according to the Master Blender of La Aurora, Manuel Inoa.

However, the most distinctive feature is its attractive color, achieved through double fermentation—from which it got its name: Doble Maduro. The oils in the Cubra wrapper tobacco withstand this double fermentation. Besides darkening the color of the tobacco leaf, “it offers those chocolate notes, that are essential in mature cigars,” such as Manuel Inoa explains.

Thanks to this double fermentation, the León Jimenes Doble Maduro cigar has a much bigger strength than Prestige and the regular cigars in this line, adds the Master Blender of La Aurora. Its strength is 7.5, two points above the classic León Jimenes cigars (5.5).

In addition to that Cubra wrapper, there’s the binding leaf from Brazil and the filler made of a tobacco mix from Valle del Cibao (Dominican Republic), Brazil, Nicaragua and Perú. This combination gives it a “fine balance between sweetness and bitterness,” with notes of chocolate and tobacco scents—cedar and leather, with black pepper and citrus notes. “There’s a strong presence of berries, with a predominance of red citric notes, which are in perfect harmony with chocolate,” says Inoa.

Its smoke evolves from a medium strength smoke to a less intense one. This evolved version of León Jimenes is presented in several sizes to please all tastes, from the palate of consumers that bet on thicker cigars to those who enjoy thinner ring gauges. The range of León Jimenes Doble Maduro models is as follows:

  • Gigante: 7” long and ring gauge 58
  • Churchill: 7” long and ring gauge 47
  • Corona: 5 ½” long and ring gauge 42
  • Leyendas: 5 ½” long and ring gauge 47
  • Robusto: 5” long and ring gauge 50
  • Ambassador: 4 ½” long and ring gauge 48/60
  • Sumo Short Robusto: 4” long and ring gauge 58
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The tobacco plant, what are the best leaves?

Like any good product, cigars also depend on the quality of their raw material: tobacco and, therefore, its source, that is to say, the tobacco plant. Originally from America, nowadays the tobacco plant, of the species “Nicotiana tabacum”, is planted in all parts of the world.

Belonging to the Solanaceae family, the tobacco plant has a fibrous root and a straight stem. Depending on its height, which can reach two meters, the plant may hold 20 to 30 leaves, which sprout alternately and are lanceolate, that is to say, with a round petiole—the point where leaves join the stem.

Throughout the tobacco plant, which is usually planted annually, we can observe various leaf levels. From the soil to the top of the plant, leaf levels are:

  • Volado: the leaves on this leaf level are mainly used to help the cigar burning, since they contain fewer oils, and very little flavor.
  • Seco: leaves that offer a mild flavor to the cigar, since they contain oils and nicotine.
  • Viso: these leaves have more oils and strength than the previous ones.
  • Ligero: this is the part of the plant with the most oils, and which adds more strength to the cigar.

La Aurora only uses for its cigars leaves from the seco leaf floor, that is to say, the tobacco called volado, whose main feature is combustibility, is not used. “The seco leaf level we use in La Aurora, also helps combustion, while providing more flavor to the cigar”, explains the Brand Ambassador of La Aurora, Wascar Aracena.

In turn, viso and ligero levels hold the largest concentration of strength and flavor of all the tobacco plant leaves, due to the amount of oils found in the upper part of the plant. “We make our cigars with three leaf levels: seco, viso and ligero, but not volado; compared to the rest of the rivals, because we want to offer distinct experiences”, highlights Wascar Aracena.

What is the difference of using only these leaf levels? When mixing the tobaccos seco, viso and ligero, we can offer more flavor, more aroma and more strength to the smoke. “When we use volado, its only quality is combustion, but the seco also provides combustion, with a little more flavor and aroma”, says the Brand Ambassador of La Aurora.

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León Jimenes, to enjoy the Connecticut wrapper

One of La Aurora’s goals is to meet the preferences of all smokers. León Jimenes cigars are just that, a line of cigars to meet the demands of consumers; in this case, the requirements of those who opt for a quiet and elegant smoke. This type of smoke is partly provided by the famous Connecticut wrapper that covers this cigar.

This line of Premium cigars is a tribute to the founders of the company, so, it carries the surnames of its founders: Eduardo León Jimenes—creator of La Aurora—and his brother Herminio who took charge of the company when Eduardo died in 1937. In honor of their hard work, La Aurora released, in 1987—the León Jimenes cigars.

These cigars offer the classic flavors associated to the Connecticut wrapper, such as wood, cocoa, creaminess or nuts, explains the Master Blender of La Aurora, Manuel Inoa. The Connecticut wrapper, “very particular due to the notes of nuts it contains,” represents around 16–17 percent of the total mixture, adds the Master Blender of La Aurora.

In the beginning, León Jimenes Connecticut cigars were filled only with tobaccos from the famous Valle del Cibao, Dominican Republic; later, tobacco from Nicaragua was added to create more consistent flavors and aromas. The binding leaf is made of tobacco from Valle del Cibao. Even so, this cigar provides a“smooth and soft smoke,as described by Inoa.

With a medium strength of 5.5, this line is available in 14 different models, with a diversity of lengths and thicknesses or ring gauges. These are the following:

  • Número 1: 7 ½” long and thicknesses 50
  • Número 2: 7” long and thicknesses 47
  • Número 3: 6 ½” long and thicknesses 42
  • Número 4: 5 9/16” long and thicknesses 42
  • Número 5: 5” long and thicknesses 38
  • Petit Corona: 4” long and thicknesses 38
  • Sumo Short Robusto: 4” long and thicknesses 58
  • Petit Belicoso: 5” long and thicknesses 52
  • Robusto: 5” long and thicknesses 50
  • Leyendas: 5 ½” long and thicknesses 47
  • Torpedo: 6” long and thicknesses 58
  • Belicoso: 6 ¼” long and thicknesses 52
  • Gran Corona: 6 ½” long and thicknesses 50
  • León Jimenes Crystal: 6 ½” long and thicknesses 42
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La Aurora 107, the reflection of over one hundred years’ experience

Over one hundred years’ experience are noticeable in any profession, sector or product. The same happens with the Premium cigar making process. Thus, to celebrate La Aurora Cigars 107th birthday, we have introduced La Aurora 107 to the market—a cigar that reflects our extensive years of experience, with the best human team and tobacco leaves of unmatched quality. All this time devoted to manufacturing cigars places La Aurora in a near perfect position.

A good example of this know-how is La Aurora 107, a cigar born in 2010, a bit complex, with medium strength that increases to a medium-strong level. “At first, this is a smooth and slightly spicy cigar,” claims the Master Blender of La Aurora, Manuel Inoa. The expert adds that this is a cigar “rich in typical tobacco flavors, of leather and cedar, with a profound aroma of cocoa and spices, and a sweet tip of tropical fruit.”

La Aurora 107 is made of Sumatra Sun Grown wrapper, cultivated in Ecuador; binding leaf from Valle del Cibao, in the Dominican Republic; and filler from Valle del Cibao, Nicaragua, Brazil and Peru aged for six years. Inoa further explains that the wrapper is called Sun Grown because it is cultivated in the sun, which “gives it a somewhat rustic but very natural look, with a bright color, and very oily.”

This is a cigar that goes very well with wines made of Merlot or Tempranillo, but also with fruity beverages, due to the rich flavors of cocoa and spices, as recommended by the Master Blender of La Aurora. “It is best enjoyed at lunchtime. Preferably after meals that are not very spiced, with moderate seasoning,” Inoa recommends.

La Aurora 107 is available in nine formats to please a wide range of consumers:

  • Salomon: 7 ¼” long and ring gauge 52/60
  • Gran 107: 7” long and ring gauge 58
  • Lancero: 6 7/8” long and ring gauge 40
  • Belicoso: 6 ¼” long and ring gauge 52
  • Toro: 5 ½” long and ring gauge 54
  • Corona: 5 ½” long and ring gauge 42
  • Robusto: 5” long and ring gauge 50
  • Sumo Short Robusto: 4” long and ring gauge 58
  • 15 Minute Break: 3 ½” long and ring gauge 42
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Visit to La Aurora Factory in the framework of the Procigar Festival

The latest edition of the Procigar Festival, held from 18 to 23 February, was once again a wonderful experience for both organizers and attendees, perfectly combining, again, training activities and entertainment. Cigar manufacturers, retailers and consumers enjoyed the opportunity to talk, smoke and spend time together in this annual meeting of the tobacco sector held in the Dominican Republic.

In the festival agenda, along with the gala dinners and the auction in which funds for a nonprofit organization have been collected, attendees were able to visit the most important tobacco plantations and cigar factories in the country. In the case of La Aurora Cigars, the visits to our factory were made on 22 and 23 February, where, besides explaining the whole process of making cigars, there was also a blending seminar.

In these tours around the La Aurora Cigars factory, we must highlight the presence of the former American basketball player Karl Malone, who played 19 seasons in the NBA and won two gold medals in the Olympic Games, among other sports milestones. La Aurora Cigars offered him a basketball signed by over 200 workers of the company involved in his personal project.

“It is for the whole La Aurora team, that will be involved in your personal project, a pleasure to offer you this acknowledgement that symbolizes the passion and joy we all feel for being able to share one of your many hobbies with you”, said the President of La Aurora, Guillermo León, during the basketball award ceremony to Karl Malone.

In the following video, we can see a summary of the factory tours held during the Procigar Festival, where attendees had the opportunity to, among other things, learn at first-hand the manufacturing process of our latest cigar, La Aurora ADN Dominicano—from working the tobacco born of the Andullo process to the rolling of the cigar by torcedores (cigar rollers). You can also see how the basketball award ceremony to Karl Malone went.

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Andullo, a method that impart strength and flavor to tobacco

There is a saying which can be applied to various fields of activity and even to some aspects of life: “if something works, do not change it”. This maxim could be applied to the oldest tobacco-processing method in the Dominican Republic, the Andullo (an-doo-yaw). Inherited from the Dominican ancestors, this handcrafted procedure has survived through the ages due to the superb qualities it imparts to tobacco. Namely, a potent strength and a wonderfully heady aroma.

La Aurora Cigars have picked up on this cultural legacy and applied it to produce one of its latest cigars: La Aurora ADN Dominicano. Only seeds from native Dominican varieties are selected to grow the tobacco plants processed with this method by Aurora Cigars. Likewise, the plots of land where they’re going to be sown are carefully chosen. When the tobacco plants are ready, the Andullo process starts, lasting for one year and going through the following phases:

  • Harvesting: the first six leaves from the bottom of the plant are removed. Only the leaves from the upper middle and top of the plant are employed. Those are the leaves that impart the high degree of strength, flavour and aroma found in Andullo
  • Curing: the tobacco leaves are tied up together in bundles or gavillas and sartas are made with ropes stringing them up. Around 55 to 60 bundles are held in every sarta, which ends up being some three meters long. These are hanged up for two weeks in the curing warehouses so that the leaves become more flexible by the time the midrib removal stage comes. In this way, the leaves can be folded with ease to best fit within the cilindrical shape of the Andullo. The tobacco leaves go from green to a yellow hue.
  • Leaf Midrib Removal: the sartas are taken down from their drying slots and the leaves get cleared off 3/4ths of their midrib (the coarser central vein). Then the tobacco is weighed, with the ideal quantity to carry out the Andullo process being around 30 to 32 pounds (13.5 to 14.5 kilograms approx.)
  • Preparation: the tobacco is placed in yaguas – the leaves of the Palma Real, a common palm tree in the Greater Antilles -. The yaguas measure between 1.5 to 2 meters long each and aid the curing and fermentation processes, as they are made of organic material that allows the tobacco to breath.
  • Pressing: the tobacco is placed inside the yagua, which is rolled up around it. Then the pressing stage starts to facilitate fermentation and curing. Once inside, the tobacco is squeezed tight using ropes that go around the yagua This is done at least five times until the tobacco is completely dry. If, at any time during the process the yagua is damaged, then it gets replaced for a new one.
    Around three weeks pass between the first and second pressing. Although, it is possible that the ropes might get untied before that if too much humidity is noticed. Otherwise, the tobacco could end up having stained patches due to excess water. At the time of the second pressing the ongoing fermentation is checked up, as well as the water content and the amount of sap coming from the yagua oils.
    After the second pressing, the yagua is untied and then tied up again once per month until the fifth pressing is done. During this phase the tobacco receives oxygen and starts compacting. The pressings help the curing and fermentation to happen in a homogeneous, uniform way. All these processes take place without generating any heat, they are thoroughly cold processes.
  • Aging: after the last pressing, the aging process begins until the tobacco completely dries up and its flavour and strength qualities become matured. The result is a paste hard to work up, which can be used for chewing, pipe smoking or cigar manufacture.

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Smoking a cigar, a ceremony to enjoy

Smoking a cigar is completely different from smoking a cigarette. Lighting a cigarette in a hurry and consuming it hastily are a long way from the time dedicated to savor a Premium cigar. “The cigar is an enemy of problems and haste. The cigar is the passion of the puff, it’s like falling in love, it’s the closest thing to falling in love because all five senses are used.” This is how the Brand Ambassador of La Aurora, Wascar Aracena, describes how smoking a Premium cigar should be.

And in fact, to fully capture the configuration of a cigar, we must use all five senses:

  • Hearing: To detect the moisture degree and to know whether or not to light the cigar at that moment.
  • Touch: To caress and feel it, in order to verify that there are no bumps, because bumps change the puff.
  • Sight: To see the silky character, the glow, and the veins of the tobacco…
  • Taste: Taste buds detect the sensations that a cigar’s smoke evokes: sweet, salty or bitter notes, and so on.
  • Smell: In addition to the nostrils—where notes and nuances of the cigar are perceived—the true cigar smoker should, at some point, use the retronasal passage (mouth/nose) to allow for identifying the actual strength of the cigar and the aromas in the tobacco.

Once we have ensured there are no damages or imperfections in the cigar, we must perform a 1 to 2-millimeter cut with a suitable tool for the cigar chosen on the first small layer placed by the master cigar roller. Then, the cigar must be put in the mouth to test its draw, in other words, to verify the absorptive capacity it provides (each person has a different absorptive capacity: some like it smooth, others medium-strong), but also to identify what the tobacco is made of. “It’s already talking to us, we can now flavor it”, says Wascar Aracena.

Now is the time to light the foot of the cigar. When the flame combustion is made with gas, we shouldn’t hold it to avoid scorching or overheating the cigar. To secure it, we must rotate the cigar over the flame, to make the tobacco that was once brown or black turn into a bright spot—that’s when we can put it in our mouth. We can gently blow over it to see the embers and make sure it’s burning evenly.

To fully enjoy the cigar, it is important to:

  • Choose wisely where you are going to smoke it—this is relevant when deciding the size and strength of the cigar; and consider the time you have to smoke it, enjoy it and being able to finish it.
  • Keep your hands clean and free from perfume, since this could transfer to the cigar and alter its flavors and aromas.
  • Smoke it from different angles of the mouth to feel all the components, since each part of the tongue detects different flavors: Bitter on the back, acid/sour on the rear sides, bitter notes on the front and sweet on the tip. The center detects the fifth and final flavor discovered, umami.
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First birthday of La Aurora ADN Dominicano

Our cigar La Aurora ADN Dominicano celebrates its first year in the market. From its market launch in February 2017, those who have smoked this cigar have tasted the Andullo tobacco used in its blend. With the use of this hard-to-handle tobacco, La Aurora intended to honor the most ancient tobacco making process, which is a vital part of the Dominican tobacco culture.

This cigar was launched in the market a year ago, in February 2017, in the Dominican Republic. It was later introduced to the North American market in July 2017 during the IPCPR trade show (International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association) held in Las Vegas, USA. It was finally introduced to other markets in the InterTabac trade fair (The International Trade Fair for Tobacco Products and Smoking Accessories) held in Dortmund, Germany.

The Andullo process results in a tobacco with very peculiar flavor and strength characteristics, unique in cigar manufacturing, since its inspiring strength, aroma and sweetness, combined with a well-balanced mix, all provide for a completely exceptional smoking experience.

Specifically, the La Aurora DNA Dominicano cigar wrapper comes from the Valle del Cibao, the main source of tobacco in the Dominican Republic; the capote (binding leaf) is made with tobacco from Cameroon, Africa, and the filler is composed of tobacco from the famous Valle del Cibao, Pennsylvania (USA), Nicaragua, and Andullo.

La Aurora manufactures and markets this cigar in four different sizes: La Aurora ADN Dominicano Churchill (7 X 47); La Aurora ADN Dominicano Gran Toro (6 X 58); La Aurora ADN Dominicano Robusto (5 X 50) and La Aurora ADN Dominicano Toro (5 3/4 X 54).

MANUFACTURED WITH ANDULLO PROCESS

Tobacco produced with the Andullo process is extremely special and unique, because it is manufactured from selected seeds of varieties originating in the Dominican Republic and the lands for its cultivation are also selected. From the plant, only the leaves of the mid-high center towards the crowns—which give that degree of strength, aroma and flavor felt in the smoke—are chosen to produce tobacco with the Andullo process.

As for the drying process, these leaves are tied in bundles, or “hands”, and left to dry in drying houses for two weeks. Later, during the destemming stage, three quarters of the central vein of the leaves are removed and they are placed in 1,5 to 2 meters long yaguas—sheaves from the leaves of the Palma Real tree, a plant of the Greater Antilles—where they are cured and fermented.

This is where the tobacco shaping process starts, which consists in rolling the Andullo tobacco in at least five tightening operations. With each tightening, the tobacco receives oxygen and is compacted. This also makes the cure and fermentation (cold) process homogeneous. Then the aging process begins, in which the tobacco dries completely and its characteristics are settled.

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