From seeds to green leaves

The first essential operation of the cigar making process is to prepare the soil for its delicate ultimate mission. When fields are nearly ready, tobacco seeds are planted in areas called semilleros specifically dedicated for this purpose. This germination phase lasts a few days and allows seed to grow into seedlings in a protected environment.

Robust and consistent in size, the seedlings can now be transplanted into the production fields. Some days after field transplantation, a manual homogenization is carried out to insure consistent density and uniformity of tobacco plants.

Different treatments are applied by farmers during the growth of tobacco seedlings into adult plants. The main agronomic treatments are fertilization, irrigation and pest control.
But there are also some specific treatments for tobacco cultivation like the plant growth regulation, which includes:
- The desbotonado: This procedure involves removing the inflorescence (flower in formation). Removing the axial bud determines the final number of commercial leaves (generally 16 to18) and also exerts positive effects on the chemical composition of the leaves (from a reallocation of nutrients originally intended for the flowers).
- The deshije: This operation involves removing the lateral shoots appearing at the basis of the existing leaves (a consequence of the desbotonado). Eliminating those sprouts is also essential for the same reason of optimizing the energy distribution within the plant. Leaving the shoots to grow out would indeed use precious nutrients that could otherwise be made available for the ‘commercial’ leaves.

These two operations of desbotonado and deshije are highly important. Their good or poor execution will decide the physical and chemical characteristics of the plant’s leaves and thus their final aromatic quality.

Some culturally specific treatments, such as reducing the solar radiance intensity, may vary depending on the destination of the tobacco leaves. The black tobacco is indeed grown differently if the goal is becoming a wrapper, binder or filler.
If the objective is to become binder of filler, leaves will be fully sun-grown and called tabaco de sol. The cultural objective of the tabaco de sol is to harvest leaves of very good chemical composition because they will determine the future aromas and taste of the cigar.
If the objective is to become wrappers, leaves will generally be grown in the shelter of a protective fabric and will be called tabaco tapado. This cover, commonly called cheese cloth, protects the fields by filtering the light intensity and thus triggers some physical and chemical transformations of the leaves. An increase in leaf size and a decrease in the thickness may be observed. Also reducing the direct sun causes tobacco leaves to have less pronounced veins and lighter colours. Other two important effects are the increase of the leaves elasticity and the improvement of their combustibility. A decrease of chemical composition of leaves, thus in fine of their aromatic volume, is also observed in shade-grown tobacco leaves.

The last and essential operation of the agricultural part of the cigar production is the harvest of the green leaves when they reach maturity. Organized by groups of 2 to 3 leaves called priming, the older leaves are harvested before the younger ones, from bottom to top of the plant. The oldest leaves – the first shoot – are located in the bottom of an adult plant, closer to the soil. Per plant, a total of 16 to 18 leaves are generally collected in 6 or 7 priming each at a time interval of 3 to 7 days.

Carefully brought in the casas de tabaco, the harvested black tobacco leaves will experience physical and chemical modifications.