How a Habano is Crafted
All Habanos are totally handmade cigars. Only highly skilled and masterfully trained cigar rollers called torcedores and torcedoras interact with the individual parts of a Habano (Havana cigar), especially when it comes time to assemble the beautifully aged leaves into the familiar shape cigar.
To begin, the torcedor must gather his or her tools. The key to constructing an exquisite Habano lies in the finesse and expertise of the hands doing the rolling, so torcedores require a relatively modest amount of accouterments. These tools include a wooden board (or tabla), a flat-bladed cutter (chaveta), a smaller disc-cutter, a guillotine, some colorless and flavorless natural vegetable gum, and a cepo, the template rollers use to moderate length and girth.
The assembly process begins with the binder. The roller takes the two or three binder leaves and carefully lays them out so that the veined undersides are pointed upwards. This guarantees that, when rolled, the large veins will be on the inside of the cigar. Next, the filler leaves are deftly shaped and folded in the torcedor’s hand to ensure there are air passageways down the length of the cigar. The darkest, most flavorful leaves known as ligero are placed in the middle of the filler. The leaves’ lighter-flavored tips are angled towards the foot, so that as the Habano burns, the smoke becomes more flavorful and intense.
The bunch (or bonche) is assembled as the filler is rolled into the awaiting binder. Rolling begins at the cigar’s foot and is regulated by strict guidelines of width and diameter that are laid out for each specific Habano. Precision is key. Compression must be uniform throughout, the filler must be evenly packed along the full length of the cigar and the roller must avoid twisting the leaves. Once rolling is complete, the head is trimmed using a guillotine. The completed bunches are placed in a wooden mold for at least 30 minutes in order to set the correct shape.
As the bunches take shape, the torcedor lays out the moist wrapper leaf on a board, careful to make sure that the most veined side will face inwards when the cigar is rolled. Chaveta in hand, he or she meticulously trims the leaf, devoting extra care to the edge that will be exposed on the resulting cigar. When 30 minutes are up, the bunch is placed on the wrapper and rolling recommences, the dexterous movement starting at the cigar’s foot and going up. The torcedor skillfully and gently stretches and straightens the leaf as they roll. The torcedor knows that for the Habano to be perfect, the tension in the leaf has to be just right.
To create the cigar cap, the roller cuts a “flag” from a scrap wrapper leaf. This piece of leaf is wound around the cigar’s open head, providing protection and securing the wrapper. The torcedor then uses a blade to cut a small disc from the wrapper leaf. As one last precaution, the disc is affixed over the top of the flag using vegetable gum. With one last cut of the guillotine, which sets the cigar at its proper length, the work is finally finished. A perfect Habano has been made.
A single, skilled torcedor can assemble anywhere from 60 to 150 Habanos a day, contingent on the size and complexity of the cigar.
It is important to note that the history of Habanos is deeply ingrained in Cuban consciousness. This is why practices and methods associated with Habanos have remained consistent for centuries and why the industry remains so largely traditional.
As tradition dictates, Habano factories still employ a lector, or reader, to entertain the torcedores, a practice that has continued since the 1860s. The lector regales the hardworking rollers with passages from the newspaper or a novel, chosen by vote. Incredibly, this complex process and the impeccable cigars it creates have changed very little over the last century.