Preparing Habano Leaves at the Factory
Once the leaves are properly cured and aged, having reached as perfect a state for smoking as any tobacco plant could, the tried and true method of making a Habano (Havana cigar) begins. This time-honored craft is conducted with great care and only by those with vast experience in handling tobacco at the factory.
Habanos are Totalmente a Mano Tripa Larga, or “totally hand-made, long filler.” Habanos only use leaves cultivated in Vegas de Primera of selected tobacco regions in Cuba. The process of assembling Habanos begins once the wrapper leaves are prepared and stripped of their stem. Prior to any handling or manipulation, the wrappers must be wetted to regain elasticity and prevent tearing. Once the leaves are malleable, sheaves of 40 to 50 leaves are delicately doused with pure water. With an extravagant shake to rid the leaves of any lingering moisture, the bunches are hung on racks to ensure all absorption is uniform. Many factories now use electronically regulated moistening cabinets for this purpose.
With the wrapper leaves moist, agile and nimble-handed workers remove the center rib from each leaf in one fell movement, skillfully dividing the leaf in two. The newly divided halves are then classified by size and color.
As the wrapper leaves move through the strippers’ adept hands, the sheets of filler and binder are exactingly removed from their bales and inspected for quality. After an examination, the leaves are either aired once more to remove excess moisture or stored in wooden barrels until ready.
It is the duty of a factory’s ligador, or master blender, to ensure that every specification is adhered to with great care. The criteria for each particular cigar brand and size is typically locked away in his head but he knows that consistency is key. To uphold his immense responsibility, the master blender must sample the leaves each and every day.
Prior to opening a bale, the ligador constructs a list of all the leaves needed for the factory to begin production. Leaves are selected from a central storage area containing every variation of the tobacco plant, each organized by its tiempo and other identifying factors — size, age and, most importantly, area of origin. Tobacco plants are incredibly sensitive to even the most minute variation in temperature, altitude or light, so just one swath of Vegas de Primera can produce a whole medley of vastly different flavors.
The particulars of the Master Blender’s recipe is dictated to the blending department, or La Barajita, which assembles the appropriate proportions of each leaf before deploying the batches to the cigar rollers. Now, years after the initial collection of the oldest tobacco leaf, the prized Habano is ready to be crafted.