a. Spanish names for stalk positions, and their significance
Fliers. These are leaves from the very bottom of the stalk. They are often large and thin, have little flavor or aroma, and burn very well. Volado usually contains very low nicotine concentrations. They seldom appear in the whole leaf market. Their purpose is simply to enhance the burn of a filler blend that otherwise might not burn adequately.
These leaves are from the lower stalk positions, just above volado, and up to about halfway up the stalk. They are thicker than volado, often quite large, their flavor and aroma are distinctive of the variety, though they are mild, with moderate nicotine. They usually burn well. They comprise the bulk of the filler in milder cigars.
Viso is a leaf from about the halfway point of the stalk, for another quarter of the length up the stalk. Viso leaves tend to be somewhat smaller than seco, are darker, somewhat thicker, and usually have higher nicotine. They don’t burn as easily as seco. Their flavor and aroma are more intense. They are commonly added to a filler blend to enhance the aroma.
Ligero leaf is most of the upper quarter of the stalk. They are dark, thick, tend to be small, their flavor and aroma are intense, their burn relatively poor, and their nicotine quite high. They are conceptually used to provide Fortaleza, or strength, though many current, premium cigars utilize Ligero heavily.
Corona leaves (sometimes called tip leaf) are the topmost four or so leaves on the stalk, below the start of the blossom head. They often ferment to nearly black (Oscuro). They are quite thick, very small, and have an exquisite aroma. Their nicotine is very high. They do not burn well. Corona leaf seldom appears on the whole leaf market. Their use is for very dark wrappers on specialty, small cigars (Petite Corona and smaller), and as a minor blending component. [Commercially, tobacco plants are often topped-the stalk-cut off-below the level at which corona leaf grows. This increases the strength, thickness, and size of all the remaining leaf.]
b. Spanish names for cigar wrapper leaf colors
Names for the colors of cigar wrappers are messy, sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in plain English, and sometimes as a designation of the global region of its popularity. With the exception of the Candela wrapper, which is artificially flash-cured to retain its green color, cigar leaf color is the result of a combination of tobacco variety and stalk position. Fermentation-the very same fermentation temperatures and duration-produces lighter leaf from lower on the stalk, and darker leaf from higher up the stalk. There is no need for extra efforts to achieve a specific color. It is intrinsic to the leaf. If all the leaf from an entire plant is fermented together, the lower leaf comes out lighter, the higher leaf darker. It just happens.
With only about a half-dozen wrapper color designations (aimed at cigar consumers), they are always inadequate in describing the continuum of color shades seen in wrappers. Intermediate tones are sometimes designated as, for example, claro-colorado. Although one can certainly identify not only wrapper leaf by its color, but also binder and filler, the color designations tend to be reserved for the wrapper, while the stalk-position names (volado, seco,viso, Ligero) are usually applied only to filler grade leaf.
1) Candela (or Double-Claro)
The name (candela) refers to their method of flash-curing, using heat. These bright or dull green, thin wrappers, are usually too delicate for use as binders and are not used in the filler. The leaf retains its chlorophyll, so tastes “green” or “grassy”. Sometimes labeled as AMS (for American Market Selection)
Claro is a light tan color. It presents a mild taste to a cigar and can be used to somewhat tame a more intense filler blend. Most claro leaf comes from the lower stalk. This is sometimes labeled “Natural”, as is EMS.
This is a vague color that encompasses darker claro as well as lighter Maduro. In some instances, it is literally reddish-brown, rosado. The flavor is richer. It generally comes from a mid-stalk leaf. It is sometimes designated as EMS (for English Market Selection).
The name means, “mature”. But its color has nothing to do with leaf maturity. It ranges from a rich chocolate brown to a very dark brown. The flavor is usually rich.
5) Oscuro (or Double-Maduro)
This is a wrapper that is nearly black. Its flavor is rich, sometimes slightly sweet. Only certain varieties of tobacco produce leaf that naturally ferments to oscuro. Some oscuro wrapper burns poorly, and thus require a binder beneath that burns well.
c. Determining your preference for nicotine strength
Although many cigar smokers enjoy a range of nicotine strength in their cigars, it is possible to blend cigars to have relatively low nicotine, or by contrast, to have toxic levels that cause you to feel ill. New tobacco users will have a baseline nicotine tolerance lower than that of experienced users.
Nicotine is absorbed from cigar smoke into the body almost instantly through the mouth and nasopharynx. Nicotine circulating in the body has a half-life of 1 to 2 hours, that is to say, without additional nicotine absorption, the current level of circulating nicotine will be reduced by half, over a span of 1 to 2 hours.
The earliest indication that you may have taken in more nicotine than you can handle is the sudden onset of hiccoughs or belching. As nicotine absorption continues, increasing nausea or malaise develops.
In evaluating your own preference for nicotine strength in the cigars that you blend, keep in mind that total cigar consumption per time is a factor. If you smoke two cigars sequentially, within a few hours’ time, the nicotine of the second cigar is added on top of most of the nicotine from the first. Thinner cigars release their nicotine more gradually than fatter cigars. Leaf from higher on the plant contains more nicotine than the lower leaf. And of course, heavier-weight cigars contain more nicotine than lighter-weight cigars of the same blend.
Nicotine is cleared from the body more slowly in individuals 65 years and older. Meals and physical activity usually speed the clearance of nicotine by the liver, while consumption of grapefruit juice slows nicotine clearance by the liver.
All of this detail is to highlight that personal nicotine preference can vary in the same individual under differing circumstances, at different times of the day, and at different ages.
[Benowitz NL, Hukkanen J, Jacob P: Nicotine Chemistry, Metabolism, Kinetics, and Biomarkers. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2009; (192): 29-60.]
In trying your own blends of different nicotine-strength cigars, your impression from a single cigar at a single moment in time may be misleading. Roll several of each blend, and try those spread over a span of a week.
Cigar filler that is predominantly seco filler is representative of the low end of nicotine strength. Very full nicotine strength can be achieved with half the filler as Ligero, a quarter viso, and a quarter seco. An all Ligero cigar (which might have a wonderful aroma) will knock most experienced cigar smokers onto their backsides.
There is no exact science to your preferred range, and only a modest rolling experience will give you a feel for your own sweet spot.
d. Testing leaf
There is more to cigar leaf than nicotine. Each variety has its own unique characteristics. Each grower may ship the same variety, but with subtle differences in character. Each growing region and each growing season add their own nuances to a batch of leaf.
To get a sense of the character of a new batch of leaf, roll a very small cigar (like a petite corona) with filler comprised entirely of that leaf. Use familiar wrapper and binder, or find usable wrapper and binder among the batch of filler leaf, and make a puro of that variety. With even the very finest leaf, this may not be the best way to enjoy it in a cigar, but the purpose is rather to identify what is unique about this particular leaf. Perhaps take notes.
e. Blending trials
Keep in mind that the apparent strength of a cigar using the very same filler blend increases as the diameter of the cigar increases. A blend that seems too mild in a smaller cigar may be perfect in a fatter cigar. Your impression will also be influenced by other factors beyond the cigar being smoked. Is it the first cigar of the day? Have you eaten? Are you drinking something while smoking it? Are there cooking aromas in the background?
Start with a general combination of seco/viso/Ligero ratios that is familiar to you. It will certainly be different with different varieties and batches of leaf, but that minimizes one confounding variable in comparing a new, trial blend to a blend with which you are already familiar.
In making adjustments to a new blend, do so in small increments. And take notes.
Roll the same trial filler blend in different wrapper/binder combinations, and in differing ring gauge cigars. Smoke them thoughtfully, so that you force yourself to analyze the characteristics of each trial cigar.
f. Your documentation
Even with a great memory, you will find that brief, contemporary notes, taken while thoughtfully smoking a test cigar, can prove helpful in settling on an ideal blend for your tastes. Keeping a tiny writing tablet handy will encourage you to jot down your thoughts as you smoke. Keep it simple, so that the process of documentation doesn’t become annoying. There is no advantage to writing elaborate prose, or consulting an “aroma wheel”. The notes are for you alone to read. Retain your notes.
There is a lot of myth surrounding “resting” a newly rolled cigar, prior to smoking it. Most of the resting time suggested by many is indeed required, in order to allow overly moist tobacco, rolled in an overly moist state, to dry down to an appropriately smokable condition. The melding of aromas, etc. is probably not meant for a cigar. If the filler is initially rolled while in low case, it will not substantially change over hours or days or weeks (or longer) of resting.
Depending on ambient humidity, the binder and wrapper do need to dry to the low case, in order to smoke at their best. This may be a mere 15 minutes or several hours or even longer. But once they are at the same low case as the filler, the cigar is ready to fire up.
If you want to taste cedar, then you will need to rest a cigar inside a cedar chest for a while. But this is more of a flavorant issue, rather than a natural “settling” aspect of tobacco that has been rolled into a cigar.
h. Cigar rolling problems
Leaf crumbles while stemming
The leaf is too dry-it is out of the case. Mist it very lightly with non-chlorinated water, place it into a container and wait a bit.
Small holes in the binder
Usually, a few small, random holes in the binder leaf won’t matter. If there is a hole that concerns you, lay a small, vein-free segment of the leaf (a patch, if you will) onto the hole prior to rolling the bunch, so that it will end up on the interior of the binder.
Binder tears easily
There are two reasons why a binder may tend to tear as you wrap a cigar. Each binder variety, and sometimes each leaf within a batch, depends on its stretch and tensile strength to remain intact as you roll. If you exceed that, usually from expecting it to perform too much compression of the bunch, then any binder will tear. For a novice roller, the most common cause of binder tears is that case of the binder leaf is too low. Mist the binder more, or allow it to hydrate inside a bag for longer, prior to rolling.
Binder leaf too small for cigar length
If you wish to roll a cigar that is longer than your available binder leaves will permit, then use an additional binder leaf. On the cutting board, layout the leaf strip that will bind the head end of the cigar, then lay a second binder leaf strip on top of it but moved toward the foot end. They must overlap for at least one circuit around the bunch, in order to stay wrapped. The “head” segment will trap the “foot” segment.
Binder toward the head is laid beneath the binder at the foot.
Bound bunch feels uneven this is all about your fingers and palms learning to feel a consistent volume in a compressed bunch. With practice, you will sense a softer spot, simply add a bit of additional filler to the soft spot. It just takes some practice.
Bound bunch has a soft head
Although the head may be simply lacking sufficient filler (see “uneven” above), the head may need to be tapered and compressed more tightly. Consider adding a reinforcement cap to the bound bunch.
Difficult to lift bound bunch from a cigar mold
Your bound bunch is too fat for the mold. If it requires considerable effort to seat a bound bunch into a mold well, the bunch should probably be taken apart and re-bound to a slightly smaller diameter.
Cigar glue won’t hold
The glue-water mixture is too wet-too runny. The glue of a proper consistency will prevent the sliding of the two contact surfaces as soon as they are pressed together. Allow your glue batch to dry a bit, and try again.
Wrapper frequently splits near the head while rolling
As with the binder, experience using a particular wrapper will provide a sense of how much stretch and tension the leaf can provide, before splitting. Also, a wrapper that is not in the high case will tend to split as you approach the head of a tapered cigar.
Small wrapper bursts near the head
Sometimes your chosen wrapper leaf may be too small for the cigar. If you attempt to make do with it, the wrapper is likely to burst near the head (in that last desperate inch of your desire to make it fit).
If the cigar is just for yourself, it does not need to resemble any other cigar on the planet. Remove the damaged wrapper, trim it to a reasonable shape, then leave as much of the binder exposed as necessary for the remaining wrapper to easily succeed. You will end up with a wrapper cap, large or small. Wrapper outer edge is curled over
Many wrappers can be laid perfectly flat at their outer edge, even without trimming. Some are too wavy at the margin to allow that. The quickest solution (why it is used in cigar factories) is to trim away that outer margin with a chaveta, leaving a flat, flawless edge. Otherwise, care and practice will allow you to maintain a flat, uncurled outer margin without trimming.
Wrapper outer edge does not lay against the cigar
This is due to applying inadequate stretch at the outer margin while wrapping. The wrapper may need additional moisture. It is also possible that the edge needs to have some of its curve trimmed away with a chaveta.
Wrapper inner edge tends to fold or pleat as I roll a tapered cigar
The wrapper usually needs to overlap only about 3/8 inch. If the wrapper strip is too broad, the inner edge will be unable to lay flat as the cigar curves away. Try a narrower trim to the wrapper strip.
Draw too tight/ too loose in finished cigar
If the cigar appears and feels well rolled, but the draw is too tight or too loose, the adjustment is usually about compression of the filler by the binder. If the filler is in too high a case, it is easy to over-compress it, without applying much pressure while rolling. Stuffing a perfectly compressed bunch into a cigar mold designed for a narrower diameter cigar will lead to a beautiful cigar that will not draw. A “knot” or folded-up chunk of tobacco within an otherwise aligned filler can serve as a choke point.
Filler in the low case is difficult to over-compress in cigars that are the diameter of a corona or greater (about 5/8 inch). With very thin gauge cigars, the very same compression can obstruct flow. You will just have to practice more to acquire a sense of how tightly to compress a lancero.
If the draw is too loose, simply increase the compression applied by the binder.
Cigar burns down the side
Bunching using a book or accordion method has a tendency to create airflow channels at the folded corners. If a portion of a “stack” of the folded leaf is curved to fit within the bounds of a cigar’s sides, the area of filler opposite that curved stack will serve as a low-resistance flow channel for air and combustion, causing channeling down the side, or “canoeing”. One remedy is to fold narrower “books” or pleats. Another is to use a different bunching method.
Smoking a cigar in windy conditions tends to cause the cigar to burn down one side.
Cigar won’t burn
All finished cigar leaves will burn, some better than others. Leaf from lower on the stalk (e.g. seco) usually burns better than a leaf from the upper stalk (e.g. viso and Ligero). In addition to the intrinsic combustibility of the leaf, some leaf is more hygroscopic (water-attracting and holding) than other leaves. With these latter tobaccos, smoking them in very high ambient humidity (where the relative humidity is chronically elevated well above 75%) leads to a cigar that may light easily, but then go out with increasing frequency, and perhaps become “fire-proof” after smoking only about half of it.
There are only two possible solutions. Save these cigars for very dry conditions, or alter the blend.
[For home-grown leaf, using a fertilizer that contains too much chloride may lead to very poor leaf combustion.]
Cigar too mild
Add more viso or Ligero, and less seco to the blend. (Ligero is stronger than viso.)
Cigar too strong
Add more seco and less viso and ligero to the blend. (Ligero is stronger than viso.)
Cigar won’t hold an ash
Some wrappers tend to continually shed fine flakes of ash. Tobacco ash is entirely residual minerals, with all the lignin of the leaf fiber consumed in the combustion. What is amazing is that any cigars hold long ash. Of course, different leaf ingredients in the filler, binder, and wrapper have different structures to their leftover minerals. Cigar ash without a binder or wrapper usually collapses soon after it is formed. So most of the ash retention is due to the layered nature of the wrapper and binder in contrast to the lay of the filler-similar to plywood. A possible approach to improving ash hold is to increase the overlap of the wrapper or to just use a double binder.
Cigar won’t relight after I set it down for a while
Smoking a cigar increases the moisture content of the filler. Letting the lit cigar go out permits that moisture to be more fully absorbed into the cooling filler leaf, whereas continued smoking keeps the filler warmer, driving the moisture out through the head. If the ambient humidity is higher than your humidor’s humidity where the cigar sat, it may have absorbed even more moisture.
Some tobacco varieties (and some batches of the same variety) are more hygroscopic than others and tend to more easily latch on ambient humidity. Storing in 60 to 65% RH may remedy the problem, except when the ambient humidity is quite high.
There may be a lot of factors at play.
i. Selecting and Using WLT cigar blend kits
“These blends are made up of filler, binder, and wrapper parts and include cigar glue so you have everything you need to create your cigars in one package. Each blend contains about 1 lb. Of tobacco which is enough to make approximately twenty 50 x 7 cigars. Cigar kits are a great way to economically sample multiple tobaccos.”
Unless you are already accustomed to smoking potent cigars, start with one of the milder blend kits, such as the Melodioso Cremosa kit. You can always purchase separate viso or ligero leaf of any variety to bolster the strength of your initial blends seems too mild. Or you can go with the Sabroso Medio, which is a bit stronger blend.
If you are certain that you want to start with a stout blend, then select any of the other blend kits.