Cigar Rolling Fundamentals: Juanita Ramos Guerra
One afternoon in the Italian alps of Corteno Golgi, we sat down with legendary torcedor Juanita Ramos Guerra and were given an intimate and informative lesson in rolling Cuban cigars. A moment and memory which we will treasure forever, we felt as though we were in the presence of one of the most talented and charismatic individuals in the Cuban cigar world. Juanita removed and set up her table with finesse, taking her time to make sure that every instrument was placed in the correct place and somewhere easily accessible. It was obvious she had spent many years honing her craft and it truly showed in the way she lovingly and expertly handled her prized instruments.
Chaveta – The inseparable torcedor’s blade. Used to cut the leaves of tobacco.
Casquillo – A metal cylinder with a sharp edge on one side. Used to cut the round the ‘cabeza’ or cap that seals the cigar on its head.
Tabla – Wooden board on top of which the tobacco leaves are combined and rolled.
Goma – Odourless and tasteless vegetable glue used to to hold the leaves together.
Juanita explains the tobacco leaves needed (maybe a transition paragraph here would be good).
Each cigar contains 5 types of tobacco leaves that come from different parts of the plant. As one can imagine, each of these leaves serves a distinct function.
The cigar filler, or tripa as it is known in Spanish, is made of three leaves:
- Ligero for strength.
- Seco for aroma.
- Volado for combustion.
The combination of these three leaves is referred to as Ligada (blend) which is very personal to each roller and it is often a closely guarded secret.
A fourth leaf called Capote (binder) is needed to hold together the tripa or body of the cigar.
And finally the Capa, the most beautiful and delicate of all leaves, is the outer leaf that the torcedor will apply last. This leaf is referred to in English as wrapper.
Working the leaves...
We ask Juanita to show us the process of manufacturing a Cañonazo, a very popular vitola which was created for the Cohiba Siglo VI cigar.
The first leaf to be used is the Capote (binder). With a swift movement Juanita removes the central vein (which contains most of the nicotine), divides the leaf into two halves and places them flat on her wooden board, on top of each other. She explains that all of the leaves must be pointing in the same direction, so it’s very important to remember in which way one starts!
Binder leaves down, it is time to prepare the filler. Juanita holds the leaves in her left hand and crunches them together to start forming the body of the cigar. She explains that the strong Ligero leaves always go in the middle, while the Volado and Seco leaves go all around. Again, it’s important that all leaves face in the same direction and specifically that the tip of the leaves are placed towards the foot of the cigar. This, Juanita says, is because the most pleasant and delicate flavours of the leaves are in their tip.
Once the filler bunch reaches the desired girth for the vitola desired, she proceeds with masterfully rolling the binder leaf (capote) around it. The first touch of glue is used here to hold the binder leaf together at the top. In a cigar factory this first roll would then be placed inside a mould (molde) and let to rest for a couple of hours. This process is needed to ensure that all cigars are exactly the same girth, so that they can fit perfectly inside those beautiful cigar boxes we all love to hold.
Juanita then pulls out a beautiful and oily wrapper leaf and she lays it flat on her wooden board. With the dexterity of a true craftswoman, she begins to roll the wrapper leaf around the cigar, keeping the wrapper flat on the board with one hand and rolling and folding the cigar over it with the other. It is really beautiful to watch. Again, a tiny touch of glue is used here and there to hold the leaf together but it’s only a very small amount.
Time to finish the cigar with a beautiful Cabeza. Juanita finds a piece of capa leaf without any apparent veins, applies a little bit of glue over it, and cuts a perfect circle out of it with her Casquillo. She then grabs the cigar and dabs the head over the circular piece of leaf. A touch more of glue over the head to seal the cap and the cigar is now complete.
See the full video on our YouTube below and watch the master at work. As you’ll be able to see Juanita takes full joy in making Cuban cigars, with one of her own resting on an ashtray awaiting her to finish rolling, as well as a glass of Cuba’s Santiaga Rum. Who says work can't be fun!
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