Spotlight: The Ageing Process
As with our favourite wines and whiskies, the most delicious things are usually aged/fermented to give them their fantastic flavours. Tobacco is no different.
In light of some of the team (the lucky ones) attending the 20th Habanos Festival, we thought we would continue our Spotlight Series on our EGM Cuban Cigars Blog and give our readers a deeper insight into the processes of creating Cuban Cigars. This post is going to be about the ageing and fermentation process.
When all of the tobacco leaves have been harvested, both sun grown and shade grown leaves will undergo various processes to harness their bold or lighter flavours. This is achieved by the process of air curing, fermentation, moistening, sorting and classification, resting and bailing before finally being aged in the warehouse.
The leaves are first stored in tobacco houses and set to dry. This is where they will lose starch and water, which in turn, turns the tobacco leaves from green to brown. The leaves are hung on bars that span across the roof and are moved to higher levels as the leaves dry out. This process demands a lot of attention as the humidity can not reach over 85 percent and if it does, the leaves will have to be exposed to the sun to ensure that they do not swell up. On the other hand, if it has been a rainy season then a charcoal fire will have to be lit to maintain the right level of humidity. Like we said, it takes a lot of attention and care to make sure the cigars are filled with the best quality tobacco.
After this, the process of fermentation will begin. This process eliminates the nitrogen and resins in the tobacco leaves. This is carried out very carefully as all of the leaves are very fragile at this point after being air cured. The leaves are taken out of the drying room and bunched together, which are then piled on top of a bed of banana leaves and covered entirely with palm leaves. Over the course of this process, the temperature will begin to rise and the fermentation of the leaves commences. As with air curing, this process requires constant attention to ensure that the humidity levels do not exceed the required percentage. This lasts for about two months and is carried out not once, but three times to ensure that the acidity, tar and nicotine levels are reduced, as well as removing any impurities.
The next step is to classify these dried and fermented leaves, but first they must be packed up to be sent to the various warehouses. In this procedure, most of the village will come and work together to select and package the leaves. It is a ritual and tradition that continues to be enjoyable and important to the villagers. After this, the wrappers are assorted into categories to ensure that the best wrapper is matched with the correct binder and filler leaves. The binder and filler leaves on the other hand will be sorted based on their flavours, thickness, colour, texture and shape etc.
And finally these are then packed into bales, labelled with details such as size, the harvest year and the date they were packaged and then transferred into warehouses where they will be left to age.
Light-flavoured filler leaves (Volado) require a minimum of 9 months aging, seen in such cigars as:
Medium-flavoured filler leaves (Seco) need from 12-18 months, seen in cigars such as:
Full-flavoured (Ligero and Medio Tiempo) filler leaves are aged from at least two years, seen in cigars such as:
And wrapper leaves are aged for only 6 months, because they must not overpower the delicious and delightful flavours of the filler leaves.
In celebration of the 20th Habanos Festival we are going to be covering the daily goings on there, so be sure to keep up to date by following our Instagram and blog.