Harvesting

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q.v. Cultivation of Tobacco, Cuban Tobacco, Anatomy of a Habano

Around 40 days after planting out, the harvest can begin – a laborious task because each leaf must be picked by hand. Only two or three leaves can be taken at a time, with days to wait between each picking.

The harvesting of a single plant takes close to 30 days to complete. Leaves are picked at intervals from the bottom up, allowing time between pickings for the plant to develop its remaining leaves. Shade-grown plants are taller with more leaves, and so they require more pickings. The Mañanita leaves that are picked first are too small for Habanos, but they are the perfect size for Cuban mini cigars (Minis Cubanos).

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Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

Contents

Air Curing

The first process for the newly harvested leaf, on which the success of the whole crop depends, is a slow and careful period of air curing which removes moisture and turns the leaf by stages to golden brown.

Air curing in the traditional manner

Air curing in the traditional manner Most leaves are cured in traditional curing barns (casas de tabaco) that depend entirely on the natural effects of the climate. The leaves are sewn in pairs and hung astride poles which are placed on racks in the barn. As the leaf cures, so the pole is raised progressively higher in the racks. Ventilation and light must be constantly adjusted to allow for natural variations in temperature and humidity.

Controlled curing for shade-grown leaf

The 1990s saw a major investment in temperature and humidity control for the curing of the precious wrapper leaves, to overcome the unpredictable conditions in a conventional barn. This is air curing at its most refined, with optimum conditions replicated around the clock. The time it takes is naturally less. But there is still the need for constant vigilance and adjustment as the condition of the leaf develops – the more so, because the process now runs at full pace day and night.

Leaving the farm

Once the leaf is cured, the farmer’s job is done and the task passes to the Empresa de Acopio y Beneficio del Tabaco – the ‘organisation for the gathering and improvement of tobacco’ which buys the leaf from the farmer. The cured leaf, separated picking by picking, is now ready to go to the Sorting House for its first fermentation.

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Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

First Fermentation

The cured leaves are tied in bunches called gavillas and taken from the farm to the Sorting House, or Escogida. There they are placed in cloth-covered piles and undergo an entirely natural process of fermentation, triggered by the moisture in the leaf. Fermentation is essential to the smoking quality of the cigar. It sweats out impurities in the leaf, reducing acidity, tar and nicotine. It smooths the flavour of the filler leaves and evens out the colour of the wrappers.

Leaves that were grown higher up the plant need a longer period of fermentation because they are thicker and richer in oils.

The fermentation process is precisely the same as takes place in a garden compost heap. Moisture and compression combine to generate heat. Constant supervision is required to ensure that things do not go too far.

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Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

Sorting and Classification

It is now time for the leaves to be sorted for the roles they will ultimately play in the making of a Habano. Size, colour and texture are the three criteria that guide the sorters.

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Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

Wrappers as you might expect get the closest attention. First they are moistened and aired to prepare them for handling. Then they are classified into a bewildering array of some 50 different categories designed to ensure that only the most perfect will ever dress a Habano. Any leaf below a certain standard is rejected and set aside for other purposes.

Sun-grown leaves are sorted into three sizes and the three essential categories of flavour or tiempos that come together in the blending of the filler: ligero, seco and volado.

Leaves picked from the lower levels of the plant supply the lighter-flavoured volado (also termed Fortaleza 1) and the largest and best of these are selected as binders. Leaves from the middle provide the medium-flavoured seco (Fortaleza 2). Leaves from the top provide the fullerflavoured ligero (Fortaleza 3).

As with wrappers, some leaf is certain to be rejected at this stage and set aside for the making of non-Habano cigars and cigarettes.

Once sorted and rested, the wrapper leaves, which being thin only need one fermentation, are now ready to be packed in bales known as tercios for transfer to the warehouse where they will be left to age like fine wine. Sun-grown leaf however requires further attention . . .

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Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

Stripping and final Classification

The sorted filler and binder leaf is now transferred to the Stripping House (Despalillo) where the first process is a moistening – or moja – that makes the leaf pliable for stripping and supplies the moisture that will drive the second fermentation.

The sure fingers of the Despalilladoras strip out the lower portion of the central vein in each leaf. At the same time they conduct the final classification into the three tiempos (ligero, seco and volado). Once again any leaves that do not make the grade are rejected. Finally the leaves are stacked in small piles and pressed between boards.

Stripping.jpg

Source: 5THAVENUE Products Trading GmbH

Second Fermentation

Filler and binder leaves are now fermented a second time. The piles are much larger and the fermentation is longer than the first.

Once again the thicker, fuller-flavoured leaves get the longest fermentation. The thinner, lighterflavoured leaves get the least.

The temperature of fermentation has to be watched with care. When it gets too hot, the pile is broken up, the leaves are allowed to cool down and the stack is rebuilt the other way round (bottom leaves to the top, top leaves to the bottom). This may happen several times in the course of the fermentation.

Ageing

After the second fermentation, the sun-grown leaves are aired on racks for a few days, then packed and transferred to the warehouse where they join the wrapper leaves for the final patient process of ageing.

The fullest-flavoured leaf is aged the longest and the lightest-flavoured leaf is aged the least. Like a fine wine, the longer the leaf is left to mature, the better it will be.

Filler and binder leaves are packed in hessian bales called pacas. Wrappers are packed in tercios made from Yagua which is the loose bark of the Royal Palm tree, a material used for many purposes in Cuba.

Every bale carries a label rich with information about the leaf including its size, the year of harvest and the date of packing. Tercios are also marked with the code for the escogida where the wrappers were sorted. In addition the labels on pacas indicate the leaf’s tiempo as well as both the escogida and the despalillo where the binders and fillers were processed.

It is this that indicates to the blender the specific local character of the leaf which is the key to the distinctive blending of each Habano brand.

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