Cigars are comprised of surprisingly few component parts. Unlike cigarettes, which usually have filters, two different kinds and colors of paper, and filler ingredients other than tobacco, premium cigars are made of 100% tobacco. What makes one cigar so different from another is the type of tobacco, where that tobacco is grown, when the leaves are picked, how the picked leaves are then cured and fermented, and how the finished leaves are cut and rolled. Because cigars are made in so many parts of the world, there is a diverse range of products, and it can get confusing navigating the cigar landscape.
Today we’ll be looking at wrappers, fillers, and binders, including what they are, the purpose they serve, and some common examples used in premium cigar manufacturing.
Cigars are composed mostly of what is known as filler tobacco. Filler is used in either long or short varieties. Long filler in cigars is comprised of whole tobacco leaves, whereas short filler contains a chopped mixture of leaves (sometimes just the leaves), stems, and other plant materials. In most cases, cigars with long fillers are of superior quality. Premium handmade cigars will almost always contain long filler, while machine made, and some super low budget brand cigars (think gas station cigars) will contain short filler. Some manufacturers use a combination of long and short filler in cigars, a method known as the Cuban sandwich.
Cigars have fillers comprised of three basic types of tobacco: Seco, Volado, and Ligero. Cigars with Seco filler are drier and have a lighter flavor. Volado filler produces a mid-range flavor. Ligero is the darkest, oiliest filler, producing cigars with lots of bold flavors and aromatic smoke.
One reason to choose thicker cigars (Churchills or Double Coronas, for example) is that these cigars obviously have more room for filler tobacco. This gives the cigar blender the ability to add blends of Seco, Volado, and Ligero varieties. You will find that these bigger cigars generally produce more varied and complex flavor combinations.
Many low-end cigars will only use wrappers and fillers; however, premium quality handmade cigars will have another component called binders. Binders are an intermediate layer of more elastic tobacco leaf that helps cigars hold the filler material together in a more cohesive manner. The best cigars have binders that also add another complementary flavor to enhance the overall smoking experience.
The outermost layer of cigars is called the wrapper. It is made from the widest part of the tobacco leaves, and it has a big impact on the cigars flavor and aroma. Cigar wrappers vary in color, and because the wrapper color is what is most visible, cigars are often described by the wrapper color. Here is a list, from lightest to darkest:
- Double Claro: very light color (sometimes with a green tinge); color comes from leaves that are picked while still immature and cured quickly.
- Claro: light-brown or yellowish-brown color, which is the result of tobacco plants grown predominantly in shade.
- Natural: light-brown or brown.
- Colorado Claro: medium brown; most often associated with Cuban or Dominican Republic tobacco.
- Colorado (or Rosado): reddish-brown.
- Maduro: dark brown; a very popular choice among serious connoisseurs of cigars.
- Oscuro: very dark brown to oily black; typically exudes a pungent aroma and deeper flavor.