Tobacco Terms

Aging: The period during which newly made cigars rest in humidity-controlled, cedar-lined storage areas, called “aging rooms.” This gives the flavors of the tobaccos within the cigars the time to blend.

Air-curing: A natural drying process in which harvested tobacco leaves are hung to dry in an air-curing barn. The barn is a wooden structure that can be either closed completely or ventilated, depending on weather conditions. Tobacco that has been air-cured is typically brown in color.

Band: A ring of paper wrapped around the closed head of most cigars, often bearing the name of the brand, country of origin and/or indication that the cigar is hand-rolled.

Binder: The tobacco leaf that holds the filler together in a cigar and gives the cigar its shape. In most cases, the binder may be covered by another tobacco leaf called a wrapper, resulting in a finished cigar.

Blend: A mixture of tobacco varieties or grades to meet a customer’s specifications for quality, flavor and aroma.

Broken leaf: Refers to a cigar wrapper leaf of which the lamina on either side of the midrib is damaged by one or more holes or defects.

Bunch: The intermediate cluster of long-filler tobacco in a cigar.

Buncher, Bunchbreaker or Bunchmaker: The person in a cigar factory who wraps a binder leaf around the filler to create a “bunch.”

Burley: A type of tobacco that is light brown to deep reddish brown in color and has an aroma similar to cocoa. It is often air-cured and comes in two types: Filler and Flavor. Filler-type Burley is generally light in body and neutral in flavor, whereas Flavor-type Burley is similar to flue-cured tobacco in weight and has a stronger flavor.

Cap: The small piece of wrapper leaf and vegetable gum-based glue that a cigar roller uses to seal the head of a cigar.

Cheroot: A small, usually round but sometimes square cigar that has a straight-cut mouth end and a straight-cut burning end.

Cigarillos: Popular in Europe, these thin, normally three-inch cigars are generally machine-made and often use homogenized wrappers.

Cigar filler: A term referring to the innermost portion of a cigar or the tobacco from which it is made. There are two types of filler tobaccos, long filler and short filler.

Color: The color of tobacco is a significant indicator of its ripeness and overall quality. Monitoring color changes during ripening, curing and fermentation is important for producing high-quality tobacco and tobacco products.

Conditioning: The process of adding moisture and/or heat to tobacco, which makes it pliable to withstand handling, processing and manufacturing without breaking. Over-conditioning can lower the quality of the tobacco.

Corona: A cigar that has a thick body, a spherical mouth end and a straight-cut burning end. The name stems from the La Corona Cigar Factory in Havana, Cuba, which was the first to manufacture cigars with these characteristics.

Curing: The step immediately after harvesting to remove all natural sap from the leaves so the tobacco can be further processed. There are four primary methods of curing: air-curing, flue-curing, fire-curing and sun-curing. All curing methods focus on regulating the rate at which moisture is removed from the tobacco.

Curing barn: A structure in which the necessary conditions for curing tobacco can be created and controlled.

Dark air-cured tobacco (cigar type): A type of tobacco distinguished by the fermentation process it undergoes. Fermentation gives dark air-cured tobacco its medium- to dark-brown color and distinct aroma. Dark air-cured tobacco is used in cigars, dark cigarettes, pipe mixtures, and chewing and other smokeless tobacco products.

Dark cigarettes: Blended cigarettes made almost exclusively of dark air-cured or dark fire-cured tobacco. Sometimes called “black cigarettes.”

Draw: The amount of air that gets pulled through a lit cigar, cigarette or pipe.

Eastern Belt: The flue-cured tobacco market area located in the eastern and central portions of North Carolina.

English-blend cigarettes: A type of blended cigarette made almost entirely of flue-cured tobacco. Also called Virginia cigarettes.

Fermentation: The transformation of the chemical components of tobacco by oxidation to remove its bitter, harsh taste. The process can last anywhere from several days to six months or more. There are primarily two methods of fermentation — traditional fermentation and chamber fermentation. Traditional fermentation involves placing tobacco in large stacks so that the chemical reaction caused by the moisture and warm temperature is intensified by the pressure within the stack. This gives the tobacco a more uniform color and a smoother aroma and taste. Chamber fermentation involves stacking tobacco in a sealed room (chamber) and controlling the humidity and temperature at optimal conditions, usually accelerating the fermentation process.

Fire-curing: A method of curing that involves removing all of the natural sap and moisture from tobacco leaves. As the name suggests, tobacco is exposed to the heat and smoke of open fires to allow the leaves to absorb the aromatic substances of the smoke. The type and age of the wood, as well as the duration of the exposure to the smoke, all affect the tobacco’s taste, which is why these factors vary depending on the end-product desired.

Flue-cured tobacco: A type of tobacco that is cured with artificial heat, which gives it a sweet aroma and a color ranging from light yellow to dark orange. It is also called bright leaf or Virginia tobacco.

Foot: The end of the cigar meant for lighting.

Frog-stripping: A method of preparing cigar filler that involves removing the stem of a tobacco leaf in such a way that the two halves of the leaf remain joined at the top; this is said to resemble a frog’s legs, hence the name. “Frog-strips” are used as long filler in handmade cigars.

Grading: The process of assigning pre-defined symbols, letters or numbers to tobacco as an indicator of its quality. The tobacco’s stalk position, color, texture, elasticity and leaf size are among the factors taken into account in the grading process. Most tobacco is graded before it is sold, and the grade can be an important determinant of the price a buyer is willing to pay. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has 117 official tobacco grades. Manufacturers and leaf dealers often have their own grades that are used internally.

Green tobacco: Typically refers to tobacco that has been cured but has not undergone other processes.

Harvesting: Collecting tobacco leaves from the field when leaf maturity has reached its desired stage. Harvesting can be done by either manual or mechanical means. Flue-cured and dark air-cured tobaccos are harvested in stages, meaning that individual leaves are removed from the stalk as they ripen (also called priming), rather than all at once. The leaves generally ripen from the ground up. Harvesting burley tobacco can be done in stages or by cutting the entire stalk near the ground and removing all of the leaves at the same time. The process used is generally determined by the climate conditions of the growing region.

Head: The end of the cigar that goes into the smoker’s mouth.

Humidor: An airtight box, usually made of wood, with a humidifying element used for storing cigars to preserve optimal smoking condition.

Immature: A term describing tobacco that has not reached a full state of ripeness in the field.

Kentucky tobacco: Fire-cured tobacco that was originally grown in Kentucky and Tennessee in the United States, but is now grown in various other regions and countries as well. Kentucky tobacco is used primarily in the production of chewing tobacco, moist snuff, RYO and pipe blends.

Lamina: The extended part of the leaf that is divided from the base to the tip by the stem; its framework is provided by the veins that extend from the stem. This term is used to refer only to the leaf blade — it does not include any portion of the stem. In contrast, the term whole leaf is used to refer to both the blade and stem of a leaf.

Left wrapper: The reverse or upside-down part of the wrapper that a cigar maker sometimes uses instead of the normal side of the wrapper.

Light air-cured tobacco: Tobacco that is cured primarily with natural rather than artificial heat and is typically brown or light brown in color. In contrast to dark air-cured tobacco, light air-cured tobacco is not fermented.

Long filler cigars: Handmade cigars made with long filler as the innermost portion of the cigar. See “frog-stripping.”

Machine-made cigar or short filler cigars: A cigar made primarily by machine. The filler in most machine-made cigars consists of short filler or tobacco scraps.

Non-tobacco-related material: Any material other than tobacco that is inadvertently included with tobacco leaves, such as stones, glass, string, pieces of metal, etc. Removing non-tobacco-related material during processing is called “picking” the tobacco.

Oriental tobacco: A type of tobacco characterized by its small leaves and strong aroma. The oriental tobacco plant produces more leaves than other tobacco types and is primarily grown in the Mediterranean countries: Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Pad: A grouping of tobacco leaves in green form, held together by natural compression. It also refers to a portion of tobacco that has been prepared for use in making cigars by hand. In the latter context, the tobacco in a pad would have been stemmed for use as binder or wrapper. This is also known as a book.

Picadura: Large-size cigar leaf scraps.

Pinch test: Checking the construction of a cigar by lightly pinching it between the thumb and index finger. It should feel firm, but not too hard.

Plug: An obstruction in the cigar that makes drawing difficult, often caused by tightness in the rolling of the cigar.

Priming: A method of harvesting that involves removing individual leaves from the tobacco stalk as they ripen rather than removing all of the leaves at once.

Processing: A general term for all of the processes applied to tobacco after it has been cured and before it is used in the manufacture of tobacco products. In the case of dark air-cured tobaccos, processing includes grading, fermentation and packaging. Processing for cigarette tobaccos involves various stages, including blending, threshing, re-drying and packaging.

Recorte de Capa: The by-product — consisting of parts of wrapper leaf — left over from hand-making cigars.

Roll-your-own: Cigarettes that are made by hand with cut tobacco and cigarette papers and do not have filters. Sometimes abbreviated as RYO.

Serroon: The bale package for cigar leaf made from palm leaves. Common in Cuba.

Shade grown: Wrapper leaf for cigars grown under a shade of cheese cloth or other synthetic materials designed to retain around 30% of the natural sunlight. A shade-grown wrapper leaf is thinner in texture than a sun-grown wrapper.

Sound leaf: A wrapper leaf with both sides of the lamina undamaged by holes or other defects.

Straight-laid: A tobacco that has been packed in rows with all stems facing the same direction. By contrast, the term “tangled” describes tobacco leaves that have been randomly layered in a bale or package.

Strips: Lamina removed from the midrib of the leaf. If this is done by machine, the result is relatively small particles. Hand stripping results in larger pieces. See “frog-stripping.”

Sun-curing: A curing method that involves removing all the natural sap and moisture from tobacco leaves. In this method, tobacco leaves are exposed to full sunlight, drying the leaves completely. All Oriental tobacco and certain types of Virginia tobaccos are sun-cured.

Tangled: Loose tobacco leaves that have been randomly layered in a bale or package. By contrast, “straight-laid” leaves are packed in rows with all the stems facing the same direction.

Tikar: A bale package for cigar leaf made from woven bamboo bark, mostly used in Indonesia.

Tunneling: The uneven burning of a cigar usually caused by the uneven tightness of the filler.

Variegated: Describes tobacco with uneven color after curing. Variegated leaves remain green, yellow or bleached in some places, while the rest of the leaf shows the normal coloring of its type.

Veins: The bundles of tissue that extend from the stem to form the framework of the blade in a tobacco leaf.

Wrapper: A tobacco leaf used as the outermost covering of a cigar, surrounding the binder. Relatively few tobacco leaves can be used as wrappers because they must meet several requirements for quality — for example, their appearance must be nearly flawless and uniform in color. In certain cases, tobacco is specifically grown for use as a wrapper.