In early cigar factories, rollers would nominate one of their coworkers to the position of “Lector” to entertain the workers by reading or acting out either classic novels or newspaper articles from a podium in the middle of the factory while they worked. The Lector, or Reader, was oftentimes the only means by which many of the workers that were illiterate received any type of outside education.
The Serie de Lector is a multi-part series that focuses on education straight from the mouths and hearts of current cigar masters, blenders and farmers, to allow access into their world and to foster a greater appreciation for the premium cigar process from seed to store.
Part I; Seeding
Consumers see and enjoy the finished product that is a premium cigar, oftentimes without being privy to information or even images of the origin, the genesis, the seed. The process of selecting seeds for growing tobacco is just as or more important than the blending and rolling itself. The following narrative is all about the seed. We even had the opportunity to hear the importance of this extremely important step in cigar production straight from the mouth of one of our cigar masters, José Blanco (video below) of EPC Cigars.
We live in a world where only the strong survive. While nature relies on the theory of natural selection, tobacco farmers leave nothing to chance when it comes to growing, hand selecting and preserving a plant’s lineage and characteristics. Their processes, in efforts to grow only the best tobacco and maintaining quality, consistency, texture and taste, ensure that only the best and brightest crops are used to produce our favorite cigars year after year.
Farms are not simply planted and left to grow on their own. Each and every step is carefully planned and supervised in order to yield plants that are certain heights, leafs that are certain sizes, and leafs that have particular thickness and textures.
“So where do these magic seeds come from? I’ve never seen pictures of a flower on a tobacco plant!”
I’m glad you asked. While tobacco flowers aren’t usually shown on the Google, it’s a plant, so there has to be a blossom of some kind! Tobacco flowers are actually quite beautiful if you get a chance to see one. Pink in color and full of small pods, one tobacco flower can produce as many as 150 thousands seeds.
Instead of traditional methods of growing crops, being planted in the open, premium tobacco seeds (which are extremely small and can be blown or washed away by wind or water) are grown nurseries or greenhouses called semilleros. Planted in its own container and protected from outside elements and insects, each seedling is watched over daily, nursed and pruned, while the weakest and underdeveloped plants are discarded and never make their way to the fields.
Farmers inspect every tobacco plant in a field searching for the most attractive and strongest plants. Those seeds are preserved for a “tobacco studding” process. A manila paper bag is placed over the flower that sits atop the plant to collect the seeds as they naturally fall out, which also protects the leafs, as falling seeds can land on the leaf and sit, causing damage. Because of that potential damage, all of the remaining tobacco flowers are “topped” or cut off, which is why those that don’t frequent farms typically don’t see them.
The personally selected seeds from the chosen plants are stored, studied and saved for future crops so that they can yield leafs that are of the same lineage year after year. This is the first stage in being able to enjoy a cigar and then having the same feel and taste years later as if they were made at the exact same time.
During the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR) 2017 annual trades show in Las Vegas, I asked renowned farmer and blender Jose Blanco (now with EPC Cigars) to explain the origins and importance of seed selection (and where they’re grown) for premium cigar manufacturing.