One of the more confusing topics in cigars concerns the classification of tobacco primings. Not a lot of cigar smokers are able to talk in-depth about the leaves on a tobacco plant, how they are harvested, or which leaves on the stalk are used to make premium cigars. So you’ll be well equipped to lead the discussion the next time you’re at the cigar parlor enjoying a stogie with your fellow cigar aficionados after you read this article.
First, a little on how cigar harvesting works
When tobacco plants on the field mature and their leaves are ready to be harvested, the leaves are harvested either mechanically or by hand. Different types of tobacco grown in different regions are harvested in different ways at different times. Some stalks are cut all at once, and all the leaves are harvested simultaneously, as with burley tobacco. Other types of tobacco, like flue-cured tobacco, are harvested leaf by leaf in stages. This process is called priming. When tobacco leaves are primed, the individual leaves are pulled off the stalk as they ripen, instead of all at one time.
The term primings specifically is used to refer to the leaves which are located nearest to the ground (but this is not the typical use of the word in conversation). These leaves are also called sand leaves, because they must be thoroughly cleansed of the dirt and sand they come into contact with before they can be used. Many cannot be used at all, and are simply discarded.
Generally speaking, however, the word primings may refer to any of the leaves on a tobacco plant—and this is the most common colloquial use of the term. Different names are used for the leaves on various types of tobacco plants. Tobacco plants may have up to eight primings. Plants with fewer leaves from top to bottom will have fewer primings. For example, the names are different for the two most common types of tobacco plants, Corojo and Criollo :
Criollo primings, from top (highest part of the plant) to bottom (lowest part of the plant, near the soil):
These are the most common names for the leaves of a tobacco plant, but not the only names which can be used.
Corojo primings, from top to bottom:
- Semi Corona
- Centro Gordo
- Centro Fino
- Centro Ligero
- Uno Y Medio
- Libra De Pie
Corona leaves, or the topmost leaves on tobacco plants, usually are not used to make premium cigars. The reason for this is that the leaves are typically very small. Ligeros on the second row down on the other hand generally can be used. Outside the Cuban market, the topmost leaves may all be called ligeros. This is inclusive of the coronas, which are considered a subset of the ligeros. So corona leaves are a type of ligero, but ligeros may or may not be coronas.
Ligeros are particularly desirable for use in premium cigars. Why? These leaves get the most sunlight, and are usually more substantial than the other leaves. They are thicker and heavier, and have taken in more nutrients than the bottom leaves. These leaves have more body and strength than the lower leaves. The stronger the leaves used in a cigar, the more robust the cigar will be. These leaves typically are more flavorful as well.
Typically a variety of leaves will be used from different parts of the stem in order to produce a cigar that has a controlled burn, solid construction, and a good combination of flavor and strength. You may sometimes see a cigar that states it is all-corojo or all-ligero. Typically these cigars still use primings from several different rows, which helps to balance out the construction and the strength.
A Note on Color vs. Strength
Note that not all terms which refer to cigar leaves necessarily refer to primings. For example, the word maduro does not refer to a leaf which grows at a particular level on the tobacco plant. A maduro may grow anywhere on a tobacco plant. The word refers to the color of the leaf, not the strength.
It is also common for cigar smokers, especially newbies, to assume there is a direct correlation between flavor and strength. By considering the fact that a maduro leaf may grow anywhere on a tobacco plant, and may refer to any priming, it is easier to understand why there is no direct relationship. Darker cigars are often strong, and lighter cigars are often mild, but there are very strong light cigars, and very mild dark colored cigars. The difference in strength comes not from the color of the tobacco leaf, but which primings were used—those closer to the top of the plant, or those closer to the bottom.
Now you should have a basic understanding of the different primings on a tobacco plant, how they are harvested, and the logic which goes into deciding which primings to use to formulate a premium cigar. This knowledge can really help you out while you are visiting your local tobacconist and shopping for your next premium cigar. It’s also great for generating conversation when you are smoking with friends. Alternatively you can generate this conversation just by wearing this T-shirt.