Extract from the Cigar Wiki in English.
Preparing the Wrappers
The wrapper leaves are now fully aged and it is time for their final sorting and classification. They must also be stripped of their stems.
A moistening, or moja, brings them to the supple condition required for stripping and sorting, and their final purpose of wrapping a cigar.
The gavillas or bunches of 40 leaves are held under a fine spray of pure water. Excess droplets are then shaken off with practised flourishes to avoid any staining, and the leaves are hung on racks overnight so the moisture is absorbed evenly.
Stripping and Grading
Next morning the tender hands of highly skilled women perform the despalillo (stripping) and the rezagado (grading). One movement deftly removes the central vein of the leaf leaving its two halves ready to be graded into some 20 finely distinguished sizes and shades.
Preparing the Fillers
Filler and binder leaves are carefully removed from their bales for examination.
If necessary they are aired on racks to remove excess moisture. Then they are placed in wooden barrels for storage until they are judged to be ready.
Composing the Blends – La Barajita
The task of selecting the blends for each brand according to its own recipe starts well before the bales reached the factory.
As soon as the factory’s future production schedule for brands and sizes is known, the Ligador or Master Blender draws up a list of all the tobaccos he will need to make them.
At the central warehouse a selection is made from a huge stock of bales containing every type of leaf, each classified by its tiempo (ligero, seco, volado and capote), its size, its age and, most important of all, by its zone of origin.
There is an established link between the factory and the zones that supply the leaf for the brands it manufactures. Nevertheless it is the Master Blender’s responsibility to sample the flavour of the tobaccos in use from day to day. He carries the recipe for each brand and size in his head and is the guardian of their consistency.
The ratio of each type of leaf that the Master Blender specifies for the cigars in production is assembled by the blending department in batches issued to the cigar rollers for the day’s work.
They call the blending department La Barajita – literally ‘the pack of cards’ – because the process of assembling the leaves for a blend is similar to shuffling cards.
Finally, three years or more since the oldest leaf was picked, it is now about to become a Habano.
La Galera de Torcido
First the Torcedora lays out the two or sometimes three half leaves that form the binder, placed so that the veined undersides of the leaves will face inwards when the cigar is formed.
Next she gathers together the leaves of the filler, folding and aligning each leaf to ensure a straight passage for smoke in the finished cigar. All leaves are placed with their lighter-flavoured tips towards what will be the foot (the lit end) of the cigar so that the flavour will intensify as it is smoked. The stronger-flavoured, slower-burning ligero leaf is always placed at the centre.
Now the Torcedora forms the ‘bunch’ by rolling the filler into the binder to the precise diameter required for that particular Habano. Rolling starts at what will become the foot of the cigar. Compression of the filler must be consistent at all points.
The word torcedor translates as ‘twister’, but this is precisely what the torcedor must not do at this stage. The head (the mouth end) of the bunch is then cut square with the guillotine.
The Torcedora makes her bunches in batches and presses them for 30 minutes or more in a wooden mould to set their shape.
Next the Torcedora prepares the half leaf for the wrapper, still moist so that it will form perfectly to the shape of the bunch. She lays it on the board with its most veined side facing upward, leaving its smoothest side to be visible on the outside of the cigar.
The bunch is laid on the wrapper and rolled, starting at the cigar’s foot with the tip of the wrapper leaf. Sensitive fingertips carefully stretch and straighten the leaf as the bunch takes up the wrapper. The tension in the leaf has to be perfect.
Next comes the ‘cap’. First a section called the ‘flag’ is cut out from the spare wrapper leaf. It is then wound round the head to close off the open end and secure the wrapper.
To add the finishing touch, a small disc of wrapper is cut out with the casquillo and secured on the head with vegetable gum.
Finally the cigar is guillotined to length, and the work is complete. In a day a good Torcedor can make between 60 and 150 Habanos in this fashion, depending on the size and complexity of the shape.
For tools they have a wooden board (tabla), two cutters (the flatbladed chaveta and the little disccutting casquillo), a guillotine, a pot of colourless and flavourless natural vegetable gum (goma), a template to check length and girth (cepo) – and the skill of their fingers.
Text: Cigar Wiki, images: 5TH Avenue / Intertabak