Darkness and light. For us cigar smokers, it’s more than just about a fistful of Oreo cookies, yin-yang symbols, and cliche Star Wars lines.
In the world of boutique cigars, top-tier tobacco is, and always will be the sole ingredient, and due to this fact, cigars are generalized as either having a light “natural wrapper” or a dark “maduro” outer layer of cigar wrapper leaves.
However, options within these broadly drawn labels abound, as a quick stroll into a walk-in humidor will surely illustrate. Shapes, sizes, and construction methods may be fun, but color, yes color is where the eye finds what it seeks.
Ruddy reds, freshly pressed khakis, burly browns, lush light greens, and carbon black ochres all entice us with their olfactory rewards. And guess what? Every shade you see falls into either maduro or natural territory, with a massive amount of it being the latter of the two. Yep. Even that reddish-brown stogie snarling up at you is a natural, and man does he mean business.
When amidst the dazzling patchwork quilt of color that is the modern walk-in humidor, we either tend to forget where the line between light and dark is drawn or never knew it existed in the first place.
Here at Klaro Cigars, we believe that discovering the perfect cigar always leads to finding another. This is precisely why we are more than happy to elaborate upon the many determining factors that make natural cigar wrappers so delicious.
Understanding the Many Shades of the Natural Cigar Wrapper
Being that the wrapper is the outermost layer of a cigar, it is arguably the most crucial. Appearance, texture, taste, aroma, elasticity, consistency, and more must all be considered if a cigar wrapper is to make the cut. Natural cigar wrapper options undergo the same level of scrutiny as their darker maduro brethren.
Every natural tobacco leaf is carefully screened at every stage of the cultivation, aging, fermentation, and rolling prep process. Since natural wrappers tend to be lighter in color, a keen eye for blemishes must be implemented, as they are far more notable.
While a natural wrapper does impart a large amount of the flavor encountered when smoking a cigar, the type of taste detected does vary greatly depending upon the shade or hue of the wrapper itself. Natural cigars can range in color from a Claro to a greenish Double Claro, all the way to the robust, mahogany-like Colorado Rosado.
And while color does not always constitute strength, it can create a specific style of cigar flavor profile. For instance, the aforementioned Colorado Rosado wrapper is known for having a nice little spice kick, which is often reinforced by subtle layers of lush loam and earthy undertones.
On the other end, lighter natural cigar wrappers tend to either be grassy or completely neutral, with brownish variants offering moderate amounts of nutty, tannin-rich undertones. All of these flavors are further enhanced (or mellowed) by the strength of the filler and binder used within the cigar.
Tobacco is no different than any other form of profitable cash crop with a lengthy lineage. Once discovered all those centuries back, the seed from the tobacco plant has been sown, harvested, hoarded, bred, cross-bred, and even genetically modified to produce a particular product.
Like most other lifeforms on this planet, tobacco is genetically predispositioned to grow a particular way and pack a certain number of attributes. Although there is no getting around its nicotine content, (the same can be said for caffeine in coffee beans), there are some notable variations in the types of tobacco leaves produced by a particular seed strain.
Certain strains of tobacco are destined to be of a lighter shade based purely upon the genetics that was passed down to them from the previous plant. Consistency, quality, and resiliency are all paramount factors to consider when choosing which tobacco seed to plant, and natural wrappers are no different.
Tobacco Commonly Used to Create Natural Cigar Wrappers
- Connecticut Shade- A hybrid strain resulting from combining Connecticut Broadleaf and Sumatran seed strains with Cuban tobacco. Lightest in color and mildest tasting of all cigar wrappers, Connecticut Shade is the gold standard for natural wrappers.
- Connecticut Broadleaf- Veiny and toothy, this macho, sun-grown variety that helped spawn the shade version back in the early 1900s. Typically reserved for darker maduro cigars, Broadleaf is occasionally fermented for shorter periods to be used as a natural wrapper.
- Corojo- Red tobacco leaves that are known for being floral and somewhat spicy. Typically a tad on the oily side, and fermented for a lengthier period for a smoother smoke.
- Habano- Cuban seed that has made its way to other countries. Peppery, earthy, and rich, this robust wrapper packs potency in spades no matter where it is grown.
Over the decades, master blenders have relied upon the seed from the list of tobacco above to produce one natural cigar type after another. This has, in turn, caused many of the world’s top natural cigar wrappers to be named after the areas in which they are cultivated, with Connecticut Shade-Grown being the most notable.
Due to the popularity of this tobacco’s pristine appearance and diverse cigar flavor profile options, Connecticut Shade (and to some extent the other three types of tobacco) has become nearly synonymous with natural cigars.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Due to all of the additional care that must be taken during the production of delicate shade-grown tobacco, this form of cigar tends to be more expensive than many sun-grown alternatives. All of those canopy shades cost money, as does the labor that goes into setting them up and maintaining them throughout the tobacco growing season.
Growing Environment and Natural Cigar Wrapper Tobacco
But don’t let the Connecticut name fool you. Today, more than half of all of the world’s Connecticut shade and sun-grown tobacco is grown outside of the United States, and there’s a really good reason for that.
Where tobacco is grown in the world plays a hefty hand in what kind of cigar wrapper is produced, and in a place like Connecticut, where the growing season is much shorter, limitations are in abundant supply.
This is why many cigar manufacturers have taken this northern United States seed varietal and given it a new purpose in Central America and its surrounding islands. Longer growing seasons, higher humidity, the addition of volcanic ash and soil, and proximity to the aging, fermentation, and rolling factories where the tobacco leaves are transformed into cigars all make for a far better Connecticut natural cigar wrapper.
The same can be said for the form of micro-climate provided by the farmer, the surrounding natural landscape, or a combination of the two. Natural cigar tobacco is almost always going to get the least amount of direct sun, with shade-grown varieties being the most abundant.
Tobacco tends to toughen up and darkens when left to grow directly in the sun, much like the epidermis of the human body. Direct sun exposure is where all of those full-flavored, darkly hued cigars are formed, while their lighter claro cousins sit comfortably in the shade. Just remember that both can still be labeled as a natural cigar leaf.
But billowing sheets of nylon and cheesecloth are not the only deciding factor in the quality of a natural cigar wrapper. Way up in the Andes mountains, in the tobacco-growing regions of Ecuador, Mother Nature provides her own organic canopy.
Here, sunlight is routinely obstructed by a dense cloud of volcanic ash. Rolling blankets of fog and mist form within the surrounding rainforest, as heavy cloud coverage shrouds the farmland. It is here that some of the world’s best Connecticut shade-grown tobacco is grown, most of which rarely requires a canopied tent.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Speaking of sunlight, let’s not forget the fact that the upper portion of the tobacco plant always gets the most rays. Even though the upper ligero leaves can still make for a really good natural wrapper leaf, the shaded foliage toward the center of the plant (viso and seco) is where the lightest natural cigar wrapper tobacco is formed.
Factoring in Fermentation
Temperature and time can also greatly influence how a natural cigar develops its coloration or lack thereof for that matter. As with any form of foliage, the aging of tobacco leaves causes the chlorophyll within the vegetation to turn brown as it decays. Lighter, shade-grown variants become tan or khaki in color, whereas sun-grown natural wrappers often end up either a brown or reddish color.
Aging is just the first of many production stages following harvesting for the tobacco plant, and only imparts a certain amount of color and intensity to the cigar wrapper itself. It is the act of fermentation that kicks the sugars and oils within tobacco leaves into overdrive, and for natural cigar wrappers, there’s a fine line between not enough and entirely too much.
As opposed to oily, ultra-dark maduro cigar tobacco, which can see allotments of fermentation time spanning a decade or more, natural cigar wrapper leaves are exposed to limited amounts of fermented fun.
Fermentation is what allows all of the oils, resins, and sugars to break down and form a far more complex and smoother cigar-smoking sensation. It also removes unpleasant toxins and impurities, mellows the nicotine, and provides a softer texture to the leaf itself.
In order to produce natural cigars, one must take care to make sure that the tobacco leaves do not darken too much during the curing and fermentation processes. This means shorter fermentation time frames, more frequent bale rotations, and fewer layers of leaves per bale, or “pilón.”
Less pressure and fewer leaves per pilón can translate to milder fermentation, a less intense smoking experience, and a much lower chance of leaf damage. The latter of these considerations is a pretty big deal for natural cigar wrapper production, as this type of tobacco tends to be much more fragile than maduro tobacco, especially when it is a shade-grown variety.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Although a light natural cigar wrapper can be associated with a mild cigar smoking experience, looks can be deceiving. Cigar strength is often derived from what is underneath the wrapper leaf, as the potency of the blend itself determines the intensity. This is why familiarity with which kinds of tobacco leaves produce a particular taste, level of strength, or combustion quality is so important to a master blender.
No matter what part of the world it hails from, natural wrappers bring a multitude of options to the average cigar novice and seasoned smoker alike. From a light tan Claro to a greenish, chlorophyll-rich Double Claro, all the way to the robust, reddish-brown Rosado (aka Colorado Claro), the natural cigar has it all.
Everything from the super mild Macanudo Cafe Prince Philip, to the medium Arturo Fuente Hemingway Natural Work of Art in “perfecto” form, all the way up to a full-bodied La Aroma de Cuba Edicion Especial #3, natural cigar wrappers offer an expansive smoking experience.Looking to learn a bit more about natural cigars or natural cigar wrapper tobacco? Cut and torch as many varieties of natural cigars as you can to determine what suits you best. Be sure to check out the monthly curated cigar subscription from Klaro Cigars. This boutique cigar service provides amateur cigar puffers and veteran stogie smokers alike with the world’s best 90+ rated cigars, all delivered to their doorstep.