The great state of Connecticut has played host to some real superstars over the years, hasn’t it? Yale University, ESPN, Newman’s Own, color televisions, the first marketed hamburger, Polaroid cameras, helicopters, and early automobile laws all stem from this tiny Northeastern state.
But of all the things to come out of Connecticut, how did tobacco become the big cash crop? Surely far more tropical, volcanic ash-rich environments would be more suitable, especially when considering the intricacies of a premium cigar blend.
Yet somehow, Connecticut magically made its way onto the map as one of the greatest tobacco-producing portions of the planet. Investigate this strange, yet surprising cutthroat story and you will discover it rifled with tales of smuggling, stolen seeds, success, failure, and billows of cigar smoke.
So sit back, pull up a stogie, and let’s delve into the facts about one of the world’s most misunderstood tobaccos, and the cigar types it produces.
A Tale of Two Seedies: Connecticut Shade-Grown and Broadleaf Tobacco
Let’s first take a moment to appreciate the two types of tobacco hailing from the state of Connecticut. For if it were not for them, the world of the hand-rolled, long-filler cigar type as we know it would likely be quite different.
Almost all Connecticut tobacco intended for legacy or boutique cigar production is based around the mighty cigar wrapper. As the outermost layer of a cigar, this tobacco leaf is arguably the most crucial component of a premium cigar blend. Appearance, texture, taste, aroma, elasticity, consistency, and a variety of other factors must all be in plentiful supply if a cigar wrapper is to make the cut.
Cigar body, strength, and flavor are also factors to consider when a master blender begins to formulate a new premium cigar blend. When it comes to assessing Connecticut tobacco intended for cigar wrapper usage, the leaves are typically sectioned into two very different camps.
This hybrid strain is the result of combining the original Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco with Sumatran and Cuban seed strains back in the early 1900s. Light in color, elastic, and silky to the touch, Connecticut shade-grown is often mild tasting, thus making it the “gold standard” when it comes to claro natural cigar wrappers.
Being that tobacco leaves grow slower and become silkier when allowed to flourish under partial shade, man-made, semi-transparent awnings are commonly used to shield this type of tobacco from the sun. These translucent sunshades are typically suspended on poles or rigging, with materials ranging anywhere from cheesecloth to nylon.
Regardless as to which form of shade is utilized, allowing tobacco plants ample room to grow in easy-to-access rows of farmland, is both effective and far less labor-intensive.
Veiny and toothy, this macho, sun-grown alternative to the aforementioned claro Connecticut shade seed strain is about as polar opposite as it gets when the two are compared side-by-side.
Squat yet broadly built (hence the name), the Broadleaf varietal loves to soak in the sun’s rays. Connecticut Broadleaf cigars are also veinier and come loaded with oils, sugars, pulp, and the ever-popular tobacco staple: nicotine.
As far as cultivation “grows” (Dad joke!), the average Broadleaf cigar wrapper prospers best in silty volcanic soils, as well as loam-rich topographies that are heavy in clay.
Commonly reserved for darker maduro cigars, Connecticut Broadleaf relies upon its resilient genetics to withstand the hardships endured during the post-priming fermentation periods. The result: a richer, oilier cigar wrapper, with a complexion befitting a piece of foliage that has just endured years of “controlled composting.”
That’s not to say that the style of cigar type it creates is going to be stronger, as the fermentation process mellows both astringent flavors and nicotine while removing impurities.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Being that the majority of sun-grown Connecticut Broadleaf tobacco leaves are destined for long spells of fermentation and that the plant itself is quite sturdy, harvesting tends to be a hack-and-slash affair. While shade-grown cigar wrappers are meticulously harvested by hand (a process called “priming”), Broadleaf tobacco gets hacked down in one fell swoop.
How Connecticut of All Places Became a Tobacco Touchstone
The Connecticut River Valley not only proved to be the ideal locale for European settlers, but it also exposed many of them to tobacco for the first time.
As the Spaniards slowly lost their ability to hoard and market tobacco as a luxury good intended exclusively for the elite, American settlers began to get in on the action. Upon developing a taste for tobacco, these settlers began to cultivate tobacco any way they saw fit, quickly turning the nicotine-packed plant into a massive cash crop.
But it would not be until the 1830s, that the great grandfather of the modern Connecticut cigar wrapper leaf would begin to materialize. It was around this time that Cuban tobacco seed started to make its way up the east coast. With one Connecticut tobacco grower after another cross-pollinating the plant with local varieties, a more resilient and pleasing hybrid strain began to emerge.
It may have taken a few growing seasons to get right, but the subsequent tobacco crops were of high quality, and far more resistant to pests and fungal root issues. And while the viso and seco types of tobacco leaves from the center of the plant were quite nice, smokers found the upper ligero leaves to be the most flavorful.
By the 19th century, Sumatran tobacco from Indonesia was both on Connecticut soil and being cross-bred with local strains. Within a few decades, a handful of hybridized variants were producing some truly delicious premium cigar blends. Being that cigarettes were far less popular than small cigars at the time, this caused the whole Connecticut tobacco business to kick into overdrive.
Enter the use of canopies for shielding milder shade-grown claro variants and adding a low-hanging blanket of humidity in the early 1900s, and the distinction between sun-grown and shade-grown Connecticut tobacco was solidified in the annals of history forever.
The Great Connecticut Tobacco Takeaway
Over the past few decades, one Connecticut tobacco strain after another has found a “new” home in lands many leagues south of its home state. Call it fate, but it was just a matter of time until cigar makers took the Connecticut cigar wrapper back to its roots.
In a never-ending search to produce superior products with each consecutive crop, cigar brands began to tinker with both sun-grown and shade-grown versions of Connecticut tobacco plant. Luckily for us cigar enthusiasts, this successful endeavor has produced some stunningly scrumptious stogies. So much so, that many of the world’s highest-rated Connecticut wrappers are grown in Central and South America.
Where tobacco is cultivated is ultra important, not only for the quality of the crops themselves, but the logistics that go into growing, harvesting, and aging this specialized consumable good. Being that it is so far north, Connecticut’s tobacco-growing season is rather brief, so there is very little room for any margin of error. In comparison, countries like Honduras have a growing season that often lasts well into late fall, with nary a sign of frost or snow to be seen.
Connecticut shade and sun-grown tobacco also thrive in places like Ecuador and Nicaragua, where the prolonged growing seasons and ultra humid tropical conditions make for an ideal atmosphere. Soil that is rich with loamy biomatter offers roots the nutrients they need, as volcanic ash offers that silty, mineral-rich substance tobacco cannot get in Connecticut.
Oh, and let’s not forget that in the mountainous tobacco-growing regions of Ecuador and Nicaragua, continuous cloud coverage, mist, and fog from the surrounding rainforests, as well as airborne volcanic ash all form an organic canopy for shade-grown Connecticut claro varietals.
Then there’s the matter of getting the tobacco to the facilities where it is aged, and if of the Broadleaf variety, fermented into maduro cigar wrappers. Being that many of these southern plantations are located right up the road from the cigar manufacturer’s aging, fermentation, and rolling factories, the logistics side of getting a crop into production is about as straightforward as it comes.
Since the majority of all hand-rolled, long-filler cigar types are still being produced in countries like Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, transporting U.S.-grown Connecticut tobacco to these facilities is a mandatory procedure.
Just imagining the sheer cost of moving dozens of metric tons of tobacco from New England down to the tropics multiple times a year makes our pocketbooks quiver in fear. Not only is this a pricey procedure, but a risky one riddled with red tape as well.
That being said, more than half of all forms of Connecticut tobacco grown today are cultivated outside of the U.S. This sucks for American tobacco farmers but makes complete sense from a cigar manufacturer’s standpoint, all while producing some really tasty cigars for us to enjoy.
By this point, it’s pretty much safe to say that Connecticut cigar wrapper leaves are one of the most misunderstood forms of tobacco on the planet. But look at how many of the cigars are marketed, and you can see why so many people get duped into believing that their Connecticut shade-grown natural or claro is coming to them straight from the state bearing its name.
Half of the time, cigar box sales cards don’t emphasize precisely which region of the world where its Connecticut wrapper is grown. The other half of the time, it is clearly stated, but the consumer either does not read all of the descriptions and allows their eye to settle on the word “Connecticut,” or they don’t care where it’s grown.
Either way, we here at Klaro Cigars both adore and respect all forms of Connecticut tobacco leaf. May it be silky, stretchy, and shade-grown, or stout, strongly veined, and of the sun-grown variety, it all produces memorable moments of relaxation and smoking pleasure.So get your fingers on one of our popular cigar 5-packs, or enroll in our exclusive boutique and legacy cigar brand monthly subscription service to get some sun, shade, and a bit of everything in between in your next Connecticut tobacco-wrapped cigar.