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 TitelCOLON Smoke and ash
BerichtGeplaatstCOLON 23 Jan 2013, 18:38 
Professor in de sigarologie
Professor in de sigarologie

GeregistreerdCOLON 14 Mei 2010, 13:19
BerichtenCOLON 4006
If someone were to ask you what a good cigar is made of, you would probably say: 'Tobacco leaves – unadulterated tobacco leaves'. And you would not be wrong. But all leaves are not the same, so what does the recipe for a cigar depend on and how should it be rolled properly? And cigar smoke – what does that consist of? What is the temperature at the tip of a cigar and what is ash needed for? Do you know the answers to these questions?

Cigar Structure

A cigar consist of five types of tobacco leaf: three for the filling and one each for the binder and wrapper leaves. The leaves used for the filler come from different tiers on the tobacco plant; they have their own names and their own characteristics:

Volado – the leaves from two (sometimes three) of the lowest tiers. They are rich in potassium and for this reason burn very well.

Seco – the leaves from the middle tiers. These are the most aromatic. They are also large in size and 'hairy'. Basically, the tiny hairs function as the glands of the tobacco plant, playing the part of pores through which the plant gets rid of the residue of its vital activity. This residue remains on the surface of the plant, creating a very sticky layer about one and a half millimetres in thickness, in which essential oils (paraffins, terpenes, etc.) are concentrated. It is the presence of these in the tobacco after fermentation that produces all the aromas that we sense in a cigar.

Ligero – the leaves from the top tiers. These are very rich in nitrogen, ammonia and nicotine (nicotine is an alkaloid containing nitrogen). Nicotine is formed at the roots of the plant, and to this day no one has been able to give a reasonable explanation of the strange fact that it is actually in the plant's topmost leaves that the chemical is found in its greatest quantities. I have an explanation of my own for this phenomenon, which is this: the tobacco plant grows very quickly at the rate of ten percent per day, and this growth takes place chiefly in the upper leaves. The cells divide, the fibres stretch, and the plant experiences a certain amount of discomfort. To ease the pain caused by the multiplication of cells, the plant needs a drug that will act as a kind of painkiller. To all intents and purposes, the nicotine functions as a kind of growth hormone. And this is why nicotine is found in its greatest concentrations in the upper leaves.

So, the volado leaves make the cigar burn easily, the seco leaves provide its aroma, and the ligero leaves give it strength. The proportions in which they are used depend on the format of the cigar: its length, its diameter and its shape. For example, a cigar with a pyramid format requires two volado leaves, three seco leaves and one ligero leaf. To make the cigar stronger, you can use one and a half ligero leaves; to make it smoother, a half leaf will suffice. Great importance is attached to the internal structure of the filler. Each type of leaf has its own place. In a properly rolled cigar, the ligero – as the least combustible of the leaves – is put in the middle. The seco is placed round it, and the volado is put at the outer edges. If an inexperienced cigar roller, for instance, put the volado in the centre and not at the outer edges, the burning part of the cigar would resemble a crater.

To prevent the filler from spilling out, it is enclosed in a binder leaf. Since this leaf is on the outer edge of the cigar, it has to be able to burn well. For this reason, volado or firsttier seco (should a large leaf be required) leaves are chosen for binding. Then the 'bunch' (filler plus binder leaf) is covered with a wrapper leaf, the purpose of which is chiefly decorative, because the cigar should look good. The leaves used for wrapping are grown under tents, because they have to be large, elastic and slender. This means that leaves from the lowest tiers are not suitable, firstly because they are not big enough and, secondly, because they are usually spattered with mud and stains. The topmost leaves are not suitable either, because they're not only small, but fat and dark and have veins like wires. Therefore, wrapper leaves are chosen from the highest volado tier to the lowest ligero tier and include all the seco tiers.


A tobacco bush, like any other plant, displays the process of photosynthesis – the absorption of carbon dioxide and its conversion into organic matter with the release of oxygen. But when the tobacco is burned, the opposite process takes place: the organic substances are oxidized and oxygen is absorbed with the release of heat, water and aromatic substances. This reaction is the opposite of photosynthesis.

When a cigar is smoked, its organic matter is almost completely consumed, and the in-organic residue (chemical compounds that have no carbon element in their molecular structure) forms the ash.

Ash is important to the smoker for several reasons. First, it acts as a filter that slows the rate at which oxygen passes through the body of the cigar. This is a very useful function, because the more oxygen there is, the stronger the cigar will burn and the more intensive will be the process of oxidation. By slowing down the flow of oxygen, the temperature falls and the cigar burns more slowly, while the smoke becomes cooler and the smoking more pleasant. One centimetre of ash reduces the temperature by approximately fifty degrees.

Secondly, in the case of a Cuban cigar, the colour of the ash provides information on the origins of the tobacco, because it depends directly on the residue of mineral substances, which in their turn depend on the soil composition of the terrain. The typical colour for ash from tobacco coming from the Vuelta Abajo Region is a steely, light grey, while white is the characteristic colour for ash from tobacco produced in the Remedios Region, and black for ash from Oriente Region tobacco.

But that is not all. Ash can give you a good idea of the quality of a cigar. If the length of the ash reaches two-three centimetres without falling off, this shows that the cigar is a long-filler. Ash from cut tobacco is crumbly and falls quickly.

The burning tip

After the ash has been flicked off, the burning part of the cigar becomes visible. This is the area of incandescence, where the tobacco interacts directly with oxygen and the organic matter is totally destroyed, producing the ordinary results of burning such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water which, unlike the smoke, are not visible to the naked eye. In this exothermic zone, temperatures can reach 800-950°C.

The area of incandescence is followed by the area of carbonization. Here the tobacco is still only at the precombustion stage, but the leaves are already very hot and in the process of transformation into carbon. It is here that most of the components that go to form the smoke are produced through pyrolysis, pyrolytic reactions and distillation. Temperatures here can reach 200-600°C, and the zone may be considered endothermic. On drawing, a moist concentrated steam passes through the body of the cigar cooling it substantially. At temperatures lower than 300°C, it condenses and starts to form the solid particles that are the components of the smoke.

The third area is the area of dry distillation. Here, under the influence of the heat source, the organic matter begins to transform and release its aromatic compounds. It is this area that gives us the whole range of aromas contained in a cigar. At medium temperatures (60-250°C), a number of volatile substances are formed like formic acid, hydroymethylfurfural, substances that result from the breakdown of pectins and carbohydrates, and semivolatile hydrocarbons. Free radicals and other substances produced in the area of incandescence may also recombine here.

In the period between draws, the circulation of the smoke can be observed. Concentrated organic steam, formed in the pyrolizing part of the dry distillation area, seeps through the wrapper leaf. It then cools and condensates into the small particles that form the smoke.

Before burning the tobacco contains some 3800 chemical components, but the process of distillation releases some 4800. In other words, burning adds about a thousand new substances, most of which go into the smoke.
Tobacco smoke is a very complex and continually changing compound of different chemical elements, consisting of both gaseous and solid particles. Smoke is an aerosol, of which one cubic millimetre contains from 109 to 1010 particles with a diameter of 0.1 to 1 micron. These include tobacco alkaloids, leaf pigmentation particles, terpenoids, carbonaceous acids, wax, phenols, aldehydes, phytosterols, aromatic hydrocarbons, nitrous aromatizers, and nitrous compounds that are specific to tobacco.

All these particles coagulate and combine with each other fairly quickly, increasing in size and decreasing in quantity. This is why smoke at first has a light-blue colouring, because light is refracted in the small particles, but gradually (due to light refracting in the larger particles) it becomes grey and then white.

The dynamics of cigar smoking

There are two phases in which a cigar burns when being smoked: the active phase (when it is being drawn) and the passive phase (the intervals between draws). When you draw on a cigar, air is sucked into the body of the cigar through the area of incandescence. In this way smoke – known as 'mainstream' smoke – is produced. During the intervals between draws, the air around the area of incandescence undergoes a process of natural convection, moving upwards and maintaining the combustion, while at the same time releasing 'sidestream' smoke.

Far from all the aromas are felt through the nose. The lightest, or the most volatile, disintegrate and rapidly disappear before the smoker has a chance to sense them. All chemical compounds with a boiling point of 100°C or less are considered to be volatile; those with a boiling point of between 100°C and 200°C are classed as semivolatile; and all those with a boiling point of more than 200°C are heavy aromas.

As has already been mentioned, the temperature in the area of incandescence can reach more than 800°C. But as you move up the body of the cigar away from the incandescent area, it drops gradually and then rapidly to 600°C, 300°C, 200°C, 50°C etc. On the way, the heavy aromas settle, as they meet resistance in the form of cold tobacco leaves, but the more volatile continue their movement. But, as they leave, the smoker is able to sense the lightest aromas along with the smoke. These dynamics are characteristic of the first third of the cigar. But as the frontline of the fire moves gradually towards the near end of the cigar, the flow of hot smoke gradually warms it with the result that as the smoking continues, more and more of the heavy aromas are felt by the smoker together with the light ones.

With each new draw, a new aromatic wave is formed that is different from the previous one because with each draw the cigar gets hotter, and heavier aromas appear that were not found in the tobacco originally, such as truffles, chocolate and ginger. This phenomenon is known as the dynamics of cigar smoking. The last third of the cigar functions as a filter. Many of the heavy aromas as well as nicotine settle here. This means that this part of the cigar is much stronger. New smokers usually throw the cigar away after the second third, but there are those aficionados who will smoke it right to the end.

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Fumando las penas van pasando y . . . si fumas habanos nunca las tendras.

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