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Air Curing

The Tobacco Process

Air Curing

This process of curing tobacco is done naturally, which requires vigilant supervision to make sure that temperature and humidity remain controlled. The procedure takes place in big barns, usually oriented from east to west. The leaves are tied up in groups of two or three and threaded onto a stick that will be hung in the tobacco barn that same day. During this process the leaves obtain their typical golden-brown color and loose 85% of their weight in water. Curing tobacco by air takes approximately 50 days.

Once cured, the leaves are untied from the stick and tied again in bunches that are called “gavillas” and gathered together into piles of 1.5 meters high. This procedure is called first fermentation and lasts at least 30 days. Leaves that are going to be used as wrappers (capa) only undergo this first fermentation since they are especially thin leaves and will not withstand a second fermentation.

At this point, a classification is made depending on the type of tobacco plants: sun grown tobacco for filler and binder or covered tobacco (tapado) for the wrapper. The leaves are sort by sizes color and conditions and in all cases by regions. The best ones will be used as wrapper (capa) and the ones with less quality are destined to be filler or binder (tripa o capote). This is the first classification; the final sorting takes place at the factory.

After the classification is completed, the second fermentation process begins. The leaves are piled up again, but now in bigger loads; the size and weight of the stack combined with the relative humidity generates a more intense fermentation. This method may last up to 90 days. Temperature and humidity are rigorously controlled by thermometers that are inserted on the stack. When temperatures are too high the stacks are taken apart and piled up again changing the leaves from the top to the bottom. This procedure is repeated until temperature is stable, indicating that the fermentation process has been completed. During this technique leaves undergo a chemical transformation that enhances their flavor and aroma, while also eliminating ammonia.

Next, the leaves are placed on shelves allowing them to settle for a few days. They are then packed, wrapped up in two different types of materials: wrappers into bales (tercios), a very thick and textured material made out of royal palm leaves (Palma Real) called yagua, binder and filler leaves in “arpilleras” or jute bales. Afterward, the tobacco is transported to warehouses where they mature and age for a period of time depending on the type of tobacco leaf – only 6 months for wrappers and up to two years for the other leaves. However, some tobaccos can be aged for up to ten years; past this period of time, tobacco starts to loose all its oils, nicotine, tar, and nutrients and becomes a common pile of ordinary grass or “empty tobacco” (tabaco vaciado).