Unlike other massive manufacturing undertakings, which are often completely automated (or nearly so), the majority of the work done to create a cigar is carried out by human beings with their hands. A big reason why noticeable errors don’t occur more regularly during cigar production is the sorting and grading process.

While all tobacco leaves share certain characteristics, not all tobacco leaves are suitable for use in a cigar. Quality sorting and grading guarantees the integrity of the cigar –– from appearance to taste to performance.

Types of Tobacco Leaves

As we outlined in a previous Seed to Cigar article, tobacco plants are typically broken down into three sections: the ligero, the seco, and the volado. (Outside of the Dominican Republic, the three sections, from top to bottom, are known as the ligero, the viso, and the seco.) These sections grow different leaves that vary in size, shape, color, and aroma. As such, before fermentation occurs, thinner and thicker tobacco leaves are separated to undergo different fermentation methods. Similarly, before tobacco leaves are rolled, they are sorted and graded based on a number of factors, including:


Leaves that don’t meet the requirements of premium cigar production are either discarded or used for other purposes, which we’ll explore further below.

Anatomy of a Cigar

If you’re new to cigar smoking, you should know that every cigar has three distinct components: filler, binder, and wrapper. During the sorting process, leaves are graded and assigned one of these roles –– filler, binder, or wrapper. These three components together form a “blend.”

Wrapper leaves tend to get a lot of attention –– and rightly so. That’s in part because wrapper leaves have an outsized influence on the way a cigar tastes. Still, not only must a wrapper leaf possess tremendous flavor, but it has to look flawless as well. It also has to match the color and texture of other wrapper leaves in the production process. A leaf that is too oily, or crinkled, or even a slightly different color will be identified and removed during this sorting effort.

The binder leaf resides just beneath the wrapper leaf. In many instances, binders in premium cigars will be of a similar caliber to the wrapper leaves above them. Note here that wrapper, binder, and filler leaves normally have different, complementary attributes. A cigar with a light and creamy wrapper like a Connecticut Shade may possess a binder and filler with more robust flavor underneath. This is the case with Cohiba Connecticut, which contains a Mexican San Andres binder underneath its Connecticut Shade wrapper.

On the other hand some cigars lean on a single flavor profile to produce a deep and intense experience. Punch Gran Puro only features tobaccos from Honduras, for example.

Finally, premium cigars contain “long-filler” tobacco leaves underneath their wrappers and binders. This means that the fillers inside the cigar come from unbroken, whole leaves of tobacco. Such construction almost always ensures the best possible burn and smoking experience.

Fast Facts You Can Use

  • Some cigars are created using “short-filler” tobacco. As opposed to long-filler, which utilizes the entire length of the leaf, short-filler tobacco is composed of chopped bits of tobacco leaf. Cigars with short-filler are often considerably cheaper than long-filler cigars, though some do represent real value on the market.
  • There are several variants of tobacco leaf that fall under the “Maduro” umbrella. Colorado Maduro leaves have a reddish hue to them. Standard Maduro leaves are of a rich brown color, and Oscuro leaves range from very dark brown to almost black.


Ready to test your knowledge and earn a badge? Then take our quiz on this lesson here. And don’t forget to check out the other Seed to Cigar features on Cigar World to complete your cigar education!

Ready to earn the Sorting & Grading Badge?

Question 1: True or False: cigars are –– in large part –– produced by hand.

Correct! Sorry, that’s not the right answer.

The vast majority of tasks related to cigar production are carried out by hand by expert artisans.

Question 2: Which of the following is NOT a component of a cigar blend?

Correct! Sorry, that’s not the right answer.

The three components of every cigar are the filler, the binder, and the wrapper.

Question 3: True or False: tobacco leaf size does not matter in the sorting process.

Correct! Sorry, that’s not the right answer.

Tobacco leaf size, shape, color, and other factors all are taken into consideration during the sorting process.

Question 4: Short-filler tobacco is best defined as . . .

Correct! Sorry, that’s not the right answer.

Though short-filler tobacco leaves are chopped up, they still may produce quality smoking experiences.


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  • You've earned the: {{badge.Title}} badge!

Better luck next time.

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Previous Article: 3: Curing & Fermentation

The character of a cigar is determined by two types of factors: natural influences and man-made ones. Natural factors that affect tobacco development include elements like the weather, the composition of the soil, and the very nature of the tobacco plant itself. There’s not much a blender can do about the climate in Ecuador or the soil in Nicaragua.

However, other influences –– like curing and fermentation –– are under direct control of master cigar blenders. This allows for a great range of creativity and exploration. Indeed, the curing and fermentation process is (arguably) the stage in cigar production when the flavors and qualities that come to define an individual cigar start to take shape.

Next Article: 5: Rolling Tobacco

Every premium cigar you’ve ever had was rolled by hand. As opposed to cigarettes and machine-wrapped cigars, premium cigars are crafted by hand by trained artisans. The art of rolling a cigar is a time-honored tradition that can take years to master. While we’ll take a quick look at this process here, remember that it is much easier said than done.

Properly rolling a cigar ensures that the flavors complement each other well, that the cigar burns evenly, and that the draw is measured and smooth. You can tell when a cigar has been rolled properly by the quality of the burn, the solid development of the ash, and balance of the draw. Even slight imperfections in the rolling process can compromise the integrity of a cigar, which is why professional cigar rollers are held in such high esteem and train so vigorously to hone their skills.

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  • Member Avatar
    (16 months ago)

    A very intricate process explained for anyone to understand. Well done.

  • Member Avatar
    (2 years ago)

    Good read