The aroma, the flavor, the pure pleasure of enjoying a quality cigar in the company of good friends. These are the attributes of good cigars, what draws afficionados to search for the perfect smoke.
For many years, cigar-making had been a labor-intensive endeavor. Artisans would sort and grade tobacco leaves and hand roll each cigar individually. This slow process added to their high cost making them a status symbol among the elite classes. Over the years, however, with the introduction of various methods of automation, cigars entered the world of mass production. With these new technologies, they soon became available to those with more moderate incomes.
1- Cutting Machines
Cigars are made in varying sizes and shapes, and until cutting machines were introduced to the industry, their length was completely determined by the artisan who made them. Today, there are basically two types of cutting machines–manual and automatic. The first requires that the user place a cigar in the cutting machine and pull a lever to slice it to the proper length. The latter employs the use of a conveyer belt that carries these longer lengths through the machine, likewise slicing them to proper lengths. Both types of machines have served to shave time off the manufacturing process.
2- Rolling Machines
The first cigar rolling machine was introduced in the late 1800s. And like most new technologies, it has gone through a number of iterations, each advancement building on prior accomplishments. Advances in automation allow manufacturers to adjust their equipment to create cigars in varying sizes and shapes.
A basic machine-rolling operation requires one worker to feed tobacco leaves onto a belt that will bunch them to make cigar filler, while another worker loads binder leaf that will be machine-cut and rolled around the filler. Still another loads the wrapper leaf which will be wrapped around the cigar. The cigars are then transferred to trays and inspected.
Today’s modern machines can produce thousands of cigars per hour with a far more consistent product with regard to size and shape. The mass-production also makes them more affordable.
Some cigar afficionados argue that machine-made cigars can’t hold a candle to their hand-rolled (premium) cousins. The argument is that the best cigars involve skilled craftsmanship and that they contain higher quality tobacco. Perhaps, for this reason, many tobacconists offer an eclectic selection of both machined and premium cigars.
Robotics are just one more of the forward-moving innovations in the history of cigar production and in some cases have almost completely replaced the need for human involvement. Modern robotic equipment can sort and grade tobacco leaves, roll them in mass quantities, and even add cigar bands and cellophane wrap. And because they are robots, they can be operated 24/7 without need for lunch and coffee breaks!
Cigars must be manufactured and stored in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment. If they are not, they will quickly degrade and become worthless. Because of this, manufacturers and retailers store their cigars in rooms called humidors with systems that maintain, optimally, 70 percent humidification and a 70-degree temperature.
Of late, digital humidors have helped to take the guesswork out of maintaining optimum temperature and humidity levels. Two of the key components of a humidor are hygrometers and thermostats. Hygrometers measure the room’s humidity and indicate when more moisture should be added or if some should be removed, while thermostats indicate the temperature inside the humidor. Some digital humidors utilize wifi and special sensors armed with alarms that alert users when changes in temperature and/or humidity need to be addressed.
Of course, advancements in technology haven’t just assisted in making the manufacturing process easier. The internet has effectively created a huge market for affordable cigars, opening the door wide for large and small tobacco sellers alike to reach potential customers on a global scale. Online retail outlets can now advertise and market their products worldwide. Would-be customers can shop from the comfort of their own homes for premium or machined cigars, by price points, or simply select new styles or flavors. For cigar retail outlets as well, it truly is a whole new world.