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I made a comment regarding this elsewhere but felt this needed it's own thread. It's a very interesting subject to me and I'm interested to hear others's experience and thoughts on it.

Not too long ago, I learned that a few companies outside of Cuba, like Davidoff, have more grading categories for their leaves as well as their other stricter quality control measures which produce much greater consistency of good construction and drawing of their cigars. Because they have more grades of leaf from the tobacco plants to fine tune blends, by comparison to these methods Cuban factories are therefore randomly mixing up different blend components from higher or lower on the plant but just grouping them together as one blend component due to the tradition. 

Another example of greater QC is how Perdomo refuse to use any leaves from the very base of the stem that have wilted into the soil (causing extra bitterness) which most cigar manufacturers don't do. While I don't like Dominican Davidoffs or Perdomos much for their bland flavour, this clearly helps in QC quite a lot, as their consistency (both in blend and construction) are far higher than with any Havanas. Just imagine if the Cuban factories graded their leaves more finely and updated some of their processes like this, how consistently great Cuban cigars could be.


For reference, here's a time-coded link to a video at Davidoff where they're talking a little about their blending and categorization methods:

"The traditional, normal way of classification of the leaves of the plant had only 3 grades - volado, seco and ligero. What that means is that "seco" is maybe 60% of the plant. Imagine. That means maybe at least 8 leaves are considered to be the same. You know if you take leaves 5 and 6 or you take leaves 11 and 12, they're different, so when you make the blend according to that, it's going to be different."

https://youtu.be/bjOiWzekvOk?t=246

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Interesting.

But I'd chalk up most of Cuba's quality control issues to lack of actual quality control and not due to lack of classification categories for tobacco leaf. I'd expect if the classification was a factor we'd see better tasting cigars out of NC producers that use these methods vs the ones (if any) that don't, but I don't see how it explains Cuba's underfilling, overfilling and poor rolling of cigars.

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A recent thread addressed the fourth category - viso - which Davidoff uses frequently. They use very little ligero in any blend and seem to use viso instead as a kind of stronger seco. 

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Very interesting! I don't care for Davidoff, other than the Late Hour, but the construction and burn are superb.

Would LE's fall under a category of using a better/ more consistent leaf? Or are they just aged, before being shipped

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19 minutes ago, Walter19 said:

Would LE's fall under a category of using a better/ more consistent leaf? Or are they just aged, before being shipp

From CCW:

Quote

Initially, the (Limitada) cigars were manufactured using two year old aged wrappers from the upper level of the plant, to produce a unique darker colour. Since 2007 all of the tobacco (wrapper, binder, and filler) is aged for two years.

 

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2 hours ago, Bijan said:

Interesting.

But I'd chalk up most of Cuba's quality control issues to lack of actual quality control and not due to lack of classification categories for tobacco leaf. I'd expect if the classification was a factor we'd see better tasting cigars out of NC producers that use these methods vs the ones (if any) that don't, but I don't see how it explains Cuba's underfilling, overfilling and poor rolling of cigars.

Agreed.  Communist countries aren’t typically well known for their quality control which I would attribute CC issues with more than any classifications.  For the most part, Russian, North Korean, and even Chinese products are rarely considered world class quality.  There’s probably exceptions to this, (maybe some Vietnamese goods? Idk), but overall I’d say quality luxury goods rarely are made in these communist countries as a selling point to the consumer.  Even the higher end products made in China are not made there because of their craftsmanship, but because of the cost savings.  It’s never a bragging point, “look ours is so good it’s made in China!”.  Broad strokes statement I know, maybe unfair and stereotypical but rooted in some truth.

 

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Always seemed like overly complicated gimmicky nonsense to me. They've tried everything to complete with CCs. They've got a name for each leaf, they stroke it, sing to it. 
They can do whatever they want to overcome the terroir difference. That's the ultimate quality barrier. 
NC producers release new "lines" every month. IMO, they have to keep people chasing. Except for very recently, CCs have had the same models and "lines" for 60+ years. 
Not disparaging NCs--just pointing out the basic, low-tech approach of CCs vs the complex, high-tech approach of NCs, and the question of which one is still preferred world wide.

I don’t think NC producers are even trying to overcome the territorial difference. I mean, there are people who actually like NCs like Davidoff, Padron, rocky Patel etc. Some of them don’t even like cubans. (Many blame on the poor QC and some just don’t find them interesting, but that’s beside point.) I think they stopped trying a while ago. I mean what’s the point. Instead of trying to emulate something else, work with what you got instead. Also, NC companies don’t release new lines every month or all the time. They release something like 1 per year on average. Something I find completely normal. They have to stay relevant in this (very) competing business. If Cuba had 27 private owned companies you bet they would do the same.
And regarding wrapper grade. I started to roll my own cigars a while ago and I can totally feel the difference between a ligero and viso. They just have different thickness but most importantly, different texture. It’s kind of odd that HSA is classifying them as... what is it? Ligero? Seco? It would definitely help with the consistency problem that people complain about. But I have to say that I like that they’re a little inconsistent. As long as they’re not bad tasting I find it kind of exciting that you never know exactly what you’re gonna get. I find NC a little boring sometimes because they taste exactly the same, every time.
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1 hour ago, Nico said:

I find NC a little boring sometimes because they taste exactly the same, every time.

What a good problem to have ?.  But I know exactly what you mean, there’s an extra joy that comes with the surprises in CC.  Maybe that’s a little masochistic but I hardly get upset when I get a plug or poor one, makes me appreciate the great ones even more and make me smile.  I stopped smiling at padron long before I stopped smoking them.

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Why would they bother?  I mean..to go to all that QC and still produce something that tastes like Perdomo?

 

Cuba lucked out. They have the climate and largely stressed soil that somehow produces leaf of immense flavour. 

Everything else can be imitated and improved upon. There are Dom and Nic producers who run rings around Cuba in terms of QC.  Cuba just got lucky. 

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4 hours ago, Nico said:

They release something like 1 per year on average. Something I find completely normal. They have to stay relevant in this (very) competing business. If Cuba had 27 private owned companies you bet they would do the same.

Hmm...since there are only a handful of producers and I see new cigars constantly I'm not sure how that is, although I haven't checked actual releases.

And Cuba did have private companies--hundreds of them pre-Rev and they used the same leaf classifications then since that what the farmers use and have always used. Virtually nothing has changed as far as leaf in nearly 200 years in Cuba aside from the strongly rumored higher fermentation temps implemented in the early 2000s.

I just think NC producers are desperate to find a competitive advantage and will create variety that's ultimately academic. No one thought of growing premium filler tobacco outside of Cuba until the Revolution. In 150 years, the vegueros never felt the need to classify leaf any different than they do now.

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11 minutes ago, ATGroom said:

There's an interview with Ana Lopez (former HSA marketing director) where she talks about the process for creating the Serie E 2. She talks about the panel trying the prototypes and then rejecting them all, and then the master blender coming back with one which had the same proportions of ligero, seco and volado as before, but used a volado leaf from a higher part of the plant, and that's what they went with.

So from that I get that the bundles of leaves that the rollers get are categorised into the standard seco, volado, ligero etc and then they roll with the proportions they are given, but there is more to it in that the blenders choose the leaves that go into those bundles for the specific cigar. i.e., "this ligero leaf is the right kind of ligero leaf used in Montecristo Edmundo, and this other ligero leaf is not."

So how granular the categories the blenders have beyond the beyond the basic ones we know are is anybody's guess, but I'd say it's at least "upper, lower, middle" for each of the major categories.

That’s interesting 

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Classifying every single leaf on the plant smacks of marketing to me. If you really have the palate to tell between one leaf and the next, consistently, great. But there are very,  very few people on the planet that actually have that level of palate. 

Lets not forget guys, Cuba "created" a new classification of ligero, simply for marketing purposes, just 10 years ago. Every single roller I've asked the question to has the following answer: "You want Miedo Tiempo? I don't have, but I'll add an extra half leaf of ligero, its the same thing." Weather I asked the question, a random guy I was standing next to asked it, or a driver/fixer/local asked, the answer was always the same. 

Plenty of us have toured El Laguito, those two Tiny little oak barrels of MT in the blending room MIGHT be enough to a roll a couple days days worth of Behike, if they stretched it. 

Cuba does the best they can, with what they have. Yes, the consistency is shit, but as others have stated, I've come to appreciate the game of Roulette that every box/bundle of Cuban cigars is. I've smoked plenty of very enjoyable NC's, my best cigar of last year was actually an NC. There are really only about 4-5 major NC Producers, all of which roll several to a few dozen "Brands" in their factories. Each "brand" may not have a new release per month, but the overarching producers spit them out like machine gun fire. 

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Pure marketing gimmick. Plain and simple. There’s a reason so many of these “complex” brands taste like mud. CC have their own complexity and nuances that can’t be reproduced. Try as they might the NC fail time and time again. 
 

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1 hour ago, ATGroom said:

She talks about the panel trying the prototypes and then rejecting them all, and then the master blender coming back with one which had the same proportions of ligero, seco and volado as before, but used a volado leaf from a higher part of the plant, and that's what they went with.

I must say, this sounds like a bunch of horse poo poo from Ms. Lopez. Spoken like a true MARKETING DIRECTOR.

ALL their tasters flat-out, categorically rejected the cigar and then the most flavorless leaf (used primarily to facilitate combustion) from one priming up turns it into a cigar ALL the tasters love? Give me a break. As if anyone could tell a high volado leaf from a lower leaf in a fully blended cigar with seco and ligero. If the tasters were that good we wouldn't get near the amount of mediocre junk we do. 

I've never seen or heard of filler volado leaf ever being categorized by the vegueros by its priming or plant height. How and where is that categorized and separated? First I've heard of this.

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I have it on good authority that the leaves which point eastward have the most flavor. But only in the northern hemisphere. 

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1 minute ago, MrBirdman said:

I have it on good authority that the leaves which point eastward have the most flavor. 

Thanks a lot--now we're going to get the new Padron EAST LEAF 2000...

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23 minutes ago, NSXCIGAR said:

Thanks a lot--now we're going to get the new Padron EAST LEAF 2000...

Of course in the Vuelta Abajo it’s the westward facing leaves - naturally everything in Cuba is ass-backwards. 

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You know what they say, lazy people are the best, they find the easiest way to do something!

I don't think Cuba can afford to be that picky really. If they had to only produce cigars from specific primings from specific farms then we'd have no hope of getting any quantities of cigars ?

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20 minutes ago, Cigar Surgeon said:

I can speak to this at a fairly high level as I've been covering the NC industry for almost a decade now. The vast majority of NC cigars use viso (the center leaves of the plant) as the main flavor profile for the cigar. And in general terms, most of Davidoff's cigars are blended to be lighter in strength, although they've been getting into fuller and fuller cigar releases over the past few years.

The classification is based on texture, not the smoking quality. Which is why you can technically have a viso that is classified as a ligero (at least as far as the NC world goes). Ligero essentially feels like one step removed from rawhide.

Miedo TIempo should be the top 2/3 leaves sticking almost vertically out of the plant. They're very small, they're very rare.

Ligero != Miedo Tiempo unless it was some sort of crazy high priming Ligero.

 

I haven't seen the sorting and classification process in Cuba, despite the number of times I've been. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it in the NC world. Even more interesting is that when you buy a bail of say seco or viso tobacco (NC classification), one company might consider that viso bail to really be only 70% viso, and 30% seco. Partly because the seller is going to be a little more lax with the grading, and many times because larger factories have to maintain pretty strict guidelines to keep the blends consistent. 

Interesting info.  Thanks for sharing

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4 hours ago, Corylax18 said:

Cuba "created" a new classification of ligero, simply for marketing purposes, just 10 years ago.

Medio Tiempo does exist and is rare but my question is, what were they doing with it before BHK? Tabacuba, Cubatabaco or HSA doesn't acknowledge it until 2010 and then boom--all of the sudden they're using it, bragging about it and charging $30 a leaf. 

If it's that great it had to have been used prior. So what cigars did BHK take it from? If it's that rare surely BHK uses all available and even if not once they make it the main feature of the BHK they can't use it in a cheaper cigar anymore.

Or, since it is technically still ligero, maybe it tastes the same and it's all a gimmick. Anyone ever smoke raw Medio Tiempo leaf? Never heard of it. How do we know what it tastes like? Maybe too much sun makes it bland. I don't know. 

37 minutes ago, Cigar Surgeon said:

haven't seen the sorting and classification process in Cuba, despite the number of times I've been. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen it in the NC world. Even more interesting is that when you buy a bail of say seco or viso tobacco (NC classification), one company might consider that viso bail to really be only 70% viso, and 30% seco. Partly because the seller is going to be a little more lax with the grading, and many times because larger factories have to maintain pretty strict guidelines to keep the blends consistent. 

Yes, interesting.

Sounds like it could be a regular hassle for buyers. Makes sense for a lot of NC producers to grow their own leaf. 

Obviously the more basic Cuban sorting has a long history. I would assume it was also for reasons of practicality, but that is an assumption. Obviously, the NC tobacco tradition is much younger and was started by both growers and brand owners. 

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1 hour ago, NSXCIGAR said:

Medio Tiempo does exist and is rare but my question is, what were they doing with it before BHK? Tabacuba, Cubatabaco or HSA doesn't acknowledge it until 2010 and then boom--all of the sudden they're using it, bragging about it and charging $30 a leaf. 

If it's that great it had to have been used prior. So what cigars did BHK take it from? If it's that rare surely BHK uses all available and even if not once they make it the main feature of the BHK they can't use it in a cheaper cigar anymore.

Or, since it is technically still ligero, maybe it tastes the same and it's all a gimmick. Anyone ever smoke raw Medio Tiempo leaf? Never heard of it. How do we know what it tastes like? Maybe too much sun makes it bland. I don't know. 

Yes, interesting.

Sounds like it could be a regular hassle for buyers. Makes sense for a lot of NC producers to grow their own leaf. 

Obviously the more basic Cuban sorting has a long history. I would assume it was also for reasons of practicality, but that is an assumption. Obviously, the NC tobacco tradition is much younger and was started by both growers and brand owners. 

These are the topics where you guys blow me away.  I’m a complete noob when it comes to actual farming.  I know the layers names, and the basics of what role they play in a blend but that’s about it.  You could show me a maple leaf and I’d say......ummmmm this is seco I believe.

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1 hour ago, NSXCIGAR said:

Medio Tiempo does exist and is rare but my question is, what were they doing with it before BHK? Tabacuba, Cubatabaco or HSA doesn't acknowledge it until 2010 and then boom--all of the sudden they're using it, bragging about it and charging $30 a leaf. 

The answer, according to an interview with Jose Ilario, is that is wasn't produced.

In order to produce Medio Tiempo you leave the top couple of leaves on the plant for an extra two weeks after the regular ligero leaves are harvested. The extra time is what makes them into Medio Tiempo.

The technique and classification has been around since the 1930s, but it wasn't commonly done until the BHK range. I have seen documentation that backs up at least the 1930s part.

Whether that is marketing or not... well, you decide. But that's the official story.

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