Tobacco University: Tobacco Types by Country & Region

When we review tobaccos, we talk a great deal about the country or region that the tobacco contained in a cigar or tinned tobacco originated from.  Different regions tend to grow different types of tobaccos, which are cured in regionally-specific ways, and they also pick up unique elements from the local soil, especially in regards to mineral content.  While it would be inaccurate to ascribe generalizations in flavour to particular regions, there are some broad guidelines that you can keep in mind when choosing your preferred smoke:

Brazil

Tobaccos from Brazil, especially the Mata Fina and Arapiraca varieties, are being used in more and more cigars as time goes on. They tend to have rich, toasty, sweet and spicy notes, or woody elements, and the maduro versions are outstanding. Cigars containing Brazilian tobacco include CAO Brazilia and Gurkha’s Ancient Warrior.

Cameroon

Originally from the Sumatran black tobacco plant, Cameroon tobacco is grown in Central Africa, where the climate is so temperate that the plants are completely sun-grown, and this is made even easier by semi-permanent cloud cover which helps keep uniformity in the leaf’s appearance. Cameroon wrappers have been used in a number of popular cigar brands for both premium hand-rolled cigars and machine-made cigars including Garcia y Vega, Arturo Fuente and different brands from General Cigar.  They are known for a variety of flavours in the leaf, including notes of woodiness, slight spice, butter, and subtle sweetness, good for either a strong or milder smoke. Cameroon wrappers are generally a deep, rich brown in color, dark but not black.  Small leaf sizes and internal strife within the country limit cigar size and availability, but these are the trendiest wrappers on the planet.

Costa Rica

One leaf in particular, Costa Rican Maron, has become very popular. This tobacco has a unique, terrific nutty “toastiness” about it, and is used in such brands as St. Luis Rey and Mayorga. Expect to see more and more Costa Rican tobacco used in new brands.

Cuba

Almost universally, Cuban tobaccos are agreed by aficionados everywhere except the United States, where import of Cuban tobaccos has been illegal since the start of the Cold War, to be the universally-best standard against which all other cigar tobaccos are measured.  Cuban ligeros are considered to be utterly unique throughout the world.  They have a distinct flavour, largely due to the particular mineral content of Cuba, which is high in iron.  Even Cuban-seeded tobaccos grown elsewhere do not have the same distinct taste. Cuban-seeded tobacco varieties grown elsewhere include Corojo (varying from smooth and creamy to very spicy and full bodied; highly sought-after and widely-grown,) Criollo (flavourful but smooth such as in the CAO Cirollo, or very powerful, as in the Joya de Nicaragua Antaño), and Cubano (mostly used for filler).  The term “Habano” generally refers to Cuban or Cuban-seeded tobaccos.

Cyprus (Latakia)

See Syria (Latakia).

Dominican Republic

The Dominicans produce some excellent quality cigar tobaccos.  The Dominican Republic is home to some of the biggest names in premium cigars (i.e. Arturo Fuente, Macanudo, Montecristo, and many more). The overall profile of Dominican tobacco tends to be mild, but this is certainly not true in all circumstances.

Ecuador

Ecuadoran-grown tobacco is often of the so-called Connecticut Shade tobacco variety. Ecuador’s warm and humid tropical climate makes a great environment for tobacco growing, particularly wrapper tobacco. Most tobacco in Ecuador is grown at the foothills of the Andean mountains in fertile volcanic soil.  Its unique growing regions receive consistent cloud cover, and thus Ecuadorian wrappers are sometimes said to be “Cloud-Grown” instead of shade-grown. This naturally diffused light produces a cigar wrapper with a silky texture and fine-veined structure, and creates a leaf with consistent colour.

Honduras

Honduran tobacco is usually medium to fuller-bodied, and the typical flavour profile is earthy and flinty. Some of the Honduran cigars you may have tried might include Punch, Hoyo de Monterrey, Gispert, and Camacho.

Indonesia

The Sumatra region is in Indonesia.  (See Sumatra).

Iran

Iran grows some interesting tobaccos that are unique, including Dokha, which is mixed with leaves, bark, and herbs for smoking in a midwakh or hookah, and varieties of Orientals.

Italy

Italy grows a transplanted Cuban seed.  Its best example is in the CAO Italia, which is a rich, full-bodied, meaty cigar with woody and peppery elements.

Nicaragua

This country has made huge advances in the quality of their cigars, and, as a result, the popularity of their products. Nicaraguan leaf tends to be robust and spicy, with very complex flavours. Brands from Nicaragua include Padron, Joya de Nicaragua, and many of the cigars made by Don Pepin Garcia.

Mexico

The popularity of Mexican cigars has waned in recent years, but they still have some excellent tobaccos, such as San Andres maduro for wrappers, which is very flavourful, but can range from chocolaty smooth to somewhat peppery.  Some of the bad rap comes from the harshness of some of the cheaper grades of tobacco. Brands that use a significant amount of Mexican tobacco include TeAmo and A. Turrent.

Peru

Peru produces some wonderful, rich, and complex tobacco, but it is normally used as a small amount of the overall blend. There’s a lot of body to most Peruvian tobacco, and there’s a smooth spice note without a lot of the harshness found in many heavier cigar leaves. This tobacco is used in a number of cigars, including some of the Montecristo line.

Sumatra

The Sumatran black tobacco leaf is small and difficult to grow.  As a result, true Sumatran tobacco, grown in Sumatra, is rare.  Many cigars use transplanted Sumatran tobacco.  Some say that Sumatran tobacco is bitter; others just that it is dark and full-bodied.  You can find Sumatran transplants in Cameroon, Ecuador, Indonesia, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. The Dark Sumatran version is sun-grown, such as in the Hoya de Monterrey Dark Sumatra. Sumatra can range from sweet to tangy, again depending upon where it’s grown.

Syria (Latakia)

Latakia is a specially prepared pipe tobacco originally produced in Syria and named after the port city of Latakia. Now the tobacco is mainly produced in Cyprus. It is cured over a stone pine or oak wood fire, which gives it an intense smoky-peppery taste and smell. Too strong to smoke straight, it’s used as a “condiment”, especially in English and some American Classic blends.  Though Latakia tobacco from Cyprus seems to be plentiful in the present tobacco market, the prevalence of Syrian Latakia in boutique tobacco blends seems to have diminished of late.

Turkey (Turkish, Oriental)

Turkish tobacco is a sun-cured, highly aromatic, spice tobacco that is grown in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Originally grown in regions historically part of the Ottoman Empire, it is also known as “Oriental“. Many of the early brands of cigarettes were made mostly or entirely of Turkish tobacco; today, it’s a main component in English blends, along with Latakia (which is itself an Oriental that’s been flavoured with smoke).

This tobacco derives its name from the area in which it’s grown: the Eastern Mediterranean. Each of the varietals, in fact, are named after the towns or regions they come from. Thus Yenidje and Smyrna are Greek, Samsun and Izmir are Turkish, Drama is from Greece also, and Xanthe is from the region of Thrace, which is also in Greece. For all intents and purposes this is all one region, united for many years under Turkish rule (hence the interchangeable terms “Oriental” and “Turkish”.)

Oriental tobacco plants characteristically have a great deal of small leaves. The finished product ranges in color from yellow to brown, and is strongly aromatic. Its smell is reminiscent of used horse bedding, which could possibly explain why it’s often mixed with Latakia. Cigarette companies snatch up most Turkish varietals these days, making them nearly impossible to find, even for professional blenders.

United States

There are a variety of tobaccos that originate in the US. They are more often used in pipe tobaccos and cigarettes than cigars.  Different curing processes are mostly what differentiate the regions.

Burley tobacco is an air-cured tobacco used primarily for cigarette production. A low-sugar, high nicotine, slow-burning tobacco with a very subtle flavour. In pipe tobacco, burley is often used as a base for aromatics or to modify the burning characteristics of a blend. In the U.S., burley tobacco plants are started from palletized seeds placed in polystyrene trays floated on a bed of fertilized water in March or April.

Cavendish is more a process of curing and a method of cutting tobacco than a type. The processing and the cut are used to bring out the natural sweet taste in the tobacco. Cavendish can be produced out of any tobacco type but is usually one of, or a blend of Kentucky, Virginia, and Burley and is most commonly used for pipe tobacco and cigars.

The process begins by pressing the tobacco leaves into a cake about an inch thick. Heat from fire or steam is applied, and the tobacco is allowed to ferment. This is said to result in a sweet and mild tobacco. Finally the cake is sliced. These slices must be broken apart, as by rubbing in a circular motion between one’s palms, before the tobacco can be evenly packed into a pipe. Flavouring is often added before the leaves are pressed. English Cavendish uses a dark flue or fire cured Virginia, which is steamed and then stored under pressure to permit it to cure and ferment for several days or weeks.

There are several colors, including the well-known Black Cavendish, numerous blends, and a wide range of flavours. Modern blends include flavours and ingredients such as cherry, chocolate, coconut, rum, strawberry, vanilla, walnut, and bourbon.

Cavendish tobacco originated in the late 16th century, when Sir Thomas Cavendish commanded a ship in Sir Richard Grenville’s expedition to Virginia in 1585, and discovered that by dipping tobacco leaves in sugar it produced a milder and more mellow smoke.

Connecticut

Shade tobacco is cultivated in Connecticut and Massachusetts and has been from the time of the first American colonists.

Connecticut Shade is a light-colored, delicate, yet flavourful leaf that’s grown in the Connecticut Valley and also Ecuador. It’s very expensive and highly sought-after, and is usually used in milder cigars.

Connecticut Broadleaf is a thicker, more earthy tobacco than its shade-grown cousin, it is typically made into maduros for use as a wrapper, but is also used as binder and filler.

Kentucky

Kentucky is known for its aromatic fire-cured tobacco, which is cured by smoke from open fires. Fire-cured tobacco grown in Kentucky and Tennessee are used in some chewing tobaccos, moist snuff, some cigarettes, and as a condiment in pipe tobacco blends.

Louisiana (Perique)

Another “spice” tobacco grown only in St. James Parish, Louisiana. Perique is subjected to extreme pressure and is allowed to ferment as it is cured, which results in a very distinctive tobacco. It was almost endangered because its small geographic area of growth makes it especially subceptible to all the hazards of agriculture.

The process by which this tobacco is produced predates Columbus. The Choctaw Indians of (what would later be) Louisiana would make it by pressing it into hollow logs with a long pole, and securing it with weights.  After the Acadians (Cajuns) settled the area in the mid-1700’s, the Choctaws taught this process to a French colonist by the name of Pierre Chenet. The finished product was referred to as Perique, a Cajun variation on the word “prick”. This referred either to the phallic shape of the carottes (the tight bundles of market-ready Perique), or Chenet himself, as it was his nickname!

Perique is usually used in Virginia blends. It has a dark, oily appearance, and a taste of pepper and figs. Its flavour is very strong, so it isn’t usually found in high percentages in a blend. It can be smoked straight, but isn’t intended to be.

Its role as a complement to Virginias is not just because of its flavour. Being acidic, it tends to alleviate alkaline tongue bite, which is so often a problem with Virginia tobacco.

Massachusetts

See Connecticut.

Ohio (White Burley)

In 1865, George Webb of Brown County, Ohio planted red burley seeds he had purchased, and found that a few of the seedlings had a whitish, sickly look. The air-cured leaf was found to be more mild than other types of tobacco, and this is now known as White Burley.

Tennessee

See Kentucky: northern middle Tennessee is the best region for growing aromatic fire-cured tobacco.

Virginia

Brightleaf is commonly known as “Virginia tobacco“, often regardless of the state where it is planted. Prior to the American Civil War, most tobacco grown in the US was fire-cured dark-leaf. This type of tobacco was planted in fertile lowlands, used a robust variety of leaf, and was either fire cured or air cured. Most Canadian cigarettes are made from 100% pure Virginia tobacco.  Aromatic fire-cured tobacco is also grown in Virginia, but this is usually not what reviewers are referring to when they write about Virginia tobaccos.

Sources: Pipedia.com, Wikipedia.

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