On my third day in Cuba I took a cigar-making class. Mind you, this was no ordinary cigar class–it was taught by a Category 9 roller, Yadira, and her colleague Yasmel (who translated for us). They both work in a cigar factory in Havana.
Before making the cigars, we learned a bit of background regarding Cuban tobacco plants and the fermentation process for the leaves. The tobacco plants take about 3 months to grow to full size, and the position of the leaves on the tobacco plant corresponds to the flavor. When they pick the tobacco leaves, the bottom leaves are picked first, the middle leaves are picked 7 days later, and the top leaves are the last to be harvested.
The leaves are then placed in fermentation houses. There, they are rotated and eventually turn brown. After about six months, the leaves are transferred to another fermentation house to enhance the flavor further. The entire process takes a year or more.
After explaining the fermentation process, Yadira and Yasmel told us about what it means to be a Category 9 roller.
According to Yasmel, most people take 5-6 years to achieve the coveted “Category 9” status. In a Cuban cigar factory, you start as a category 7 roller; when you are able to produce a certain quantity of cigar with the required quality standard, you are “promoted” to another table and level.
It’s important to maintain high work quality because, as they told us, it is possible to get demoted after a sloppy month. Category 9 rollers can be demoted to Category 7 (not a forgiving business!)
As Yadira and Yasmel are both Category 9 rollers, we knew we were being taught by the best possible teachers.
The cigar filler making process starts at 01:45 in the video (after an overview of the tools we use!)
After creating the filler, it needs to be pressed for about an hour. They use a special machine for pressing (as Yadira shows us in the video).
After pressing the filler, we wrap it!
In the video, the wrapping process is shown at approx. 11 minutes.
Overall, I really enjoyed the class! Each of us got a chance to make a filler for a cigar, and also wrap a filler that Yadira had prepared for us. We got to take both home. These are mine:
After all that hard work, we sat down and smoked a cigar together–one that Yadira had made for us previously. She taught us the way they light and smoke them in Cuba.
I highly recommend Yadira’s cigar masterclass for anyone going to Havana.
I booked it through airbnb experiences (nope, this is not an a paid ad!)
You can also order cigars directly from her, which is perfect for people who prefer a mix of cigars (you can see it in the video, wrapped in yellow ribbon at the end of class!)
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Thanks and see you soon!
As soon as I landed in Miami I ordered a humidor, butane lighter, and cutter for my cigars.