For the true cigar aficionado, hand-rolled cigars are the ultimate. A hand-rolled cigar is a link to tradition and elegant, artisanal craftsmanship. On the face of it, it’s just tobacco leaves that have been rolled together so a smoker can light them and smoke them. At the same time, it’s a combination of skill and artistry that takes many years for a cigar maker to master.
There’s so much that goes into a fine hand-rolled cigar, from the type of seed and the soil type to the weather and growing season, all the way to the tobacco farmer’s harvest that brings the leaves to the curing barns in the best possible condition.
Hand Rolled Cigars for Sale
When you start to explore what hand-rolled cigars are available, you soon find out that hand-rolled Cuban cigars are a sort of Holy Grail among cigar enthusiasts – and that, of course, they’re nearly impossible to get with the trade embargo that was imposed on Cuba 50-plus years ago. Miami hand-rolled cigars are also a hot item among aficionados, but not many outside of the cigar culture know about Ybor City hand-rolled cigars.
Ybor City is now officially regarded as Tampa’s National Historic Landmark District, but in the 19th century it was a mix of immigrants from places like Cuba, Germany, Spain and Italy. It also became home to some of the most famous cigar production in the world. In the early days of Ybor City, most residents were making a living from cigar production, with many others in support roles for the cigar trade. With its diverse population and collection of mutual-aid groups, Ybor City established itself as the Cigar Capital of the World.
The town got its start in the 1880s, when Cuban emigrant Vicente Martinez Ybor purchased 40 acres near Tampa and turned it into an entire worker’s colony, with stores, parks and hundreds of houses for the workers who soon followed from Cuba. The pay was so good that workers could buy their little white casitas, and soon more and more people poured into Ybor City to make cigars.
Unfortunately, Ybor City experienced a reversal of fortunes in the 1930s, with the Great Depression and a switch toward cigarettes. Many of the community’s factories were shuttered and the little white houses were torn down, but in the 70s and 80s the area was rediscovered and turned into a National Historic Landmark District (and a must-visit destination for Tampa tourists).
Things to Know About Hand-Rolled Cigars
- Cigars have always been produced with a two-person team. There’s the buncher (bunchero) and the roller (rolero), seated together or apart. The best rollers sit in the front row of the factory, while the novice or apprentice rollers start out in the last rows. It can take years for rollers to make it through the ranks, depending on how consistent and aesthetically attractive their rolling work is.
- You may think that a long cigar is composed of leaves that are roughly the same length from end to end, but that’s incorrect. The leaves may be broken or folded various ways, depending on the size and style of the cigar. It’s the buncher’s job to put together the filler leaves and the binder leaves to help create the perfectly-packed cigar with no soft spots or over-packed hard spots. This is essential to creating a cigar that will allow smoke and air to flow freely from one end to the other.
- Before the cigar goes to the roller and the wrapper is applied, it’s removed from a mold and draw-tested on a machine that literally draws air through the cigar. This amount of draw is measured and registered to determine if it falls within the acceptable range for the factory. Cigars that fail this test are culled, but some cigar makers rely on their rollers’ experience so much that they don’t bother using this machine.
- Cigars that have a wrapper that’s too light or too dark in color might be sold as “Factory Select,” while cigars that have an unevenly-colored wrapper are packaged and sold as “Factory Seconds.” There’s little difference in flavor or overall smoking experience with these – they just don’t meet aesthetic standards. The job of sorting wrapper leaves for consistency of color is almost always left to women.
Hand-rolled cigars are an exquisite smoking experience and a throwback to an earlier time of artisans and traditional methods. For cigar smokers who are serious about smoking, it’s worth the extra cost to indulge in a hand-rolled cigar. So, the next time you select a cigar to smoke, get a good look at how it was packed and rolled, then reflect on how it’s the end of product of generations of cigar makers’ workmanship.