For cigar enthusiasts, the debate over machine-rolled cigars vs hand-rolled cigars has gone on for generations. There’s no question that a hand-rolled cigar represents a connection to tradition and artisanship that a machine-rolled cigar simply cannot match. That’s not to say, though, that the best machine-made cigar can’t approach the taste and overall smoking experience of a hand-rolled cigar. In fact, there are machine-rolled cigars that compare so favorably to their hand-rolled counterparts that only price makes the distinction between the two. Here, we’ll explore some of the differences in these two approaches to cigar making.
How They’re Made
First, it’s important to remember that a machine-made cigar is likely to look a little different, with a somewhat duller appearance. The wrapper’s materials must be able to stand up to the manufacturing process and the power of the rolling machine, hence it’s a bit different from the delicate leaf wrappers of a hand-rolled cigar. Many manufacturers use homogenized tobacco leaf (HTL) for the binder and wrapper both. HTL is composed of scraps of tobacco leaf, which is then rolled into sheets after being mixed with vegetable gum. HTL is considerably stronger than whole tobacco leaf, making it easier to work with in machines, and flavorings are often added to make the finished product more appealing.
The filler of a machine-rolled cigar will also be significantly different. The filler is what gives any cigar its flavor, and it’s what the smoker draws most of the flavor from. Hand-rolled cigars have high-quality filler leaves, running the entire length of the cigar. Machine-made cigars, on the other hand, will use chopped filler that might include the stem or other less-desirable parts of the tobacco leaf. This not only affects the taste, but the burning and drawing quality of a machine-made cigar.
The Manufacturing Process
Usually, a cigar rolling machine has several workers to take care of the manufacturing process. A worker places tobacco leaves on a belt that feeds into the machine, and this belt features guide bars that are adjusted according to the length of the finished cigar. The machine performs the job of the buncher in a hand-rolled cigar operation, forming the filler for the cigar. Next, another worker places binder leaf onto a die, where the machine cuts it to specified sizes and rolls the binder around the bunched filler. Then, the binder and filler drops onto a wrapper die, with the machine then rolling the wrapper around the cigar. A fourth worker collects the cigars as they come out of the machine, inspects them briefly and places them in containers.
An inspector examines the finished cigars for flaws and checks their weight, shape, size and condition of the wrapper. The inspector might patch wrappers or re-shape heads to correct imperfections in the cigars.
For the more expensive machine-made cigars, there are quality checks at every step of the process. The leaves are inspected and sorted after curing and fermentation, before manufacturing even begins. The finished cigars must be consistent in diameter, size, weight and draw. Cigars are passed through a ring to ensure consistent diameter, then measured with a ruler. The veins of the wrapper leaves should be a consistent spiral, and a box of cigars will be inspected to ensure that at least the box’s top layer of cigars are all consistent in color.
When it comes to cheaper machine-rolled cigars, the filler might be “reconstituted” tobacco that includes scraps, binders, preservatives, chemicals and burning agents and maybe even paper.
In the higher-grade machine-rolled cigars, the manufacturing process might be a hybrid of machine work and hand-finishing. Some manufacturers refer to these cigars as “handmade,” but this obviously isn’t 100 percent accurate. With machine-made cigars at this level, they do receive more attention from individuals, from the blending of tobacco through the quality control and packaging process. Still, many enthusiasts consider hand-rolled cigars to be superior in terms of taste, draw, and overall aesthetics. With machine-rolled cigars, it’s a “you get what you pay for” equation, with the higher-priced cigars being unmistakably better than a cigar you might pick up at a convenience store.
For the connoisseur who enjoys an occasional cigar as an indulgence, it can really be worth the premium price for a hand-rolled cigar. For a cigar smoker who may go through a few cigars in a day’s time, there’s a lot to be said for an affordable “everyday” cigar that still offers great taste and a good smoking experience. In the end, it’s your palate, your wallet and your cigar smoking habits that will make the final call between hand-rolled cigars and less-expensive machine-rolled cigars.