Read a brief history of the difference between tobacco plant primings in the past and the ones around today from our cigar enthusiasts.
Many people who enjoy cigars and their often deep and complex flavors have very little understanding of what makes the tobacco taste like it does. Of course, much of this stems from the fact that the vast majority of people in the United States know next to nothing about how vegetation, in general, is grown for consumption, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. However, plant primings used in tobacco are an important part of what makes your cigar taste like it should.
A quick break-down of the process of how cigar tobacco is harvested will help to elucidate. When a tobacco plant’s leaves are fully grown, or mature, they’ll be harvested, either by hand or by machine. Tobacco, however, is not like corn; it is not harvested at the same time, or in the same manner, by every cigar manufacturer. Generally, there are two methods of removing the leaves from the tobacco plant; either removing all of them at one time or removing various leaves from the plant as they mature and become ripe.
Now, the term ‘tobacco plant primings’ has two separate definitions; one is more technical, the other is probably the one that you are more familiar with, the one more likely to be used in your favorite cigar shop online or in person, or by those in your favorite cigar lounge. The technical definition, which we won’t be focusing on very much, is that ‘primings’ on a tobacco plant are the leaves nearest to the ground. They’re sometimes also called ‘sand leaves,’ because they’re so close to the ground that they must be heavily washed off the dirt and sand that ends up on them, and many will often end up unusable.
The more common use of the phrase ‘tobacco plant primings,’ however, is to describe tobacco leaves in general. A tobacco plant can have up to 8 ‘primings’, which is basically being used as a word to describe a ‘layer’ of tobacco leaves on the plant, going from top to bottom (or vice versa).
For example, in a Corojo tobacco plant, there are eight different primings; beginning at the ground level, they are known as Libra de Pie, Uno y Medio, Centro Ligero, Centro Fino, Centro Gordo, Semi Corona, Corona.
So why does anyone care enough to name the plant’s various layers? Well, because the way that the tobacco plant is structured, the various ‘layers’ or ‘primings’ receive different amounts of sunlight, of exposure, of nutrients, and will be different in size. For example, on the Corojo plant we just described, you will find that the top layer, the Corona, is not often used for making tobacco. It’s not that the leaf isn’t flavorful or anything like that, but rather that due to how plants grow, the leaf is tiny, and is not useful in making a cigar as a general rule.
However, Ligero leaves, which are a bit further down, are usually in great demand for cigars. The reasons should be obvious. They get a lot of sunlight, they get a lot of nutrients, and they are larger, thicker, and heavier than most other leaves on the tobacco plant. They’re stronger than most cigar leaves as well, and they are generally more flavorful (thanks to the abundance of nutrients and the abundance of sunlight that they received).
So, when you buy a cigar that says it uses all Corojo leaves or Allegro leaves, chances are that while it may primarily use mostly those leaves, it uses leaves from all throughout the plant, in order to balance out the flavor and to make sure that the cigar has decent construction to it.
So, when someone talks about the ‘tobacco plant primings’, they’re basically talking about the layer from which the tobacco comes. The higher up the leaves are, the more potent they are likely to be and the more sunlight they are likely to have received, while the lower they are the less potent their flavor is likely to be.
The real lesson here that you should walk away with is simply this; just because someone says something about tobacco primings, does not mean that it is so, and all good cigar makers strive to make sure that their cigars are a good mixture of flavor without being overpowering.