Welcome to part 6 of our 6-week journey of the cigar tobacco growing regions of the world - our final destination: South America. As mentioned in the introduction to this series, the best cigar tobacco is grown in the tropical zone of the globe, along the equator between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where the variations in sunlight, temperature, humidity, soil conditions, and a host of other factors like the people and their skills and traditions all converge to create the distinct characteristics in tobacco leaves. About 79% of the total land mass of South America is within this tropical zone. Of the 10 South American countries that comprise this region, we will discuss the five that actually produce cigar tobacco: Ecuador, Brazil, Colombia, and Peru.
The Republic of Ecuador is located on the northwestern coast of South America - bordered by Colombia in the north, Peru in the east and the south, and the Pacific Ocean in the west. It is one of the only two countries on the continent that do not border Brazil (the other country being Chile). With over 30 volcanoes present, the soil in Ecuador is extremely rich, with most of the tobacco being grown at the foothills of the Andes mountains. The El Niño effect is the greatest threat to tobacco cultivation in this region, which occurs when the waters of the Pacific Ocean become unusually warm and result in a climate pattern change that produces huge amounts of rainfall and destructive flooding.
Ecuador is known for high-quality filler and wrapper tobacco, primarily Connecticut- and Sumatra-seed varietals. Both Ecuadorian-Connecticut and Ecuadorian-Sumatran tobacco are milder, and less robust in flavor and strength, compared to their originals. This may be due to soil mineral content or the normal cloud coverage. Both shade-grown and sun-grown tobacco are grown, with shade-grown being referred to as "cloud-grown" due to the consistent cloud coverage during the growing season. The "cloud-grown" tobacco plants have smaller veins and thinner leaves compared to the sun-grown plants, but are still quite supple. In terms of growth, Ecuadorian-Connecticut plants may grow to well over 10 feet in height, compared with the Ecuadorian-Sumatran plants which typically mature at around six feet.
The following are examples of cigar brands on the market which contain Ecuadorian wrappers:
Aging Room Quattro
Carlos Toraño (Brigade; Casa Toraño)
Emilio AF Suave
E.P. Carrillo New Wave Connecticut
Fonseca Vintage Collection
Gurkha Royal Challenge
La Flor Dominicana Reserva Especial
Oliva Connecticut Reserve
Pinar del Rio (Clasico; PDR 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Natural)
Perdomo (Patriarch Connecticut; Grand Cru 2006; Lot 23)
Romeo y Julieta Reserva Real
Romeo y Julieta Vintage
Xikar HC Series Connecticut Shade
Zino Platinum Scepter
Carlos Toraño Loyal
E.P Carrillo INCH Natural
La Gloria Cubana (Natural; Serie R; Reserva Figurados; Artesanos de Tabaqueros)
La Flor Dominicana (Ligero; Double Ligero; Colorado Oscuro)
Brazil is the largest country in South America, and is the fifth largest country in the world, in terms of size and population. The nation is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean in the east, and borders every country in South America, except for Chile and Ecuador. Although mostly tropical, the climate of Brazil is quite diverse and varies topographically, as evidenced by various environments such as northern equatorial rain forests, northeastern semiarid deserts, temperate forests in the south, and tropical savannas in central region of the country.
Brazil is popular for its tobacco production, not for its cigar industry - its tobacco exportation is for use in the production of cigars in other countries. Tobacco production for premium cigars did not become popular until the 1960s. Prior to that, tobacco was produced for domestic and European cigarettes, and some machine-made cigars. Brazilian cigar tobacco has become an important contributor to the cigar wrapper market; however, some tobacco has been increasingly used as filler as well.
One of the primary regions of tobacco cultivation in Brazil is concentrated within the northeastern province of Bahia, which is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean. A chain of mountains running north to south actually separates the province into two clearly distinct geographic zones. The east side of the mountain range, which borders the Atlantic Ocean, has rich, fertile soil and regular rainy seasons (which helps given the high temperatures of the region). Within Bahia lies the Reconcavo Basin, where a very distinctive wrapper is grown - Mata Fina. Mata Fina is sun-grown and has a dark color. Its rich flavor, strong aroma, and smooth sweetness provides excellent maduro and oscuro wrappers. Mata Sul and Mata Norte are "cousin" tobaccos of Mata Fina - the latter being darker and stronger.
Northeast of Bahia, within the state of Alagoas, is the city of Arapiraca, which is very well known for tobacco production, and has been referred to as "The Brazilian Tobacco Capital". Its tobacco is also primarily used for maduro wrappers, but is not as dark, sweet, or aromatic as the Mata Fina maduros.
Notable cigar brands on the market which are produced with the Brazilian wrapper include:
CAO Gold Maduro
Gurkha (Assassin; Evil; Ancient Warrior Special Edition)
Pinar del Rio (Oscuro Liga Cubana No. 2; Reserva Superior Liga Especial)
Brazilian Mata Fina
Dona Flor Reserva Especial (Brazilian puro)
Monte Pascoal (Mata Fina puro with Mata Norte added to filler)
Carlos Toraño (Exodus 1959 - 50 Years; Signature Collection)
PDR 1878 Cubano Especial Capa Madura
The Republic of Colombia is located northwestern South America, and is bordered by Panama, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru. The Caribbean Sea is along the north coast and the Pacific Ocean is to the west. There are four different cigar tobacco varietals that grow in Colombia (Carmen, Ovjas, Zambrano, and Plate); however, these leaves are thick, tough, and require heavy fermentation. Although not popular, there are a few cigar brands on the market who use Colombian tobacco in a variety of blends for filler, including:
Alec Bradley (Maxx; Vice Press)
Emilio Draig K
Gurkha (Seduction; The Beast Special Edition)
Peru does not have a longstanding history or tradition of growing premium cigar tobacco. The Andes mountains run north to south parallel to the Pacific Ocean, and separates the country into three distinct geographic regions:
The coast - A narrow plain that lies west of the mountain range; largely arid, except for valleys created by seasonal rivers, which has some ideal tobacco growing areas
The highlands region of the Andes
The jungle - Covers 60% of the country's land area and is partially covered by the Amazon rain forest
Cigar producers are always seeking to create new blends to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Some notable cigar brands that use Peruvian filler in their blends include:
CAO (MX2; Italia)
This concludes our 6-week journey of the cigar tobacco growing regions of the world. I hope that you enjoyed some insight into the countries of origin of your favorite cigars, and developed an appreciation for the growth and expansion of the industry by virtue of the influence and role of other countries in their cigar tobacco production. Long ashes, my friends...