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Corojo Tobacco – Its Uses and Origins

Man standing at the coast smoking

Between the mid-1940s and 1997, Corojo tobacco was the only tobacco used for wrapper in Cuba. Corojo tobacco was destined to become the best wrapper tobacco in the world because it was perfect for wrapper: it was thin and yet supple and it had exceptional flavor characteristics. With Corojo wrapper tobacco in plentiful supply, there was really no reason for premium cigar manufacturers to use other tobaccos for wrapper or for tobacco growers to even attempt to grow their own outside of Cuba.

But Corojo tobacco would eventually be used less and less for a couple of different reasons. First, Corojo tobacco became susceptible to a couple of different tobacco diseases, most notably blue mold. Second, the embargo would put an end to the unrestricted flow of Corojo tobacco into the U.S. and cigar manufacturers would eventually begin using greater quantities of other tobaccos. Connecticut Shade and Sumatran tobaccos would eventually become very popular. Connecticut Shade was developed by transplantation of Cuban-seed tobacco and the first commercial crop appeared in 1906. But for many cigar manufacturers, there was nothing to compare with Corojo tobacco grown in Cuba.

Some people sometimes confuse Fronto leaf tobacco with Corojo tobacco. This is due to Fronto being very dark.

History Of Black Tobacco

Tobacco has been cultivated for thousands of years, with smoking tobacco likely originating in the Andes. Archaeological evidence suggests that Indian people in the Andes region of South America began to domesticate and cultivate tobacco about 7,000 years ago. These aboriginal Indians eventually took their knowledge of tobacco seeds and cultivation practices with them as they migrated north through Central America and into North America.

Of course, the tobacco grown thousands of years ago was nothing like the tobacco used in today’s premium hand made cigars. Nevertheless, to this day, the Americas and their unique climate and soils make the perfect growing conditions for tobacco.

In 1492, when Columbus made his way to the Americas, the Native Americans presented him with gifts of tobacco leaves, which he subsequently introduced to Spain. At the time of the European incursion into the “New World,” smoking was found only in the Americas and in a few parts of Africa. But because tobacco was promulgated within the “civilized world,” it would eventually be found throughout Europe, Africa and Asia in less than a century.

The next very important event in cigar tobacco history took place in Spain in the late 1600s. Built in the 18th century, Seville’s tobacco factory was the largest industrial building in the world at that time and it remained a tobacco factory until the 1950s. However, what led to its preeminence in tobacco was a technique that is used to this day. The Spaniards were the first to manufacture cigars with a three-component model, using filler, binder and wrapper. This technique paved the way for the use of different types and grades of tobacco in each component. Since wrapper is the crowing achievement of every cigar, that which every prospective smoker sees and that guides their eventual purchase, the wrapper tobacco would eventually achieve preeminent importance relative to filler and binder.

In 1753, Swedish botanist Carolus Linneus identified the two varieties of tobacco used for smoking by the genus name Nicotiana, in honor of French Ambassador Jean Nicot de Villemain, who wrote prolifically about tobacco. These two smokeable species of tobacco were called: Nicotiana rustica and Nicotiana tabacumNicotiana tabacum  is predominantly used for making cigars. This variety is commonly referred to as Black Tobacco and you will rarely see premium hand made cigars made from anything other than black, air-cured tobaccos.

The Evolution Of Crojo

From the very beginning, tobacco farmers have experimented with growing Nicotiana tabacum in different soils, different regions and different countries. After many generations and through natural selection of the best plants for future breeding, these tobaccos became their own distinct varietals as they developed unique flavor characteristics and structure. These region- and country-specific varietals are called “criollos” or “native seed” tobaccos.

There are 5 principal black tobacco criollos or native seed tobaccos, but for the purpose of this article, the one I will talk about is the Habanesis variety. Habanesis was Cuba’s first standardized black tobacco seed varietal. This tobacco varietal was developed from the Nicotiana tabacum seeds that were originally brought from Mexico and planted in Cuba in 1534. These seeds were and are the basis for much of the world’s current premium cigar tobacco. The Habanesis variety was developed in 1907 in Cuba and was grown under shade for wrappers and in the sun for filler and binder. This tobacco gave rise to all current Cuban tobacco varietals, including Corojo.

From the Habanesis tobacco came Criollo, which was developed in 1941 as a hybrid of Habanesis. Criollo (“native”), as the name suggests, became the pure “Cuban Seed” stock from which all other Cuban-origin Black Tobaccos were derived. Criollo was originally grown for use as wrapper and filler, but would eventually be surpassed by Corojo as the wrapper of choice.

Corojo tobacco was developed in the mid 1940s through selective breeding of Criollo tobacco. At that time, it was grown on the El Corojo farm in Cuba. Interestingly, when this tobacco was standardized, it was given the name of the farm on which it was grown. And so it became Corojo tobacco.

From the mid 1940s through 1997, Corojo was the wrapper of choice, both inside and outside of Cuba. After many generations of experimentation with planting, growing and making cigars from the Habanesis varietal, the Corojo was the equivalent of the killer app in technology. It had everything the researchers, agronomists and manufacturers wanted in a great wrapper tobacco. The leaf was thin, yet elastic, with a fine texture and best of all: the taste was exquisite.

The Demise Of Crojo

Two things contributed to the demise of Corojo. One was its susceptibility to blue mold and other tobacco pests, which reduced its yield significantly. The Corojo plant, which was often small, was further decimated by plagues of blue mold and other tobacco pests. The resulting low yield created a situation where supply could not continue to meet demand. Corojo was eventually replaced by a variety of hybrid tobaccos that were significantly higher-yielding and disease-resistant.

The other historic event was the Cuban revolution and the nationalization of Cuban tobacco by the government. By the mid to late 1960s, many of the best tobacco growers left Cuba, taking their tobacco growing expertise with them. The embargo created shortages of wrapper tobacco in the United States and all U.S. companies were forced to look for alternatives to Cuban Corojo.

Eventually, tobacco growers began selective breeding to come up with hardier strains of the tobacco. Havana 2000 was an early hybrid of Corojo, which enjoyed only limited success. Criollo 98 showed much more promise. The seed was originally planted in Nicaragua, but quickly made its appearance across the border in Honduras. This hybrid was followed by Criollo 99 and then Corojo 99. Jose Pepin Garcia has used Corojo 99 in many of his blends. This is a beautiful and aromatic wrapper leaf with few of the limitations of the original Corojo.

Of course, many have tried to grow Corojo tobacco outside of Cuba, and with varying levels of success. The Eiroa family of Camacho cigars have grown Corojo in Honduras and others have grown it in the Dominican Republic and elsewhere, but it still proves to be a stubborn varietal and the yields are often very low. Most tobacco growers prefer to use hybrids of Corojo like Corojo 99 and others, which are more resistant to mold and pests and have a higher yield.

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Cigar Beetles and Tobacco Beetles, How to Get Rid of These Bugs

A Cigar Beetle at High Magnification

Don’t get too intimidated by these bugs. And by buys, I mean the red-yellow or brown-red hunched oval-shaped tobacco beetles and cigar beetles.

I’m sure some of you by now are somewhat shocked that there are bugs that can destroy your cigar collection. But sadly, they are around. However, there are plenty of ways to prevent any incubation of them, and that involves your humidor. 

When You Find Cigar Beetles

Now, for instance, it’s a Sunday afternoon, and you reach into your humidor, expecting to grab an excellent smoke of yours to enjoy in the sun. Instead, you feel an itchy sensation crawl up your wrist, which is, in fact, a tobacco beetle. You’d be surprised by the number of retailers that I’ve visited who’ve shown clear signs that they have inhabited tobacco beetles. They feed off your tobacco, and throughout adult life, their wings begin to sprout, and that’s when they can fly around your humidor in order to look for more of your smokes. It’s pretty bad, and once you have them, it means trouble. Tobacco beetles can decrease your collections to a small mass. They can be controlled, so don’t get too anxious. They tend to hatch when the humidity of your humidor gets too high. That’s where we come in. 

Tobacco Beetle at High Magnification
Tobacco Beetle

What About Using Fumigants?

As I said, don’t become overly stressed because the problem can be fixed. There are multiple fumigants that manufacturers use and also the retailers when they receive them from shipping. For those of you who don’t know what fumigation is, it’s just a gas-releasing pellet or tablet that you place in a sealed room or container (typically a room) that releases gas in order to exterminate the cheeky devil cigar beetles. 

One of the positives of a fumigant is that it doesn’t leave any traces of the gas or harmful residue. However, I would suggest you leave the room for 72 hours before entering again to retrieve the cigars. I suppose you could call this the chemical way of extermination.

The more natural methods are intended to “rob oxygen” from the cigar beetles during fumigation. Another way is freezing. The great thing with this treatment is that it kills the beetles at any point in its growth. Some manufacturers use these methods, and others let them hatch under the correct conditions to grow. 

Just to point out, it’s more common for handmade cigars to inhabit the beetles and pass them on to the cigar collections. It goes without saying; all consumers will want to know where the cigars originate from and how clean they are. 

What Should I do if Beetles do inhabit my Humidor?

To begin with, you must check for any visible eggs, shells, or feces. Small details such as fine brown powder collecting in the corners of your humidor are definite signs. If you have a cabinet humidor, the powder is surprisingly more evident in the drawers. 

#1 First and foremost, bag up all cigars with any traces of small holes. Any bag will do and get them out of your house as soon as possible. When I experienced the devilish creatures, I had considered burning them and forcing the other beetles to watch in an audience to show them what there were in for. But I chose not to. I can imagine my kids horrified faces!

#2 If you discovered a cigar beetle infestation, then listen carefully. All cigars have now likely to have also been infected by the beetles’ eggs or disease. This problem needs to be attended to with care. In many cases, the beetles have remained close to only one or two particular cigars. 

#3 Freezing your cigars: Many a consumer would consider this option. Though it doesn’t always solve the problem, it saves your cigars from getting severely damaged or even worse, sacrificed. All you need to d is simply place all of your cigars into a bag that can be frozen. It’s recommended it be ziplocked. You want to make sure that your cigars have a secure vapor barrier. By doing so, wrap the freezer bg in plastic freezer wrapping. Any moisture whatsoever is not allowed! In my experience, around three days is enough in the freezer. I also found the colder the temperature of your freezer, the higher the outcome of extermination. You might not know, but cigar beetles are very fearless buggers. They can outstand many temperature extremes.

While You’re Waiting for the Treatments to Take Effect

While you’re waiting for the three days to come to an end, one of the most substantial parts of the process is deep cleaning your humidor. Get a vacuum and suck up any remains or brown powder piles. Next – and very importantly, wipe the inside with a fresh cloth. Preferably somewhat damp. Do not include disinfectants at any point in the cleaning out process. The chemicals inside them can damage the humidor and your cigars. One of the downsides of this entire routine is that it does take quite a while. After three days, take the bag out of the freezer and place it in the fridge for a further two days.

You don’t want to be putting your frozen cigars into a well-heated humidor; otherwise, you may find your smokes have a shock. By putting them in your fridge, it just reduces the trauma. You’re going to hate me for saying this, but after those two days in the refrigerator, you must enable your cigars to take a breather and regain there average ‘body temperature’ if you like.

Last but not least, take your smokes out of the freezer bag and place them back into their humidor. Sealed cigar boxes have a more narrowed chance of any infestation. However, if one of your cabinet humidors becomes infested, repeat the exact process above, and you’ll find those buggers will be long gone. 

How Did The Outbreak Begin?

The very last thing you’ll need to sort out is how the outbreak began in the first place. A common cause of infestation is, in fact, your humidity conditions of the humidor—Double-check for any unusual humidity activity. Situations, where the humidor is too hot or too humid, have a significant effect on your cigars and outbreaks. The bugs can indeed appear out of nowhere at any point, even if our humidor is pristine condition, you’ll find that temperature triggers it most of the time. The risk – from my experience – seems to lie somewhere around 73 degrees Fahrenheit. Any heat sources or windows with direct sunlight shining through should be kept away from any humidors. The most important thing is to keep your cigars and humidor free of any insects and bugs. Protect, resolve, and continue your collections. 

Some More Reading on Tobacco Beetles:

An Introduction to the “Cigarette Beetle”

Have You Heard of the Tobacco Beetle?

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Native American Tobacco And Its History – Find Out More

Native American Tobacco, An Introduction

Abuse of tobacco and responsible use of tobacco are two completely different things, believe me. Tobacco in North and South America has been used for thousands of years that pre-date Columbus and the discovery of native American tobacco. having had plenty of experience, the Native Americans actually developed a responsible way of smoking tobacco. Those of you who enjoy smoking cigars will often share the same characteristics that native Americans did and that my friends is smoking tobacco in a non-abusive sense.

Hand Drawn Image Of a Native American Tobacco Plant

Abuse Of Tobacco Through The Ages

Following the discovery of tobacco around 500 years ago, the majority of Western civilization has constantly found tricks to abuse tobacco. I believe, none of the Western civilization used any of the ancient practices and instead found themselves abusing each other and becoming addicts which moreover lead then to control tobacco. In my opinion, I think the most responsible and more importantly sensible way of using tobacco is found among cigars with no filter or in other words, pipe smoking. Much the same way native American tobacco was likely used

In my experience, when visiting Indian hospitals out of curiosity and interest, I spoke to many patients there, many of which admitted to smoking. Further, into the conversations, I found that many of the patients were supposedly using a type of tobacco called Indian Tobacco. I later found out that this type of tobacco was used in ceremonies and gatherings. The process in making these cigars was quite similar to others where there would harvest, dry, cure, and then roll. At the time, I wasn’t sure of the difference between ‘white tobacco and ‘Indian tobacco’ and so I asked around and all received the same reply. White tobacco was known for its stale, old taste. The patients didn’t enjoy that tobacco and so used Indian tobacco which apparently tasted fresh and flavourful.

Enjoyment Of Tobacco Today

Many premium cigar smokers today like to enjoy fresh tobacco and not some chemically-altered stuff. It’s actually a lot similar to Native American smokers. In other words, they don’t inhale when they smoke. Premium cigars are typically used in gatherings, relaxation, business or celebrations anyway. However, cigarettes lead to addiction and more importantly, illness and death.

Long before the ‘white men’ arrived to the Americas, the Natives had learned to use tobacco in the responsible; the white men even had the option to learn how to smoke sensibly. They had to overcome the addiction and learn the non-abusive ways of tobacco. It eventually became part of everyday life and culture. However, cast history back 500 years ago, and you’ll find that when the western civilisation arrived, they ignored the responsibilities and instead the product was shipped straight to Europe where the noble stage ways of abuse and addiction slowly rose. It was there that it was grown, abused, used and cultivated.

Below: The 1600’s,wooden Indians welcomed you into some of the first ever tobacco starde stores.

Man Standing Outside a Cigar Store Around 1880 Standing Next To a Carved Image Of An American Indian

Discovey Of The First Cultivated Tobacco Plant

Plant geneticists believe they have now located the first-ever cultivated tobacco plant in the Andes Mountains juts near the border of Peru and Ecuador. If this is true, that would mean that the first cultivated tobacco plant was built at around 3000 to 5000 years BC.

There is a non-cultivated tobacco leaf called Nicotiana Tabacum that is known for its extremely strong levels of nicotine that are actually toxic to humans. In early agriculture and farming, tobacco smoke was actually used as a pesticide which supposedly leads to the first inhalation of the tobacco leaf. This would have stimulated the eventual process of smoking. As time went by, the leaf was able to finally produce tobacco with lower but still slightly dangerous levels of nicotine levels making it suitable for humans to smoke.

High in the ancient ruins fo the great Mayan civilisation, archaeologists have discovered clear evidence of smoking; mainly used for relaxation, worship, and enjoyment. On the walls of caves and homes, depictions of tobacco leaves and cigars are present. This was enough information to know that smoking wasn’t uncommon. Sik’ar was the word for smoking which I assume is where we get the cigar from. Two of the primary gods in Mayan worship were smokers which again is where I think smoking is involved in their religion.

Tobacco became more and more popular and common in areas of America until it eventually found its way into the depths of Alaska. Sadly, many traditions unique to Alaska natives were lost due to conversions committed by other villagers. There are still some cultural practices still out there though. Like many, there are still tobacco traditions like the one in Chickaloon where tobacco is used t welcome a visitor or when men are talking together around a fire perhaps. Native Americans simply don’t consider the daily use of tobacco anymore. Similar to the use of fine china at your grandma’s house, the traditional use of tobacco by Native Americas is controlled so that you only smoke at specific times or places.

Use Of Tobacco In Alaska

I’ve only ever witnessed a traditional potlatch service in Chickaloon, Alaska once before and that was for a funeral. Cured tobacco leaves are placed in a stone bowl and crushed. Once it is lit, the smoke that comes pouring out is fanned lightly by the person in charge of the ceremony and will bring the howl under the face of each participant. That person is then asked to inhale and with one swift motion sweep the smoke into your face. This practice is in honor of the spirit of the one that had died. The tobacco is grown locally and said to be so strong, it can transport the spirit of one’s body.

Tobacco was sacred to Native Americans. It was legend that is transported souls to a different place, a better place. The Europeans eventually arrived, they were welcomed wholly and the traditional pipe was smoked as a sign of peace and tranquility. Tobacco was ever-present for thousands of years right before the arrival of Columbus. Nicotine is addictive – right? It is just addictive as it was in the ancient times, however, when the use of nicotine is reduced to only specific events, it became more of a prescription.

Columbus’ Arrival In North America

The year is 1492 and Columbus has just arrived in North America for the first time and he is greeted by many villagers but more importantly, vat’s that smell. So pungent and fresh – well it’s the tobacco of course. BY then Columbus was then aware of the growth of tobacco leaves and how they were used in trade.

Below: Caribbean Indian woman enjoying a fine cigar

Black and White Image of a Caribbean Indian Woman Smoking a Long Cigar

Rodrigo De Jerez – a sailor of Columbus’s decided he would smoke and brought the habit back to Europe. However, the sight of such ghastly smoke coming out of his nose and mouth terrified many and he was even imprisoned for it! The Spaniards though tobacco evil and it turned out to be the latest gossip in town for quite a while. Eventually, after seven years locked up, Rodrigo was released. You can imagine the looks he was given!

Tobacco seeds and tobacco was brought back to Europe in the 1500s and sometime before the 1600s tobacco was grown in many European countries. Only then did the abuse rise and addictions became more present.

Tobacco’s Arrival In Europe

As tobacco made its way through Europe, it was used for practically everything. From pneumonia to the plague, it became prescribed for use in so man things. People believed it calmed them and it did in ways because that’s what the nicotine would have done. But as time wen by, the use of so much tobacco raised much concern about addiction.

Much concern was beginning to rise in abuse and addiction. There were several attempts trying to control the tobacco use but all failed. Some of these regulations were put in place to promote health and well-being and some were meant for the monopoly of the product. Eventually, there came a time when the church was forced to pass the first indoor smoking ban. This was published in 1575. Pope Urban VIII even threatened to ban it entirely because he thought it was nearing sexual ecstasy.

Tobacco was never used in an addictive manner and instead used responsibly and in great ceremony. There were two types of smokers back in the Court of Montezuma: those who smoked pipes, and those who rolled the first cigars.

Back then it was said there were small quarrels between the Indians and the Europeans. Europeans joked that Indians couldn’t handle whiskey. And in return, the Indians joked that the Europeans couldn’t handle tobacco. The typical European response was to attempt to ban tobacco once again. They tried taxing it, monopolizing it, and even execution. All of these attempts led to mass rebellions. The first use of tobacco resulted in public whipping, a slit nose, and exile to Siberia. The execution was next!

The Arrival Of Cigarettes

The cigarettes that were around back then were produced quickly and provided in a pack of 20. They burnt quickly and inhaled which therefore provided an extremely relaxing does of nicotine. Once entering the bloodstream, then came the fatal addiction. That physical content need for smoke consumed many smokers. But it was an effective way to smoke without being caught. Cigarette smoking becomes such a habit in such a short period of time, it was considered not be a disease those 400 years ago. Their lives became ruled over by their addictions.

The majority of pipe and cigar smokers, however, smoked in specific places at specific times. Therefore, regulating their smoking pattern. Cigar smoknig takes time and needs to be smoked ina suitable condition and place; I believe cigar-smoking requires self-regulation and can only be a periodic consumption practice.

If you wish to seriously damage the basic civil rights of the public by banning or regulating tobacco then by all means do so. But tobacco can be used for ailments and helpful treatments. Smoking can be done for pleasure and enjoyment. You can’t take that away from a person. In centuries gone by, you have been shared the great stories sewn by our very ancestors and family. Smoke responsibly and you’ll find yourself in a much better position.

More Reading About Traditional Uses of Tobacco

Culebra Cigar – The Culebras, Twisted or Braided Cigar. Find Out More