Cuban tobacco is harvested and then aged using a process that combines the use of heat and shade to reduce both sugar and water content, while being very careful to not cause the tobacco leaves to rot or crumble. The first step in the harvesting process is called CURING and takes anywhere from 20-50 days, depending upon the climate and the condition of the sheds, barns, and/or warehouses where the harvested tobacco is stored.
The second step in the harvesting process involves FERMENTATION, and is carried out under reasonably careful climatic conditions so that the tobacco leaves dry out slowly, but continue to ferment as they dry. Humidity and temperature are carefully controlled so that the tobacco leaves continue to ferment, but do NOT rot, disintegrate, or crack during the fermentation process. The tobacco leaves “sweat” and leach out ammonia, and become less harsh and more sociable. It is during this careful fermentation process that important characteristics are given to the tobacco leaf, including aroma, flavor, burning and smoking qualities. A visit to the fermentation room revealed a very strong smell of ammonia, which is released from the tobacco leaf as a result of a biochemical reaction caused by the heat and humidity in the fermentation room accelerating natural enzymatic degradation processes in the tobacco that is part of the fermentation. In short, the enzyme glutamate (Glu) dehydrogenase (GDH) catalyses the reversible amination of 2-oxoglutarate for the synthesis of Glu using ammonium as a substrate, releasing free ammonia into the air (just wanted to determine if you were still reading!):
Once the tobacco leaves have completed the CURING and FERMENTATION processes, they are then sorted based upon quality, color, overall appearance, and shape to determine in which part of the cigar the leaves will be used. Generally, the sorting process results in three types of leaves; (1) outer wrapper– ; (2) binder– ; and (3) filler– . During the sorting process, the leaves are continually moistened, baled, inspected, un-baled, reinspected, and generally handled carefully to make sure that each leaf continues to age properly and is best used as a wrapper, binder, or filler depending on its quality and state of maturation.
Quality cigars and almost all Cuban cigars are still made by hand. An experienced roller can assemble 200-300 nearly identical, high quality cigars per day.
There are many cigar factories in Cuba, both in the countryside and in downtown Habana. The Partagas factory is just behind Capitolio in a beautiful building that dates to 1845.