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A Question of Quality

After posting my previous blog I was, quite rightly, reminded by Jack Charbot that I had missed out the draw test process. In my defence I have left many essential steps of the process out for the sake of interest. For example I missed a huge amount of information out about the preparation of the land, the nurseries of the plantation and the tending of the plants. I also skimmed over much of the work carried out by the Master blender and the tasting panels.

But the draw test was, I agree, an omission too far. So, with Jack’s comment in mind, I wanted to focus this blog on quality control. This is the stage after the cigar has been rolled, but before it is banded and colour matched for a box.

The first to be checked is the draw (thank you Jack). The cigars are taken out of the moulds and the head of the bunch is placed into the draw test machine, with suction used to ensure the cigar will have a suitable passage for the smoke to pass through. Too much, or too little, resistance measured will result in the cigar being rejected. This process was introduced in 2001 and is now widely used in all of Cuba’s factories. It is a serious business for the torcedor as, not only are they paid by piecework so the less they roll the less they earn, but also because a record is kept of these failed cigars and will be taken into account when reviewing the rollers overall performance. A roller aspiring to the highest level of skill must try to keep these failures to an absolute minimum. The part-finished cigar is now returned to the torcedor to be dressed with the wrapper leaf or re-rolled for a second chance at the suction machine.

Each Factory will have a Workshop Manager (El Jefe de Galera) overseeing the work of the cigar rollers while at the same time supervisors (all of whom are top grade cigar rollers in their own right) manage and inspect the work of teams of thirty to forty rollers, checking their technique, the amount of each tobacco being used, the gauge, length and sometime weight of the cigars.

The finished cigars are then collected up into bundles of fifty, known as media ruedas – literally a ‘half wheel’, and labelled with the cigar roller’s number, the type of cigar and the date of manufacture.

The following day the bundles go to the quality control room where technicians recheck the cigar for weight, length, girth, consistency, construction and appearance. They will regularly dismantle a cigar to inspect the internal blend and construction of the cigar. Once again, any cigar that does not pass muster will be deducted from the roller’s daily quota.

The tasting, which occurs some time later, is also a vital part of the quality control process. The tasters – Catadores – meet every day to sample cigars and score them on a six point quality check list that comprises of draw, burn, aroma, flavour, strength and overall quality. They taste between three to five cigars in each sitting and any variation of taste will result in a recommendation to adjust the blend.

Occasionally there will be the odd cigar that burns unevenly or has a tight draw and I understand the frustration this causes in much the same way as opening a ‘corked’ bottle of wine can be disappointing. However, most people understand and accept that with a product that is 100% made by hand (very few items can still boast this today) you will always get a few that slip through the net. Thankfully the holes in the net are getting smaller all the time.

Now, where did I put that application for the Catadores position at the El Laguito factory..?

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