It's Not Easy Being Green
Candelas, once hugely popular, are latter-day oddities that must fight for respect among their tawny cousins
From the Print Edition:
Steve Wynn, Jan/Feb 03
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Because it's the process that makes candela, rather than the seed or country of origin, candela wrappers are grown in a host of countries. "You want tobacco that's been either shade-grown, or grown [in a place like] Ecuador, where there's no sunlight," says Perez-Carrillo.
Candela is, or has been, grown in Connecticut, Cuba, Ecuador, Florida, and Nicaragua, and for more than two decades it was the only type of wrapper tobacco grown in the Dominican Republic. Not all the leaves of a plant make good candela. "The tobacco up top of the candela turns a dark, dark green in the curing, and it's not what they're looking for," says John Oliva Sr., who runs Oliva Tobacco. "John Deere green, that's what they call it, as opposed to a 7-Up bottle green. You only have three colors in candela: yellowish green, a dark green and a green green."
Like many firsts, the creation of candela seems to have been an accident. Farmers in the Partido region of Cuba, where the process originated in the 1940s, sometimes used heat in their barns to combat excess humidity. If the temperature rose too high, the tobacco from the lowest positions on the plants turned green in the heat, says Frank Llaneza of Villazon & Co. People enjoyed the look and the flavor.
Stanford Newman wrote in his book Cigar Family that only 5 percent of Cuba's wrappers turned green under normal curing conditions. While extremely well received, candela cigars were rare. Cuban farmers later perfected a way of turning an entire barn's worth of wrapper green, and by 1958 candelas were the hot cigars in America.
Farmers love candela because it goes from seed to cash at a blistering pace. Unfortunately, that love has not been shared by consumers for decades -- even by most of the people in the cigar business.
Perez-Carrillo's experience with his first candela was much like most people's initial flirtation with a bottle of cheap Tequila. "I was about 18, and at that time I was playing drums and I had a Mustang," he says. "I got into my Mustang and lit a candela panetela."
He had more than a half-hour drive to a gig, and he figured he would do a little research on the way, finding out why people so enjoyed the green cigars his father made. He kept the windows up. "I really wanted to get the aroma of the tobacco," he says. He smoked the cigar all the way to the show, and he began playing onstage. He made it almost an hour.
Then he got sick.
Perez-Carrillo still smokes more than his share of cigars, but the few green La Glorias he makes are not frequent fliers in his cigar case. "It's not a regular smoke of mine," he says with a chuckle.
Photo by Bill Milne
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