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One Tough Leaf

Dark cigars are hot, and that calls for dark, rugged Connecticut broadleaf
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, Nov/Dec 00

You might as well call it Rodney. Connecticut broadleaf tobacco is the Dangerfield of the cigar industry, a rumpled everyman tobacco that gets little respect.  

Growers in Connecticut say that Connecticut shade--the region's best-known tobacco, the one that commands the highest prices per pound and grows under elaborate nylon tents--is the king of the Northeast. The best fields are reserved for shade crops, not broadleaf, which shade farmers dismiss with a sniff as a binder crop, or wrapper tobacco best suited for mass-market cigars. The short, somewhat dumpy plants even look less elegant than their shade-covered cousins.  

"Broadleaf is not as sophisticated" as shade, says Angel Daniel Nuñez, the senior vice president of tobacco for General Cigar Co., the maker of Macanudo and Partagas cigars.  

No one has ever accused broadleaf of being pretty. First, it's thick, so it can have trouble burning evenly. Then there are the veins. Broadleaf can sprout the type of veins that are more commonly found on a grandmother's legs--thick, ugly and impossible to miss. "They're almost like small stems," says Joel W. Gibbons, a broadleaf buyer based in Glen Allen, Virginia.  

Blue-collar broadleaf seems to have a fitting price, selling for as little as $12 per pound, an apparent bargain compared to the $45 per pound that top-grade Connecticut shade commands. But because of all the curing, fermenting and sorting required to turn broadleaf into usable tobacco--plus all the waste--it ends up being much more expensive than it seems.  

"A good crop of broadleaf for machine-made cigars gives you 60 percent wrapper yield," says Fritz Bossert, the vice president of tobacco purchasing for General. "For premium cigars, it gives you 30 percent yield." Other wrapper farmers claim yields as high as 80 percent. Even worse, cigarmakers say broadleaf takes twice as long to ferment and age as Connecticut shade.  

"This is a very thick, oily wrapper," says Litto Gomez, co-owner of the premium La Flor Dominicana brand. "It's a lot more labor intensive than any other type of tobacco."  

Because of all the waste involved in working with broadleaf, and all the labor it takes to get the crop ready for rolling, the price per pound is deceptive. Add it all up, and you have one very expensive piece of tobacco. "Broadleaf," claims Bossert, "is the most expensive tobacco in the world."  

The tobacco is unattractive, expensive and hard to handle. So why do people bother with broadleaf?  

"It has a lot of flavor," says Gomez. "It has the best flavor of all." Gomez uses it on his popular El Jocko Perfecto No. 1, a short fireplug of a cigar that's shaped like a bomb.  

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