Cultivation, Harvest and Curing

Virginia Tobacco

Harvest

Three different sorts of tobacco are most frequently used in the production of cigarettes. There is the warm air-cured Virginia tobacco which, as its name suggests, was first grown in the US state of Virginia. To this day it remains a major part of the state's agricultural production, and is also grown in many other sun-drenched regions of the world.

Oriental Tobacco

Tobacco plant

Oriental tobacco, which used to dominate the taste of cigarettes, is a stunted, sun-cured tobacco. It is cultivated chiefly in the Balkans, central Asia and, to a lesser extent, in the Far East and Africa, where it thrives on poor, stony soil.

Burley

Tobacco plant

The origin of Burley, a strong, dark brown air-cured tobacco, is unclear. It is believed that it derives its name from a planter in Ohio who was the first to cultivate it. The seed of the tobacco plants is tiny, with 12,000 of them weighing just one gram. When sowing, the seeds are mixed with water and poured into seed beds, this being the only way to guarantee an even distribution of plants. After five or six weeks the seedlings, now measuring 16 to 18 centimetres in height, are transferred from seed beds to the fields where they will have sufficient space to grow to their full height of up to two meters. However, the plants still require constant attention, as the topsoil must continually be loosened in order to ensure that the roots receive an adequate supply of oxygen.

Tobacco plant

Cultivation

It takes two to three months for the tobacco plants to reach maturity. The start of harvesting is determined by the coloration of the leaves and the degree of maturity as determined by the cell structure.

Burley can be distinguished from other sorts of tobacco in one important respect: it is the only tobacco sort in which harvesting involves the whole plant and only takes place over large areas of cultivated land. In contrast, with Virginia and Oriental tobacco, the lower leaves are picked first, followed in several stages by the upper leaves as they mature.

Harvest

Harvest

Harvest time is always high summer, when the sun is at its most powerful. However, the actual harvesting begins in early morning hours before sunrise. While machines are also used for harvesting in the USA and Canada, in most areas the harvest involves manual labour to this day.

Curing - Three Roads to Perfection

All tobaccos are different. This is very much the case after the harvest when it comes to curing the leaves. Oriental tobacco, for example, is hung after a brief curing time from long lines in an airy, sunny location. The garlands of tobacco leaves then require about further four weeks of sun curing to dry fully.

Curing

In contrast, Virginia tobacco is dried by "flue-curing", whereby the leaves are hung in a drying barn and the warm air is conducted through a system of pipes to cure them. A more elaborate method is "bulk-curing", whereby external variations in temperature and atmospheric humidity are balanced through a closed heating and ventilation system.

This curing process ensures the characteristic orange-yellow colour of Virginia leaf. Flue-curing and bulk-curing both take four to seven days.

Burley, on the other hand, requires far more time to cure: the entire plants are hung for six to eight weeks in airy barns or sheds through which light winds continually blow. This gives the leaves their cocoa colour and their characteristic aroma and flavour, also reminiscent of cocoa.

Fermentation

Harvest

Some sorts of tobacco undergo further treatment after curing, the so-called fermentation process. This develops the characteristic aroma of the tobacco.

During the fermentation process, which can last several weeks, proteins break down and other chemical processes lead to the development of the characteristic flavour of tobacco.

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