Tobacco Buying and the Blending Box

Tested by all senses


The curing and fermentation processes establish the quality differences between tobaccos. Even within the same variety, no two batches are exactly the same. After curing, the tobacco is graded and bundled according to quality. For it is the quality of the leaf that determines the price of a batch every bit as much as the sort of tobacco itself.

At this stage quality control begins. Leaves are chosen that will give the final batch its characteristic taste. The ribs are removed from the leaves intended for export. Then they are packed according to buyer specifications and checked for compliance by experts.

However, quality control when purchasing the tobacco is just the first in a long row of constant inspections and checks to which the tobacco is subjected on its long way to becoming cigarettes. Long before the processing begins, the batches of tobacco are again checked, using the latest analyses. After the quality check, every batch is specially designated. All batch data are stored in computer, which simplifies matters later during the blending process. Once the buyers are satisfied about the quality of the goods, the deal is made. In the East, according to a centuries-old tradition, a handshake between buyer and dealer suffices for this purpose, while in the USA and Canada, and also in India, Zimbabwe and Malawi, the tobacco changes hands in auctions. Many countries of origin have intermediate storage facilities where the tobacco remains in the warm climate of its native land while awaiting shipment, continuing to mature and develop all the while.

Tobacco leaves are pressed in bales, weighing between 20 and 54 kilograms and packed in jute, as is customary with Oriental tobacco for the last 100 years, or they may be packed in 200 kilogram crates, which is characteristic for Virginia and Burley tobaccos.

Depending on the sort and required stock, the raw tobacco remains in store for between 6 and 24 months. This allows it to further mature and develop its full aroma. During this period of condition, the leafs are regularly inspected by experts.

More than just a matter of taste


Cigarettes get their characteristic taste from the range of aromas of the different sorts of tobacco they contain. The specific blend used determines the taste of a certain brand. For example, the slightly sweet Virginia rounds off the aromatic Oriental Tobacco, while Burley gives the blend its "seasoning", just as salt and pepper do to a dish.

There may be up to 30 different crops of tobacco in a blend used for a particular brand. Finding these blends and then achieving their same characteristic taste from different harvests is among the most difficult and most important tasks involved in product development. Only highly qualified experts can use new blends to create constantly new taste variations. They guarantee that the consistency of the individual taste components and the resulting compositions are retained.

The leaf receives its distinctive character

Once the right blend of tobaccos has been achieved, machine processing of leaves begins. The first processing stage involves steam treatment to make the dry raw tobacco workable by causing the compressed leaves to separate from each other and to open the pores of individual leaves.

This prepares them for the next stage, casing. This term from the American tobacco industry refers to the process of spraying the leaves with the special natural aromatic flavours, which penetrate the pores of the leaves in order to fully bring out the natural aroma and taste of the tobacco. For this purpose the leaves are transported by conveyor belt to the casing drum. Each brand has its own special blend of flavours, which are a trade secret of the manufacturer. However, all flavours must be natural or nature-identical products.

The ribs of the leaves are also of value and are processed separately. When they are returned to the blend, the natural balance is restored and the nicotine and tar content of the tobacco can be reduced.

Always the excellent proportion

The actual blending of tobacco takes place in the blending box. This process ensures that each brand of cigarette always retains its own distinctive taste. Layer by layer a blending trolley fills the box, in which up to 5 tonnes of tobacco can be mixed in a single operation. The blended tobacco is then conveyed in long lines along several belts to large rotating combs which lift the tobacco from the belts and combine it into a new, looser mix. This process guarantees absolute blend consistency by ensuring that equal proportions of the different bales of tobacco are brought together to form the characteristic blend for the particular brand.