Cigar wrappers come in a palette of colors that resemble human skin tones. Just as scientists describe the rainbow in seven basic colors, cigar aficionados use seven basic color descriptions for wrappers, although there are many subtle shades in between these basic colors and some cigar merchants describe cigars in many more hues. The easiest way to get a handle on this color scale is to remember that, just as the state of Colorado is in the middle of the United States (more or less), the color “Colorado” is in the middle of the range of wrapper colors.
The variation in wrapper color is a function of how the wrapper leaf is processed, as well as the color variations of different types of tobacco, and the amount of sunlight a leaf is exposed to (which in turn depends on how high up on the plant the leaf was located). From light to dark, the seven commonly used wrapper color descriptions are:
DOUBLE CLARO, ALSO CALLED CANDELA
A light green to yellow shade achieved by a heat-assisted quick-drying process that retains the chlorophyll content of wrapper leaves. At one time, Americans showed a preference for these slightly sweet-tasting wrappers, and Europeans looked down on them for it. Since them, both American and European tastes have broadened.
A light tan color, usually achieved by growing under shade tents, by picking the leaves before they mature and by quickly air drying them. Claro wrappers are relatively neutral in flavor and let the flavors of the “bunch” – the tobacco inside the cigar – shine through.
Light brown, most often sun-grown
A medium-brown to brownish-red shade of wrapper leaf. Usually shade-grown and characterized by rich flavor and subtle aroma.
Darker than colorado, lighter than maduro
A shade of wrapper varying from a very dark reddish-brown to almost black. The word means “ripe” in Spanish, a reference to the longer process needed to produce this kind of wrapper: the leaves are either “cooked” in a pressure chamber, or fermented for a longer period of time in hotter-than-normal conditions. Maduro wrappers impart a distinct character to a cigar: they taste as different as they look. They generally have a mild aroma, but a strong, slightly sweet flavor.
This darker-than-maduro shade is produced by leaving the wrapper leaf on the plant the longest, by using only the leaves from the very top of the tobacco plant which have had the most sun, and by fermenting, or “sweating” them the longest. The category is sometimes called “black” or “negro”. Oscuro wrappers are often Brazilian or Mexican in origin.
MORE ON WRAPPER COLORS
The variation in wrapper color is a function of how the wrapper leaf is processed, as well as the color variations of different types of tobacco, and the amount of sunlight a leaf is exposed to (which in turn depends on how high up on the plant the leaf was located). Another way of identifying the seven commonly used wrapper color description are, from light to dark:
American Market Selection (A.M.S.)
English Market Selection (E.M.S.)
LIGHT TO MEDIUM BROWN
Spanish Market Selection (S.M.S)
DARK BROWN TO BLACK
Now you may ask, “Well, what is the difference? or How does it affect the cigar?” Quite simply, it’s the flavor and burning quality. The color of the leaf tells the sugar and oil content of the leaf. This affects the richness of a cigar. An A.M.S. or green leaf has a very low sugar and oil content, because it is picked at an early age and has not had a chance to ripen.
An E.M.S. or natural has medium to high sugar, depending on the climate and growing conditions, and high oil content. It is picked at a ripe age and then cured to the right color and flavor.
An S.M.S. or Maduro has high sugar and high oil content. It is also a ripe picked leaf and is aged until it is fermented to an almost black color. This aging process can sometimes take from 2 to 5 years.
As far as burning quality, a green leaf burns faster and hotter because of the lack of oil in the leaf. A natural leaf tends to be the happy medium, as it burns slower and cooler. A dark leaf has such a high oil content it burns very slowly and very cool. The darker leaf is usually preferred by the older cigar connoisseur, but is stayed away from by cigar “chewers” because the sugar and oil is hard on their teeth.