How “Hand Rolled” is your cigar?

What do you think of when you see “hand rolled” on a box of cigars? Does your mind take you back to Old Havana, to a small, smoky shop in the back corner of a marketplace, with a man or woman Torcedor, carefully bundling the long filler tobacco leaves together for the filler, hand selecting the flavorful tobacco for the binder, and finally using the greatest care and skill to perfectly form the premium wrapper leaf around the cigar body?

What if I told you that in reality, “hand rolled” can also include cigars that have had their fillers bunched or bundled together, and even the binder applied in some cases, by machine? Does “hand rolled” conjure up an image of a large assembly line with hundreds of workers, each doing just their one task and sending the cigar down to the next station as fast as possible?

There is much debate in the premium cigar market over the precise definitions of hand rolled and machine made.

To be fair, cigars that are completely machine made generally contain short filler or leftover bits of tobacco, and often have chemicals or flavorings added. These cigars are typically your liquor store, grocery store, and gas station “cigarillos”, flavored cigars, etc. When you see these, you will notice they’re not in a humidor, nor do they need to be. These are not the focus of this article.

What I’m referring to are the so-called “premium” cigars, often accompanied by the “hand rolled” terminology.

There are two main issues to address when discussing this.

One is that outside of Cuba, there really is no regulation on the use of those words. For genuine Cuban cigars, the term Hecho a Mano is used to describe cigars that have been machine bunched and hand finished, while Totalmente a Mano is only used for 100% hand rolled product, no machine from beginning to end.

In the US cigar market, however, there is no distinction. You have no way to know, without possibly asking the manufacturer or doing a lot of online research, how your cigar was constructed, unless they specifically say 100% hand rolled without any machine interference.

The other issue that makes this a complex debate is that many people consider machine bundled cigars to be the same quality level as 100% hand rolled. Many say that the machine bundling of the filler provides a more consistent product, but that can be said about any machine made vs. handmade product.

When you select and spend your hard earned money on a premium cigar, what are you looking for? Are you ok with one that was made quickly and efficiently, partly by a machine, on a sped up assembly line?  Or are you looking for a product that was made by one artesian, with his or her hands only, made with pride and tradition.

It may be worth your time to dig a little deeper and look for phrases like, “100% hand made”, “no machines”, etc.

What are your thoughts? How much effort do you put in to make sure your cigars are 100% hand rolled?  Does the difference matter to you?