​A Guide to Cigar Wrappers – Candela

​A Guide to Cigar Wrappers – Candela
4 months ago No comments

Candela Cigar Wrappers

There are not a lot of cigar smokers who are very familiar with the Candela wrapper in this day and age, though this should not come as any surprise. You see, those bright green leaves that are certainly eye-catching when used as the outer layer of a handmade stogie are a rarity, even considering the fact that they have made a minor comeback after their popularity cratered in the 1980s. There was a time, however, when Candelas ruled the land of handmade smokes, at least in the United States. How were Candela wrappers created, why were they so popular, and what happened to them? Let's find out.

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Origins and production

Like so many things cigar, the story of Candela wrappers begins in Cuba, although not so far back as to be lost to annals of time. Sometime in the 1940s, it was discovered, whether by accident or ingenuity, that a short curing stage at very high temperatures would dry out freshly-harvested tobacco while maintaining its wonderful green color. Then, gentle rehydration precipitated by opening the curing barn's ventilation overnight to welcome in morning dew would allow the delicate leaves to be used in the final step of rolling a cigar, resulting in a sweet and mild cigar with an amazing emerald hue. The fact that most any type of tobacco could be turned into a Candela, meaning cultivation could take place regardless of conditions or climate, and also that the leaves could be ready to roll in as little as three days from harvest made the style an instant favorite of farmers and producers alike.

Meteoric rise in popularity

And so it also became a favorite for a wide berth of cigar smokers, of which there were more than a few in the mid-twentieth century. So popular did Candelas become in the United States that by the 1950's they carried the moniker of 'American Market Selection' and are estimated to have made up nearly 90% of the cigars being sold domestically. However, supply doesn't necessarily equal demand by the consumer, so the fact that Candela-wrapped vitolas were suddenly widely available in abundance doesn't give us the full picture of why the style was favored by so many. The answer, as it should be when it comes to cigars, is flavor.

If you somehow teleported yourself to the Tampa neighborhood of Ybor City at the height of the style's popularity, you couldn't turn around without bumping into yet another torcedor who would have spent most of their working hours carefully applying the soft and frog-green leaves to a multitude of blends from factories large and small. The smoke-laden air above 7th Avenue must have been a fragrant garden of delight, with hints of cedar and green tea, alfalfa and fresh cut grass, pineapple, mint, nutmeg, and orange blossom, all characteristics of the wrapper's profile to one degree or another. These characteristics provided a wonderfully smooth and delightful flavor unlike any other, no matter the underlying recipe of filler tobaccos, and thus everyone wanted more and more of that taste is the cigars they were enjoying on a regular basis, whether large or small, hand or machine-rolled, cheap or worth a king's ransom.

Hard fall off a cliff

In one fell swoop, the Cuban Embargo of 1962 was the death blow for Cuban cigars in the States, and the Candela wrapper was the biggest casualty. Having easily foreseen the consequences of his smoking preferences, President John F. Kennedy famously acquired about 1200 Petite Upmann cigars just before signing the declaration, but lesser well known is the fact that these cigars were double claros, AKA Candelas. For the rest of his contemporary aficionados enraptured by the style, it was a frenzy to find and acquire any green vitolas remaining in stock, and soon all that was to be had were tucked away into private humidors across the States, where some precious few remain to this very day.

Try though they might, those farmers, blenders, and rollers who fled the island nation during the revolution and had begun building fledgling tobacco empires in places like Honduras and the Dominican Republic were unable to replicate the almost-tropical flavor profile of the original Candelas. Between the increasingly common lack of supply and the taste becoming less appealing to the always fickle smoking public, Candelas would quickly lose their illustrious place as America's favorite wrapper. The ever-improving flavor and character of other non-Cuban cigar styles, especially those mild stogies coated with velvety Connecticut Shade wrappers, further drove the Candela to the edge of extinction. They never quite disappeared, however.

Candelas today

For many years after the Embargo, most of the few Candelas that could be found were applied to cheap machine-rolled stogies that carried a little resemblance to the fine green handmades of the wrapper's heyday. However, as new or existing premium brands began to be built or rebuilt during the resurgence of cigar smoking in the late 1990s and early 2000s, blenders looking to create smokes that stood out from the crowd would occasionally turn to the Candela for both honor history and make a statement about their own place in it. That many of these cigars have a limited production run speaks to the difficulties that remain for the style to find a wide audience, but the adventurous enthusiast should grab what emerald beauties can be found to keep their palate from becoming bored by their usual preferences. Some of today's Candelas have even reached beyond their mild roots into more robust expressions of the leaf, so those who tend to shy away from more subtle smokes will still be able to find one or two to enjoy.

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