Some Thoughts about Tooth and Grain

Cameroon "Tooth"

A few weeks ago when we first started the Padron Roundup we came across the term “grain,” as applied to the unusually large raised dots on many Padron cigar wrappers. In the first Roundup Post (the Padron 7000) we cited a Stogie Fresh article that seems to explain the phenomenon quite adequately.

But it was inevitable that someone should ask, “I’ve always called that tooth. How do you tell the difference between tooth and grain?”

Initially we thought that should be easy, because “grain” as we knew it was the more prominent epidermal structure we were seeing a lot on Padron wrappers, especially the maduros: the raised dots that are visible as white dots in the ash. Tooth, on the other hand, describes the rough surface of some wrapper leaves, Cameroon in particular. If they are distinct in the ash, then they must be distinct on the wrapper, right?

My first thought was, “Yes. Of course!” But then I took a closer look. First by examining the contents of my humidor, where I was not able to differentiate between what might be tooth and what might be grain, and then by digging through the literature on the subject, which is admittedly scanty.

My first discovery was that the professional literature does not always use the term “grain” in the way we have been using it. Most of the time it is used in a more general sense, as a way to refer to the texture of the leaf. For example,

“Thickness and weight per unit area of leaf are measures of body, while cell size and compactness of cell arrangement are the physical basis of grain.” ¹

In describing the effects of the fermentation process another article says there is “a change to a uniform and darker color and a grainy leaf texture.”² Clearly a general use of the term.

"Grain" in the Ash

"Grain" in the Ash

What was more interesting is that there is a specific use of the term that does corroborate the way we have been using it. The only problem is that it comes from a paper written in 1916, a time when cigars were King. (Also a time when the U.S. Department of Agriculture supported these kinds of studies.)

Charles S. Ridgway writes that grain is composed of crystalline bodies. “On burning, these grain bodies swell and cause the pearl-like pimples so frequently seen on the ashes of cigars.” Ah ha!

Ridgway goes on to say that this grain is present in all air-cured types of tobacco, and that there are many types of grain. Interestingly, he says that the grain particles are actually what gives the tobacco its color. Most of this grain is microscopic and is usually embedded in the tissue of the leaf. But there are two exceptions to this, and these are what caught my eye:

“on dark-colored leaves of a heavy texture it may appear as raised black dots; on lighter colored leaves it appears as minute disks situated on or immediately beneath the surface on either side of the leaf.”³

Ridgway developed a way to separate the grain from the rest of the leaf components (a very tedious mechanical process requiring a binocular microscope) so he could analyze the chemical composition of the grain. He found that it was chiefly composed of calcium, with a little magnesium and potassium, in combination with citric and malic acids.

Since grain is formed during the curing and fermenting process, Ridgway proposes that the formation of macroscopic grain is caused by the breakdown of cell walls and the “disorganization of the protoplasm,” allowing the formation of minute crystals. Some of these crystals grow by a process of accretion and eventually form solid grain bodies of visible size.

Based on this I would think that of the several different types of “grain,” one in particular creates the effect that we saw in some of the Padron maduros. It makes sense that the chemical reaction responsible for producing the bright white specks in the wrapper ash is due to an unusually high level of an element like magnesium in the crystal “grain” when it burns.

In the picture below the same type of stippling is visible in the Cameroon ash, but it’s much smaller. The small toothy bumps have merely been reduced to ash, but retain their basic definition.

Cameroon Grain

Cameroon Grain

So back to the question: How can you tell the difference between grain and tooth? Well, the first problem is that the term “grain” is not a very good one because it has more than one connotation in terms of tobacco leaf texture and composition. If we take “tooth” to be general for any kind of surface texturing, and “grain” as specific to this type of stippling in the ash, the answer is this:

Those little white specks that we’ve been calling grain can only be identified after the wrapper has been reduced to ash. If they are at all visible beforehand, there is no way of differentiating them from any other kind of surface texture. The only way to tell if it’s grain is to light that sucker up and see!

Cameroon Ash

Cameroon Ash

NOTES

1. C. Barnard, “Leaf Structure in Relation to Quality in Flue-Cured Tobacco,” Australian Journal of Agricultural Research, 11 (2), 1960

2. T.C. Tso, “Seed to Smoke” in Tobacco: Production, Chemistry and Technology, 1999

3. Charles S. Ridgway, “Grain of the Tobacco Leaf,” Journal of Agricultural Research, U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, 1916

Heberto Padilla

 

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I’ve always liked the Padilla cigar band. It’s a little bit too big for a robusto sized cigar, but it’s bold without being overbearing — it’s an unusual and striking shape, with a blunted peak at the top. It always intrigued me, but I never really recognized it for what it was until I read an interview with Ernesto Padilla where he said that the crown of the image represents the nib of a fountain pen, in tribute to his father, the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla.

I do have a few interests outside of cigars (believe it or not) and one of them is literature. I hadn’t heard of Heberto Padilla, so I checked out a book of his poems from the library. His poems are like a great cigar: balanced, full flavored, and serene.  He was a true artist, and instead of a cigar review I’d like to offer a brief biography and a selection from his work with the sincere hope that you will look into it as well.

Remembered primarily as a man of letters, Heberto Padilla was initially a supporter but later an outspoken critic of the Castro regime. He was born in the province of Pinar del Rio in 1932, and his first book of poems was published at the age of 16. Soon after that he went to the United States and spent most of the 1950’s here. In 1959 he returned to Cuba with great optimism for the future when the dictator Fulgencio Batista was overthrown. He took an active role in the new revolutionary government, helping to edit the literary weekly Lunes de Revolucion with his friend, the great Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante (who incidently wrote my favorite book about cigars, Holy Smoke.) Padilla also reported for the government press agency from Eastern Europe and Moscow, places that would give him further insight into the threats that communism might one day pose for Cuban artists.

Gradually the political climate in Cuba began to chill and Padilla saw the threats of oppression take hold — the govemment discontinued Lunes de Revolucion, refused to publish Cabrera Infante’s work, and in 1968 Padilla himself became the focus of controversy.

Padilla’s book of poems, Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game) was entered into the Julian del Casal poetry competition, a contest sponsored by the Cuban Union of Writers and Artists. Despite state pressure on the judges to deny him the award, the judges agreed: even with its open criticism of the Cuban government’s treatment of artists and writers, Fuera del Juego was the superior entry. It was published, but under a shroud of suspicion cast by a preface that warned readers about its dangerously counter-revolutionary tendencies.

Padilla continued to write and air his controversial views despite the climate of hostility gathering around him. In 1971 he read from a collection of poems brazenly called Provocaciones, which led the regime to finally exercise its despotic power over the poet: he was arrested, jailed, and brutalized; his wife, the writer Belkis Cuza Malé , was arrested without cause, and finally he was forced to appear before the Writer’s Union to confess his work as counter-revolutionary. He was also made to denounce other writers, including his wife, as traitors to the revolution.

After a sentence of forced labor, Padilla was allowed to work as a translator while under government watch. He was not allowed to publish, but he managed somehow to get some of his poems to the United States where they were published in the New York Review of Books and later collected in the book Legacies.

In 1980, Castro unexpectedly allowed a number of dissidents to leave Cuba, and with the support of Senator Ted Kennedy and the author Bernard Malamud, Heberto Padilla was able to emigrate to the U.S.

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Song of the Juggler

General, there’s a battle

between your orders and my songs.

It goes on all the time:

night, day.

It knows neither tiredness or sleep–

a battle that has gone on for many years,

so many that my eyes have never seen a sunrise

in which you, your orders, your arms, your trenches

did not figure.

A rich battle

in which, aesthetically speaking, my rags

and your uniform face off.

A theatrical battle–

it only lacks dazzling stage sets

where comedians might come on from anywhere

raising a rumpus as they do in carnivals,

each one showing off his loyalty and valor.

General, I can’t destroy your fleets or your tanks

and I don’t know how long this war will last

but every night one of your orders dies without

being followed,

and, undefeated, one of my songs survives.

–Heberto Padilla

From Legacies

(translated by Alastair Reid and Andrew Hurley)

Dominican Colors and Swirls

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I was browsing through the Daedalus Books catalog the other day and found a couple of titles that I’ve had my eye on for some time. (Daedalus is a purveyor of fine but commercially neglected books, also known as “remainders.”) In the catalog I also saw this venerable looking fellow with the stogie clamped in his craw and thought maybe, just maybe, this book would have some interesting cigar lore for me to ponder. It was only $4.98 so I threw it in the basket.

The copyright date is 2003 by Parkstone Books in New York. The author is Jean-Pierre Alaux, and though there is no biographical information about him I would guess he is French. The text has been translated into English by Arthur Borges, and the book is bound in Slovenia. This seems to be a truly international effort. Unfortunately the text suffers somewhat from an unwieldy translation, resulting in things like, ” For a firsthand experience of the sensitive gestures that go into the manufacture of a puro…” and “Before being commercialised, each cigar undergoes a combustibility test…” Pre-smoked stogie, anyone? They’ve been thoroughly tested, I can assure you.

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The highlight of this thin volume is the photography. The first half of the book focuses on the Dominican cigar industry, and then it moves on to more general cultural topics. The cigar-related content here is pretty basic, centering on Tabacalera de Garcia and Altadis. A few words from Jose Seijas and short two-sentence profiles of four cigars — Don Diego Belicosos, Davidoff Double R, Santa Damiana “Rothschild Churchill” (??) and Pleiades Orion — completes the section on cigars.

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The landscape photography is quite nice, and the detail in the pictures of the galeras is worth the bargain price. (My pictures of the pictures don’t really do them justice.) The book is quite short at only 96 pages. It’s really more of a novelty item than a serious look at the island or the cigars made there, but not a bad impulse buy for 5 simoleons.

Of Fidel and Flies

While the American cigar community keeps an avid watch for news of Fidel Castro’s demise, (and the unlikely possibility that his successor will shower democracy on the Cuban people, and the even more unlikely possibility that Fidel’s death will result in Bush lifting the embargo) I have been pondering a different question.

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How effective is cigar smoke as an insect repellent?

My next door neighbors have a stable of a dozen or more horses that they board and train. It’s great to sit on the patio with a tasty stogie and watch the kids learning to ride. What’s not so great is that horses have a way of generating flies, and with the heat this year the flies are out of control.

In my own experience, I think the flies may be discouraged, but not entirely deterred by cigar smoke. How does one identify a frustrated fly? It lands and it flies away. Then lands again. Flies again. Is this an indication of dipteric bliss? Is it repelled by or — God forbid — attracted to the gentle aroma of my Rocky Patel Vintage Second?

And furthermore, is it true that cheap stogies are more effective than quality cigars at repelling insects?

I thought I’d turn to the experts for answers.

At first glance it appears it appears that cigar smoke is more effectively applied against mosquitoes than flies.

All smoke discourages mosquitoes, whether it’s from a wood fire or a big old Cuban cigar,” says Jonathan F. Day, a professor with the University of Florida’s mosquito research laboratory. “And the mosquitoes prefer to stay upwind, where most of the people are sitting anyway, because they don’t like the smoke either. You’re only keeping the mosquitoes away in one quadrant.” (1) “Every year news stories appear touting the mosquito-repelling benefits of ingesting mega-doses of B vitamins, brewer’s yeast, garlic, beer, whisky, cigars, and cigarettes. While some of these remedies may render the user temporarily immune to the effects of mosquito bites (alcohol) or may temporarily protect the user (and friends) from a down-wind attack (smoke) none have ever been shown in controlled scientific studies to protect users from biting insects.” (2)

As fans of the tobacco leaf we all appreciate the relaxing and stimulating effects of nicotine in small doses. And most of us are familiar with the unpleasant feeling of queasiness and discomfort which comes from too much Vitamin N. At even higher doses, (much higher doses) nicotine is toxic and has been used as an insecticide. So it should be effective as an insect repellent, right?

Citronella coils and candles are weakly repellent, says Joseph Conlon of the American Mosquito Control Association, but a cloud of smoke from a smudge pot or a cigar will work, if you’re willing to let it surround you. (3)

But for the last word on this subject I will have to turn to the ultimate authority on bugs and cigars: the fisherman.

In Trout Madness Robert Travers advises anglers to “smoke cheap Italian cigars, which smell like a flophouse mattress fire mixed with rotting Bermuda onions. They will, however, keep insects and most respectable ladies at bay.”

On the other hand, Anthony Acerrano says “This age-old problem has spawned a lot of pseudo remedies and folklore that yield limited or purely imaginary results, such as smoke cures (cigars, coils, smudge fires). Aside from being a good excuse to light up a malodorous stogie, cigar smoke does little to repel mosquitoes and flies; certainly it does nothing to keep them off below-neck areas.”(4)

So the jury is still out on the application of cigar smoke to insect control. My gut feeling is that the effectiveness of the smoke is directly proportional to the size of the cloud and inversely related to the price of the cigar. But I pledge to continue research in this area and will report back any significant findings.

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I now return you to your regularly scheduled deathwatch.

1. Michael Browning, Anti-Mosquito Products
2. Jonathan Day, Repellent Wars
3. James Gorman, Searching for ways to cope with Buzz of Mosquito Season
4. Anthony Acerrano, Bug Off!

Cigar Almanac, 1980

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I've always enjoyed reading Lew Rothman, whether it's ad copy in the JR Cigars catalog, or the occasional article in the cigar magazines. In addition to being a power player in the American cigar industry, he's got a hell of a sense of humor.

The Cigar Almanac is basically a catalog of cigars popular in the late 70s, most of which are no longer in production. And most of those that are still being made, like Arturo Fuente cigars, have changed quite substantially. Rothman says about Fuente:

Excellent machine made cigars from the top of the line to the bottom. Their hand made cigars are just O.K. Very good value throughout this cigar line, don't let their tasteless packaging turn you off this brand.

So it was, 26 years ago.

The first forty pages of the book consists of introductory material, including "The Cigar Industry Today," "Keeping Your Cigars Fresh," "How Much Should You Spend for a Box of Cigars?" and the like. A pictorial tour of the Partagas factory (Dominican Republic) concludes the introduction.

While this book is basically a nostalgic trip to a time when cigar smoking was the domain of old fogeys who chomped on drugstore Phillies, Rothman's writing is as funny as ever, even if his advice is somewhat out of date. Here, for example, he explains how to keep your newly purchased box of cigars fresh:

A. First take out enough cigars for the day. You don't want to spend your day unwinding wrappings off of mummified cigars six or eight times a day.

B. Take the home humidor you spent 50 Bucks for, and throw it in the garbage can.

C. Put your cigars (in, or out of the box) in a zip lock baggie, or whatever you call those plastic bags you can seal over and over again. Mush out the excess air before you close it up.

D. Throw the bag in the bottom of your refrigerator or in a plastic vegetable box, or both.

Before the advent of frost-free refrigeration, keeping cigars in the ice box was a fairly common practice. (FYI: Today's refrigerators will dessicate and destroy your smokes. Don't do it.)

And later, in the "Question and Answer" section:

Q: Does a long ash mean a cigar is good?

A: Do cattle with long tails make tastier steaks than those with short tails?

Q: Is it good to have a long ash on a cigar?

A: NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! A long ash hinders the passage of air to the cigar, makes it burn unevenly, and usually gives the cigar smoker a stiff neck from trying to balance it on the end of his cigar. Long ashes make people cross-eyed, get clothes, carpets, and sofas dirty, and if allowed to get long enough, become, for a period of time, the cigar smoker's only reason for living.

Q: My little hand made cigar man still makes me an all Havana cigar from tobaccos he bought before the embargo. What do you say to that?

A: You are an idiot.

Rothman includes for the sake of "completeness" an appendix of Cuban cigars, while maintaining that cigars made outside of Cuba are often just as good. But that statement might be best taken in conjunction with his admission in a recent Cigar magazine article: "The one and only thing I ever really, really excelled at was lying! I was the best liar there ever was."

Lew Rothman's Cigar Almanac has of course been out of print for many years. I borrowed this copy from a library in Cookesville, Tennessee that was willing to loan it long distance.

It's an interesting blast from the past, and still a fun book to page through. Just don't believe a word of it.

The Devil’s Picnic

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The Devil’s Picnic : Around the World in Pursuit of Forbidden Fruit by Taras Grescoe

Grescoe’s irreverent examination of the world’s prohibited products is a flighty read covering several continents and nine censured substances. The main subject is prohibition, but nothing can be prohibited without engendering a black market for just that thing, so smuggling is addressed, as well as the hypocrisy at the heart of nearly every effort to ban anything. Grescoe's prose style is bombastic at times, but it's also humorous and quite entertaining.

Among the several deleterious items Grescoe goes in search of are Norwegian moonshine, unpasteurized French cheese, absinthe, and Cuban cigars, the last of which piqued my interest in particular.

Unfortunately, Grescoe is not a cigar aficionado. He approaches the subject as a former cigarette smoker, and by the end of the chapter he finds that he is still a cigarette smoker, and doesn’t care much for cigars. After working up to a pack of Nat Sherman cigarettes per day in a misguided attempt to “prepare” himself for a Cuban cigar, he’s suffering from a reawakened nicotine addiction. Accordingly, his focus on smoking restrictions in the U.S. turns out to be largely cigarette oriented.

And while cigarette smoking is severely restricted in the cities he visits – New York and San Francisco – sales of Cuban cigars are forbidden by federal law everywhere in the states. So Grescoe purchases three Habanos while in Montreal before his trip and then smuggles them into the U.S. Among them is a Cohiba Esplendido which he describes with pornographic glee:

Ramrod straight, cross hatched with veins beneath a membranous, batwinglike wrapper, the Esplendido felt firm but spongiform—indeed, almost sweaty—as I grasped its seven-inch-long shaft. It was as if some powerful shaman had sculpted vegetable matter into living tissue, pumped it into tumescence, and fettered it with a cock ring in the form of a paper band.

In New York he finds that smoking is prohibited even in bars, and a pack of cigarettes sells for $7.50. Upon seeing someone light up, bar proprietors come running to prevent the evildoer from violating Mayor Bloomberg’s edict. But Grescoe sees cigar smoking as a plutocrat’s domain, and notes that Bloomberg declined to comment when at a fancy dinner several wealthy financiers lit up cigars in violation of his own law. He mentions other examples of hypocrisy as well, such as Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s smoking tent outside his California capitol office, in a state where smoking is prohibited in all public buildings.

Grescoe finds things a little looser in California, but not much. There he finds a culture of “smoke easies” akin to the speak-easies of the Prohibition era. Some bars have found ways around the law by having no official employees; instead all employees are part owners. Other places have found that the police will turn a blind eye, such as the “IRA Bar” where they “don’t give a shit about American smoking laws.”

But at the end we find Grescoe with his Esplendido on Mission Street at 2 a.m., chased away from the Odeon by a bartender worried about the police. He shares it with a woman he met in the bar.

After about fifteen minutes, with only minimal progress down the shaft, we agreed the process was feeling like a bit of a chore.

I stubbed out the $65 Esplendido and said to Linda, “You know, what I really want is another cigarette.”

“Yeah, “ she said, as we walked down Mission, continuing our smirtation. “You want to feel that smoke in your lungs, not your mouth.” She lit my Nat Sherman for me.

I was definitely hooked.

What a waste!