They sound like monsters, and even though they’re not vicious, they pack a pretty good bite. The Ogre, Wasabi, Dirty Hooligan, and Swamp Thang are popular cigars that not only share spooky monikers, they also share the same green skin – that is, a candela capa – the lime-green wrapper that was popular with American cigar smokers from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. With all the beautifully dark and oily wrappers of most premium cigars these days, when you see a green cigar, you can’t help but notice. Several boutique cigar makers have had excellent success with candela. I spoke with two of them. But first, let’s look at how candela wrapper gets its funky green sheen.
THE CANDELA PROCESS
The curing process for candela is entirely different from other types of cigar wrappers. It takes less time, but it’s more labor intensive. Basically, the curing barn becomes a massive slow cooker. Any cracks in the barn are first sealed with cardboard. After the tobacco is hung, the bottom vents are opened to draw the eventual hot air up and out through the open roof. Propane or charcoal fires are lit, and the heat is carefully controlled. Within 48 hours, at a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), the leaves are wilted. For the next 24 hours the vents are shut and the temperature climbs to a sweltering 165 degrees Fahrenheit (74 degrees Celsius) to get the remaining moisture out of the plants. This may continue for up to 72 hours, at which time the crispy leaves have become saturated with green chlorophyll. Since you can’t roll such brittle tobacco, all of the vents in the barn are then reopened to allow the damp evening air to rehydrate the plants.One of the benefits of candela is that no fermentation or aging is required, but there is one more little detail: Exposure to sunshine will make the leaves lighter, while more heat will make them darker, so, refrigerated storage is key to maintaining that cool, green color.
WORKING WITH CANDELA
Tom Lazuka of Asylum Cigars makes The Ogre under his Asylum 13 line. It’s a barber pole-style cigar with a twisted Nicaraguan Habano and candela capa. “Candela wrapper is actually the best tobacco to work with,” says Tom. “It can be packed and shipped as soon as it’s sorted. And because it’s a Connecticut seed, it’s very elastic, making it easy for the rollers to work with. When you look at it on paper, there’s no reason why The Ogre blend should work, but that’s why the blending process is so much fun; you can turn an offbeat idea into something interesting that will be shared and enjoyed the world over.” Tom adds that The Ogre has attracted cigar smokers who are bored with “traditional” cigars. “The contrast in color jumps at you, and the way it looks in the box invites people to pick it up and try it.” More recently, Erik Espinosa released his limited edition Wasabi by Espinosa cigars. For Wasabi Erik used an Ecuadorian Habano-candela combo, but he placed the candela over the Habano, exposing only the Habano cap. “That Habano is on the tip so you don’t taste that much of the candela,” explains Erik. “You taste a little of it when you light up, but once you start to get into it, you get the spicy taste of the Habano.”
Like Mr. Lazuka, Erik also likes to experiment at his La Zona factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. “Usually with candela, people do it for St. Paddy’s Day,” Erik says. “I wanted to do kind of a novelty thing for after St. Paddy’s Day, and it took off. We sold all 500 boxes and now I’m working on backorders. I also love the name, and the color is so similar to real Wasabi. Of course, I don’t sprinkle any Wasabi on them, but there are always some people who think I do [laughs].” As to the taste of candela wrapper, both men are at opposite ends. Tom finds it grassy, while Erik finds it very sweet. Yet both agree that combining it with the Habano makes for a more homogeneous flavor. So, will candela cigars ever make a substantial comeback? According to Tom, “Candela smells grassy, tastes grassy, and immediately loses its color when exposed to sunlight,” which could be a problem for some cigar smokers. “I don’t think it will come back in a big way,” says Erik, “A lot of people have the misconception that candela is something people smoked back in the old days. But people want different things, so a cigar like Wasabi might end up going into somebody’s rotation, and that’s fine with me.”