In 2016, the biggest tobacco company made nearly $40 billion in revenue, while the industry only spent $10 billion on advertising. Even though factory cigarette sales are down, the tobacco industry is seeing a shift to alternative products, like e-cigs and roll-your-own.
One of the most popular types of tobacco amongst a niche of consumers is loose-leaf or cut rag tobacco blends. Cut rag tobacco is the type in factory-rolled cigarettes, cigars, and hand-rolled cigarettes.
Finding producers of high-quality cut rag tobacco blends means knowing the process by which loose-leaf tobacco is prepared for sale to manufacturers.
This article is a merchants guide to buying the best-cut rag tobacco blends. Find out how tobacco is processed, and how cut rag differs from other tobacco blends. And, learn about the grading scale that discloses the quality and type of tobacco from a grower.
Cut Rag Tobacco: 7 Tips for Buying the Best
Cut rag tobacco is also called rolling tobacco, shag, or loose-leaf. A smoker rolls the cut rag into a cigarette with a rolling paper. The name, “cut rag” comes from the appearance of the tobacco.
The part of the tobacco plant that you smoke depends on how you are smoking it. The main smokable part of the plant is the leaves, however, manufacturers also use the stems and off-fall in tobacco blends. Each part of the plant is graded on a standard quality scale to determine how the price is set.
Cut rag tobacco blends come in finely cut strands that resemble cut strips of a cloth rag. Cut rag tobacco includes several other cuts as well, like crumble, ribbon cut, and flake tobacco.
The most common packaging for commercial sale of cut rag tobacco is in a pouch. It also comes in larger bags and cans. The processing of tobacco into cut rag is where it gets its unique features.
1. Learn About Cut Rag Tobacco Processing
After the tobacco is grown and harvested it goes through processing. The most effective way to get the best-cut rag tobacco is to know where it comes from and how it was produced. The processing, along with the corresponding quality-grade are the best methods of determining a high-quality product.
The processing of tobacco prepares it for the manufacturing process, which brings it to the commercial market. The processing of tobacco includes blending, threshing, re-drying, and packaging. At any stage of processing, the product quality can easily become compromised.
2. Harvest and Curing
The first stage that the tobacco plant goes through after harvest is the curing process. Curing tobacco gets rid of any natural sap on the plant’s leaves. The purpose of the curing stage is to regulate the rate at which moisture is removed from the leaves.
The curing process is done by four main methods. Air-curing uses a regulated air stream to remove moisture from the plant. Flue-curing and fire-curing involve the mediation of heat-exposure to remove excess moisture. Sun-curing is the simplest and most basic method of using the sun to cure the harvested plant.
Air, fire, and flue-curing methods require a curing barn. A curing barn ensures a controlled environment in which to foster the conditions necessary for curing. The quality control of a curing barn is essential for processing high-quality tobacco blends.
After the tobacco harvest is done curing it goes through the blending process. Tobacco blends usually include Virginia, Burley, and Oriental tobacco. Within these three types of tobacco, each part of the plant makes up a different subgroup.
Depending on which part of the plant a leaf comes from it has different features and characteristics. A single plant produces leaves of several quality grades. Each quality grade is indicative of certain chemical, visual, and physical properties.
Typically, the leaves are sub-categorized based on the colour, age, and growth location on the plant. Leaves from the top of a tobacco plant produce more nicotine and alkaloids because of exposure to the sun.
Once the tobacco is blended, it goes through a thresher to separate the stem. Threshing also cuts the leaves into their final size and shape for use in rolling cigarettes. The process involves a purpose-built thresher machine to achieve a uniform size.
The size of the leaf blades after threshing is a key characteristic that makes it suitable for cigarette rolling. After the threshing stage, the uniformly sized tobacco is ready for re-drying.
To obtain a uniform moisture content in the leaves, the tobacco blend goes through a re-drying stage. It is crucial to thresh tobacco before the re-drying stage, in order to get the same moisture content from different types of tobacco.
In this stage, the leaves receive heat and steam treatments to achieve a uniform level of moisture. After drying them out, the leaves are rehydrated to the desired level, using steam. The result is a tobacco blend with uniform moisture content.
The final stage of tobacco blend processing is to package and label the blend for manufacturers. This stage is often semi-automated by using a feeding machine.
The machine feeds the bulk cut rag tobacco blend onto a conveyor. The conveyor takes the tobacco past a dielectric and nucleonic detector to ensure accurate quantity measurements. The conveyor dumps the measurement into a container that is vacuum sealed to prevent airborne contaminants to the product in delivery.
7. USDA Tobacco Quality and Grade Classification
Finally, the tobacco blend is given a combination of a letter and number classification. The classification indicates the tobaccos quality-grade. In the United States, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires all tobacco leaf products to be graded for consumer safety assurance.
The USDA grades tobacco on the stalk position, texture, elasticity, colour, size, and chemical composition. The top grade of tobacco is classified as Type C cutters. Cutters are the largest leaves on the plant.
The cutter leaves grow around the centre of the tobacco stalk and have a superior colour, moisture, and elasticity to all others. The highest rating for cutters is C1L or Choice Quality Lemon Cutters.
Type B tobacco leaf comprises the leaves that grow above the cutters. These leaves are oil-rich, high in nicotine, and deep in colour. Choice quality lemon leaf or B1L indicates the highest-quality B group leaf.
Type H smoking leaf tobacco is the mature, mellow leaves below the cutters. They are orange in colour and low in oil, which makes them good for a cut rag tobacco blend.
Each tobacco grouping has its own uses and benefits. Higher oil leaves are good for sheesha and other wet tobaccos. Leaves that are low in oil are choice for smoking in a hand-rolled cigarette.
The higher the quality classification for any group, the better it smokes and higher it sells for.
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