Hector Lopez smokes a cigar while conditioning tobacco leaves at J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa.

Tradition and tobacco in Tampa, a story told in photos

A look at the art of hand-rolling cigars at J.C. Newman Cigar Company.
Hector Lopez smokes a cigar while conditioning tobacco leaves at J.C. Newman Cigar Company in Tampa. [ LAUREN WITTE | Times ]
A look at the art of hand-rolling cigars at J.C. Newman Cigar Company.
Published Aug. 10|Updated Aug. 19

A sweet, smoky smell greets you as you enter the lobby of J.C. Newman Cigar Company.

The company was founded in Cleveland in 1895 and relocated to the El Reloj factory in Tampa in 1954. Within the walls of the factory, tobacco leaves are transformed into premium cigars in a process outlined in this photo story.

Related: Man tries crafts in 64 cities. In Tampa, he learned to roll a cigar.
Hector Lopez, 53, conditions a hand of tobacco as a part of the casing process. This process gets the leaves pliable enough to be rolled into cigars. The casing departments are usually in the basement of cigar factories because it is the most humid part of the building.
Hector Lopez, 53, conditions a hand of tobacco as a part of the casing process. This process gets the leaves pliable enough to be rolled into cigars. The casing departments are usually in the basement of cigar factories because it is the most humid part of the building.
Hands of tobacco are laid out to dry after being conditioned. Then, they are placed in a wooden box for about a day to help even out the moisture of the leaves and to transport them to the second floor to be destemmed. The stem is thrown away and each cigar uses either the left or right side of the leaf.
Hands of tobacco are laid out to dry after being conditioned. Then, they are placed in a wooden box for about a day to help even out the moisture of the leaves and to transport them to the second floor to be destemmed. The stem is thrown away and each cigar uses either the left or right side of the leaf.
Wrapper leaves grown in different areas are pictured in the basement. Different soils, seeds and environments affect the color and flavor profile of the leaves. Tobacco growers have experts that sort the tobacco leaves into grades and the categories of filler, binder and wrapper leaves. Binder leaves are thicker and have more veins, while wrapper leaves have the most flavor.
Wrapper leaves grown in different areas are pictured in the basement. Different soils, seeds and environments affect the color and flavor profile of the leaves. Tobacco growers have experts that sort the tobacco leaves into grades and the categories of filler, binder and wrapper leaves. Binder leaves are thicker and have more veins, while wrapper leaves have the most flavor.
Originally only the American cigar was made in the American Room, pictured in July in Tampa, but other hand-rolled cigars are made there, too, now. Yeny and Luis are the only hand rollers who have made the American cigar, named as such because it is the only one of its kind made entirely with American sourced tobacco, labels and materials. They each roll a maximum of 100 cigars per day.
Originally only the American cigar was made in the American Room, pictured in July in Tampa, but other hand-rolled cigars are made there, too, now. Yeny and Luis are the only hand rollers who have made the American cigar, named as such because it is the only one of its kind made entirely with American sourced tobacco, labels and materials. They each roll a maximum of 100 cigars per day.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, tears apart tobacco leaves. Hernandez picks out four to six filler leaves and then rolls them in the binder leaf. Binder holds the filler together and adds flavor to the cigar.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, tears apart tobacco leaves. Hernandez picks out four to six filler leaves and then rolls them in the binder leaf. Binder holds the filler together and adds flavor to the cigar.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, rolls the filler and binder leaves together, making a bunch.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, rolls the filler and binder leaves together, making a bunch.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, places a bunch into a mold. Once the mold is full, she will place it under a press for at least one hour so the bunches will get the cigar shape.
Yeny Hernandez, 46, places a bunch into a mold. Once the mold is full, she will place it under a press for at least one hour so the bunches will get the cigar shape.
Luis Gonzalez, 46, places a finished cigar into a half wheel, a group of 50 cigars, after rolling the wrapper leaf onto the bunch. The half wheel is then brought into the aging room for at least one year. Gonzalez has been rolling cigars for 25 years.
Luis Gonzalez, 46, places a finished cigar into a half wheel, a group of 50 cigars, after rolling the wrapper leaf onto the bunch. The half wheel is then brought into the aging room for at least one year. Gonzalez has been rolling cigars for 25 years.
Yaliet Martinez, 43, color-sorts the aged American cigars. Although the cigars are the same, the wrapper leaves tan differently, so they are sorted by shade to ensure uniformity in each box.
Yaliet Martinez, 43, color-sorts the aged American cigars. Although the cigars are the same, the wrapper leaves tan differently, so they are sorted by shade to ensure uniformity in each box.
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Yaliet Martinez, 43, bands a cigar before putting it into a cellophane tube and packing it in a box.
Yaliet Martinez, 43, bands a cigar before putting it into a cellophane tube and packing it in a box.
A box of American cigars is displayed in the lobby in Tampa. There are 20 cigars in a full box of the American with a booklet about the hand rollers and sourced materials
A box of American cigars is displayed in the lobby in Tampa. There are 20 cigars in a full box of the American with a booklet about the hand rollers and sourced materials
Jiratchaya Tapanya, 52, places a wrapper leaf onto the antique, hand-operated cigar machine, which makes 11 cigars per minute. It takes about four months for the cigar makers to learn how to place the wrapper and keep up with the machine’s pace
Jiratchaya Tapanya, 52, places a wrapper leaf onto the antique, hand-operated cigar machine, which makes 11 cigars per minute. It takes about four months for the cigar makers to learn how to place the wrapper and keep up with the machine’s pace
Jiratchaya Tapanya, 52, collects the finished cigars as the machine spits them out.
Jiratchaya Tapanya, 52, collects the finished cigars as the machine spits them out.
Quality control rejects are pictured in a bin in Tampa. They are shredded and recycled into the basic tobacco filler blend used in the cigars. The most popular brand of antique, hand-operated machine cigars are called Factory Throwouts.
Quality control rejects are pictured in a bin in Tampa. They are shredded and recycled into the basic tobacco filler blend used in the cigars. The most popular brand of antique, hand-operated machine cigars are called Factory Throwouts.
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