Reading Time: 2 minutes After a 12-year hiatus, Drew Estate is reprising its landmark Chateau Real brand which is being made available exclusively for online retailers. Affordably-priced, the Connecticut Shade-forward blend is offered in three popular sizes. Learn more here.
2019 CA Report: 10 Sumatra Wrapper Cigars Under $10
Cigar Advisor’s Deep Dive on Sumatra Tobacco + Top 10 Sumatra Wrapper Cigar Picks
Think of the last couple of cigar-related conversations you had…Did the word Sumatra come up?
Not even once.
That’s because it’s not one of the Fab Four: Connecticut, Maduro, Corojo or Habano. They’re the most popular cigar wrappers, the ones that get all the buzz. As for Sumatra, well…
Sumatra is the Fifth Beatle of the cigar world.
This leaf is probably the most overlooked, and underappreciated wrapper to grace the smokes in your humidor, and is the backbone of countless highly-rated cigars.
Sumatra is one of 17,000 islands that make up the southeast Asian country of Indonesia, found between the Pacific and Indian oceans. While it carries an exotic pedigree (or maybe, because of it), the Sumatra wrapper almost won the world’s taste buds over from Cuba, and completely changed how the Connecticut tobacco industry did business 100-plus years ago. But this leaf’s history goes back even further…
Tobacco has been a hot commodity since Columbus returned to Europe with leaves and seeds from his excursion to Hispaniola. And as trading routes materialized across the globe, it wasn’t long before the Dutch planted their flag – and tobacco seeds – in their East Indies colony, jumpstarting a whole new pipeline for the tobacco trade by the mid-1800s.
This “new” tobacco quickly became popular throughout Europe, as it allegedly rivaled the rich, aromatic quality of Cuban leaf. It also put a dent in the American tobacco industry: mellow but resilient, Sumatra wrapper began displacing the tobaccos more commonly used on cigars, like Connecticut leaf; crop prices dropped, and panic ensued. To compete with this tasty new leaf, some Connecticut River Valley farmers crossed a Sumatra seed hybrid with their own tobaccos…then planted it under shade cloth to filter out sunlight and boost humidity. And that’s how Connecticut Shade tobacco was born.
What is a Sumatra Cigar Wrapper?
Indonesia is in the region known as the “bean belt,” where the climate and soil are perfect for growing coffee. Turns out, tobacco thrives there, too – and today, there are five primary types of Sumatra leaf:
- Besuki: It’s the generic name used for Indonesian tobacco, except when the leaf is actually grown on the island of Sumatra – then it’s called Sumatra.
- TBN: This is Indonesia’s highest-quality wrapper leaf, a Besuki-Connecticut Shade hybrid. TBN stands for Tembakau Bawah Naungan, which translates as “shade grown tobacco.” Developed as a substitute for Cameroon tobacco when supply ran short in the 1980s, it has been used to great effect on Romeo y Julieta, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
- Voor Oogst: Also called VO, it translates to “early harvest” – this is the tobacco that begins growing at the end of Indonesia’s wet season, then harvested in dry season. VO tobacco is more commonly used in Kretek cigarettes.
- Na Oogst: NO or “late harvest” tobacco is picked on the opposite schedule from VO, in the wet season, and is used for cigars. VO and NO, however, are not specific varieties of tobacco, like Corojo and Connecticut; the big difference between VO and NO is under what conditions the plants are farmed.
- Vorstenlanden: Also known as VBN, which stands for Vorstenlanden bawah naungan; this is Connecticut Shade wrapper tobacco, but it’s grown on the island of Java.
Ecuador Sumatra vs Indonesian Sumatra Wrapper Tobacco
Originally a Hispaniola transplant, the Besuki (Sumatra) tobacco seed is grown throughout the world – but its most popular source is Los Ríos Province in Ecuador (which is why we call it “Ecuador Sumatra”). Los Rios is one of the world’s most prolific tobacco regions, with the Oliva Tobacco Company – which is a different Oliva than the ones who make cigars in Nicaragua – growing most of the leaf used by EP Carrillo, Arturo Fuente, Rocky Patel and others.
There is a slight difference between Ecuador Sumatra and Indonesian Sumatra, however…the highly-desirable wrapper tobacco that’s now grown in Ecuador is actually a Cubano-Sumatra hybrid, created about 50 years ago. Oily and darker than the original, only a few cigar makers bought into it; then Fuente used Ecuador Sumatra on the Ashton Virgin Sun Grown…and demand exploded.
“It blends well with everything.”
Besides Fuente, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo was one of the first to go in heavy on Ecuador Sumatra wrappers. I asked Ernesto why:
I started using Sumatra back in the early 70s. I’ve been working with it forever.
What I find with the Sumatra wrapper is it’s very unique. To me, it’s one of the most flavorful tobaccos out there. What I like about it is the complexity it adds to the blend. All my successes have come because of Sumatra wrapper. The La Gloria, Serie R, the Inch. And I’m going to start integrating that wrapper more into a lot of the new blends I hope to come out with in the future.
Then I asked, “How much of a difference is there between Indonesian Sumatra and Ecuador Sumatra?”
Oh, huge difference. The Indonesian one, it’s more of a lighter smoke. The [Ecuador] Sumatra gives you a little bit of moisture on your palate. It has some spice, which I like. If you’re using the right blend – you gotta use the right binder, the right filler – you get a very unique taste that you don’t get from other wrappers. And you can make different blends, and they’ll each taste different – because what the Sumatra adds is the complexity – but not necessarily dominates the blend, like a Broadleaf can.
How Sumatra Tobacco Tastes
Again, I’ll defer to EPC:
It’s funny, because when you smoke it on its own, it doesn’t have the same taste profile as when it’s blended with other types of tobacco. It’s nice, but you gotta add the right binder to really make it stand out.
If you do smoke Sumatra on its own, you’ll find the Indonesian-grown leaves tend to be mellow and sweet; some say it’s a little bland, or even metallic tasting. If the leaf has any punch, you might find a taste of cinnamon or earth in the profile. But the natural sweetness is one of the reasons Drew Estate uses Sumatra to wrap their Kuba Kuba and Larutan cigars; plus, the wrapper’s mellow taste doesn’t interfere with the Kuba’s infusion recipe, or the exotic fillers in the Larutan.
An Ecuador-grown Sumatra wrapper, however, has much more meat on the bone: “I especially love the spice of the Ecuador Habano,” says José Blanco. “In addition to its unique flavor, it makes things easier when you are blending. [Ecuadorian Sumatra] offers a ton of flavor and aroma. It’s totally different.”
Besides the spice that Jose enjoys, others have found Ecuador Sumatra to add sweetness, baking spice, pepper, earth and even a floral taste to a blend; the body is fuller, and finishes long on the palate.
In either instance, Sumatra – by itself – is dead-center medium strength.
Our 10 Top Sumatra Cigars Under $10
Here are 10 picks, each under 10 bucks, that really show off the taste of Sumatra wrapper tobacco – and may be the push you need to put more in your humidor…
La Gloria Cubana Gilded Age Toro (6″ x 54)
As I noted, EPC was all-in on Ecuador Sumatra from the word “go.” It’s the wrapper that helped put the original La Gloria on the map, and he went back to it for the Serie R and Serie N; Ernesto even went with it for his La Gloria Coleccion Reserva collaboration cigar. With Ecuador Sumatra so important to La Gloria’s big-picture recipe, it was a no-brainer for that leaf to cover the Nicaraguan and Honduran tobaccos inside the Gilded Age. It’s also proof that Sumatra is a tough leaf that can stand up to intense fermentation – as this one is cured to a sultry Oscuro finish.
Punch Diablo Scamp (6 1/8″ x 50 Toro)
Punch has reached legend status; part of what got it there is the Ecuador Sumatra wrapper, a blending choice made back in the 70s. Then Diablo came along, took all that big Punch flavor, and cranked the dial. And look: the Ecuador Sumatra wrapper is still there. Punch Diablo is an AJ Fernandez project (not surprising), the strongest and most full-bodied Punch yet. Ligero is why…AJ uses lots of it (both Nicaraguan and Honduran varieties), along with a well-aged Connecticut Broadleaf binder. All that heady, heavy stuff still plays well with an Ecuador Sumatra Oscuro wrapper – bringing Diablo’s huge sensations of earth, wood, pepper, leather, and espresso into balance.
Romeo y Julieta 1875 Exhibicion No. 3 (6″ x 50)
Here’s a prime example of the TBN we talked about, Indonesia’s top-quality wrapper leaf. German tobacco merchant Wolfgang Kohne said TBN is “a bit like a blank canvas allowing you scope to work with the filler and binder…the taste does no harm. So you can use them for practically anything.” RyJ is a mellow classic, so no surprise that it’s a critical component to the Romeo y Julieta 1875. “Do no harm” here means this satiny-smooth “true” Sumatra leaf is less intrusive to the taste and aroma of the blend, allowing the Romeo 1875’s Dominican tobaccos to show their character.
CAO Signature Series Toro (6 1/2″ x 52)
Hello, spice. When we reviewed the Signature for our CAO guide, I found it left my tongue with prickly heat – like a “medium salsa” kind of burn. Clearly a noticeable step up from CAO Gold’s mellowness. The Ecuador Sumatra wrapper brings that sought-after bite and fuller body to the smoke; in this size, the flavors really come together and get big. I still stand by my original assessment: “a good performer for the money – a CAO for every day.”
La Flor Dominicana Ligero Cabinet Oscuro L-400 (5 3/4″ x 54 Toro)
Add Litto Gomez’ name to the list of master blenders using Ecuador Sumatra…For La Flor Dominicana Ligero Cabinet Oscuro, he takes a huge helping of Dominican tobaccos and stuffs them inside a dark n’ rich-looking Sumatra leaf. Go back and check the tasting notes on Sumatra: spicy-sweet, a ton of flavor, and the key to adding complexity to a blend. Litto checks all those boxes here, as this LFD burns rich with spice, tanginess and thick, full body. You’ll probably like it just as much on the LFD Double Ligero, which uses it too. Try it.
Gilberto by Oliva Toro (6″ x 50)
The Oliva Serie V Melanio is the poster child for luxury smokes; unfortunately, its price tag keeps this Ecuador Sumatra-wrapped beauty off our list (shameless plug: if you want to get close to Melanio taste on the cheap, try our Oliva Inferno Flashpoint). Oliva also makes very good use of a genuine Indonesian Sumatra wrapper, placing it atop the Flor de Oliva – but I thought we could stretch your cigar dollar a little further. Enter Gilberto by Oliva: an Indonesian Sumatra adds earth and sweet spice to the coffee bean and dried fruit taste of the rich Nicaraguan tobaccos. Medium bodied and Cubanesque – try it and see.
Crowned Heads Headley Grange Estupendos (5 1/2″ x 52 Robusto)
A Sumatra wrapper may have been Crowned Heads’ ticket to success with Headley Grange, which has landed on a variety of “Best Cigars” lists since its debut in 2012. Inside: nothing but Nicaraguan long fillers. Outside: an Ecuador Sumatra wrapper. Taken whole, Sumatra’s sweetness shines through – on top of toasty oak, leather and a pinch of pepper. The retrohale is sweet and floral, but don’t be fooled – Headley Grange is no delicate flower. Lots of flavorful nuances, and a deliciously warm aroma.
Rocky Patel Decade Forty Six (4 1/2″ x 46 Corona)
Rocky Patel is no stranger to Ecuador Sumatra leaf, using it on his Vintage 1992, RP Sun Grown, Rocky Patel Rosado and a version of The Edge. “Sumatra offers more white pepper and spice, making it a little punchier in flavor,” he once told my Advisor compadre Gary Korb. “You can get a really full-bodied cigar if you use the 7th or 8th primings, while the middle 4th and 5th primings offer more medium-full body.” Which primings he uses for Decade is unclear – but what’s very obvious is this cigar’s complexity and full flavor, two of the Sumatra wrapper’s most desirable features.
Inch by EP Carrillo No. 62 (5″ x 62 Gordo)
The Carrillo-Sumatra love affair continues. Remember what Ernesto said before: All my successes have come because of Sumatra wrapper…I’m going to start integrating that wrapper more into a lot of the new blends I hope to come out with in the future. The master has made good on his promise, making Ecuador Sumatra the starting point for his EPC Core Plus, Cardinal Impact, Primo de Cuba, and – most importantly – The Inch. It is big in size AND flavor; the wrapper is what ties the Dominican and Nicaraguan guts so nicely together, making for a very well-balanced smoke – even in Inch’s plus-sized dimensions.
Hoyo Dark Sumatra by AJ Fernandez Media Noche (5 3/4″ x 54 Robusto)
It may be another Hoyo reboot, but AJ Fernandez was already starting from a good place. The original Hoyo de Monterrey Dark Sumatra was a big and beefy smoke, absolutely packed with Piloto, Nicaraguan, Honduran and Connecticut Broadleaf tobaccos…and wrapped in Ecuador Sumatra, it was a model for complexity. When AJ brought this Hoyo out of retirement, he tweaked the recipe with a sun-grown Ecuador Sumatra wrapper that spent a few extra years aging in palm bark. That tercio process has had an obvious effect: still robust, Hoyo Dark Sumatra is smooth and earthy-sweet with some delicious undertones. A must-try.