Cruz das Almas is the main city of Mata Fina region in the Reconcavo Bahiano, in the state of Bahia, Brazil. The city of Cruz das Almas is 150 kilometers away from Salvador, the capital of the state. The Mata Fina region gets its name from the native vegetation (mata= vegetation and fina=thin). Mata Fina is a strip of land between the Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Rain Forest) and the Caatinga (very dry and sandy). The vegetation in this area is thin and tall, like the rain forest, but the treetops are small and bushy, like the caatinga. Tobacco was found growing naturally, sharing the land with this thin, tall and bushy vegetation. That is where the dark tobacco in Brazil gets its generic name, Tabaco Mata Fina.
Some towns stand out in the production of “puros” Bahia. Alagoinhas is the headquarters of Chaba; in Cachoeira are the plants of Paraguaçu and Talvis/Leite e Alves, in Cruz das Almas are Angelina, Damatta, Julien Bahia, Josefina, LeCigar, Sandes, San Salvador, Puros do Brazil, Tabacos Mata Fina, Tobajara, San Francisco; in San Felix you find Dannemann and in São Gonçalo dos Campos is Menendez & Amerino.
Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered Brazil in 1500. The country has been producing dark tobacco since its early days of colonization. Tobacco was growing naturally in this area, the natives used it and the Portuguese and Dutch realized the possibility of great profit in this beautiful, dark and flavorful tobacco. Brazil quickly became a leading exporter of dark tobacco and holds the number one position to this day. Brazil is one of the only countries where you can actually roll a puro. From that small region you have quality tobacco to use as filler, binder and wrapper. And once rolled, it will be a great cigar full of flavor, of a good strength and with great evolution.
It was not until the late 18th century when the production of cigars grew to considerable numbers. The bellies of the caravelas that were previously filled with tobacco now also carried handrolled cigars. Soon the European markets were flooded with Brazilian dark tobacco. By 1900, Brazil was producing 120 million cigars every Stalk cut Mata Fina drying in a barn year. The production of cigars fell drastically all the way through the 20th century while the production of dark tobacco continued to grow. The days of the great cigar rolling factories, like Suerdick, are gone and Cruz das Almas is blessed with small factories that did not cave into mass production. There are about eight factories in the region producing quality cigars and consuming about 2% of the dark tobacco grown there. But wait, where is the remainder 98% of this rich and tasty tobacco destined? Apparently, the Brazilians are the only ones that did not realize that the tobacco grown in the Mata Fina is gold. The exported tobacco has two destinations. Some of this tobacco is used by cigar makers throughout Latin America and the Caribbean in long filler cigars. The majority of the exported Brazilian dark tobacco is used up by European companies that produce machine-made short filler cigars.
All of the dark tobacco planted in Bahia is of the Mata Fina kind. Even though we are talking about the same plant, the microclimates, treatment of the plant and harvesting techniques makes tobacco grown on the sides of the same road taste completely different. Each different tobacco used in a Brazilian cigar gets its name from its location rather than from the kind of plant.
Mata Fina is the main region producing tobacco today. Its sandy and grainy soil gets an average of 120cm of rain a year. All of the Mata Fina grown in this region is sun grown. Wrappers are hand cut one-by-one and barn dried. The filler and binder leaves are harvested by stalk cutting (cutting the whole plant and hanging it to dry without removing the leaves form the stalk). While wrappers are grown by the big monopolies, binder and filler leaves are predominantly grown by small producers that harvest by stalk cutting, often drying the tobacco in improvised barns and even on their own porches. The tobacco from this area is of the finest quality allowing for a very smooth, sweet and aromatic, mediumbodied smoke.
The rain is not so abundant in this region north of Cruz das Almas. The soil varies from sandy to clay-like. In this region, the tobacco is planted later than in other regions. All of the tobacco in this region is sun grown and stalk harvested. What makes it different from Mata Fina is that the leaves are left to dry in open air. The tobacco is exposed to sun, wind and rain. The leaves, being exposed to weather, are not suitable for wrappers. This drying method allows the Mata Norte to yield a very full-bodied smoke. It would be impossible to enjoy a cigar made with 100% Mata Norte. This tobacco is used to compose the cigar blend by lending its strength and all of its rich, nutty, roasted and bitter coffee notes.
Mata São Gonçalo
Around the small village of São Gonçalo, the tobacco planters are more careful when harvesting and this region is famous for its wrappers. The best wrappers come from this town located in the Mata Fina region. The farmers use cocoa mush as fertilizer and this gives the wrappers from this region a beautiful sheen. In general, this area and Mata Fina have very similar soil and tobacco flavor characteristics.
Mata Sul – Even though this region is blessed with good rain and very rich soil, most of the land in this southern part of the Mata Fina is sloped, making it hard to harvest. The tobacco planters must double their care when planting and harvesting tobacco in this area and this yields tobacco of good quality and of good, mild-bodied flavor. The tobacco production is this region has been drastically falling while workers make more money planting cocoa.
The Caatinga is very dry and the soil is very sandy. The farmers in this region have few natural or economic production resources. The tobacco in this region offers very little in taste and strength making it barely commercial. The production of tobacco in this area depends on landlords providing a piece of land and manure for farmers to produce. In return, the landlords get a share of the tobacco, which is of very poor quality and is difficult to sell. This is what cheap cigars are made of.
Sumatra is also grown in the Mata Fina region. Despite not being a native Brazilian tobacco, it yields a tasteless but very silky wrapper. All of the Sumatra is shade grown. In Sergipe, a state neighboring Bahia, Mata Fina is also grown in the Arapiraca region. The Arapiraca is of poor quality and taste offering a very metallic smoke that makes your nose itch. It is a very acidic tobacco widely used by cigar makers in the Caribbean and Central America to boost the strength of a particular cigar; but what it actually does, most often, is completely ruin the flavors of the other tobaccos in the blend.
Tobacco is a commodity and sold quoted in US dollars. A kilo of Mata Fina wrapper can be as expensive as US$120, the most expensive tobacco in the world. Local cigar makers do not have the financial capacity to invest in this pricy tobacco and have to limit their production.
On the other hand, the Brazilian market is flooded with Cuban cigars. While Cuban cigars are exempt from import duties, Brazilian-made cigars pay about 95% tax! On the shelves of your average Brazilian retailer, you will notice that the price tag on a Brazilian and a Cuban cigar of the same size is very similar. Culturally, your average uneducated smoker will prefer an imported Cuban cigar to a Brazilian smoke. Whether the Cuban is short filler or counterfeit, it does not make much of a difference, this smoker enjoys smoking the label.
Still, Mata Fina is one of the finest tobaccos for cigars. There are many smokers around the world that enjoy the fine taste of Mata Fina. If you have never tried any Mata Fina, next time you visit your tobacconist make sure you ask for a fine Brazilian smoke.