Definition: Medio Tiempo is an industrial tobacco leaf name, used after the selection/classification process. Medio Tiempo is a category of leaves destined to become cigar filler. In Cuba Medio Tiempo is called fortaleza #4 leaf. In Nicaragua, interestingly, the leaf is rather categorized as thick ligero. It is the thickest, strongest and most colourful leaf of all classes.
Their very high organic fraction and amount of oils are a result of their origin: the highest positions on the plant. Such concentrations of oils bring a lot of taste and many aromas. They bring along reinforced strength and more character to the blend.
On categories and names: the operation of selection/classification groups leaves into categories, follows the appreciation of thickness, texture and color. Leaves are here renamed from their agricultural names into their industrial names. It is crucial to note that agricultural names are put after the foliar level, regardless of quality, while industrial names are put after a set of qualitative characteristics. These two families of names are thus different and should not be mixed. A relative correspondence exists, but not always.
Medio Tiempo leaves, or thick ligero, are not directly found on the plant, but defined later during the selection/classification process. The higher leaves from the plant, named “Coronas” or the “Centro Gordos” in the agricultural vocabulary, must accomplish a certain set of parameters, such being very thick, oily and full of Fortalez, to become Medio Tiempo.
Not so rare actually: producers, who pay attention to Nature and play around the rules of agriculture with the objective to extract as much character as possible from the soil and from the plants, will probably harvest many leaves that can become Medio Tiempo. Growers that understand their soil and the environmental conditions, as well as the classic characteristics of the variety used, can certainly maximize the yield in quality and in quantity. Reversely, when crops are done impersonally and impassively, then absolutely no Medio Tiempo will be produced.
On variations of leaves from the same category: leaves from the same foliar level on one plant tend to show very similar set of characteristics. Interestingly, leaves from the same foliar level but coming from different plants generally show dissimilar sets of characteristics. These deviations among the same leaf category fluctuate according to the plant genetics, soil, and agricultural attentions given by the experts. This means that even with the same thickness, texture and color, a corona leaves from field A, variety 1 and attentions X, is sensibly different than the same class from field B, variety 2, and attentions Y. And even if only one of these 3 elements is changed, the leaves can dramatically change physically, chemically and in character.
When known and controlled, these variation of personality is what the sophisticated grower will look for, due to the fact that later he will be able to create many blending options.
An example could be found in a field harvested with the goal to maximize the personality of the leaves. That could be a field harvested to maximize the yield of thick leaves that will become ligero and Medio Tiempo. Simply, the producer will only leave 12 or 14 leaves on each plant, instead of leaving the plant run with 16 or 18 leaves. The formed leaves will be thicker and fuller in character, many of the centro gordos or coronas will give thick ligero or Medio Tiempo. But the producer will only have fewer leaves to use or to sell. This is favoring quality over quantity. In opposition, the producer that will maximize the quantity and harvest up to 18 leaves per plant will barely have coronas that will be categorized into ligero or Medio Tiempo. This is favoring quantity over quality.
A relative concept: interestingly, precise specifications of tobacco leaves categories do not exist. Today there is no defined scale of leaf thickness, color or texture. The appreciation and thus categorization is somewhat relative and thus can vary among producers or countries. The terminology and use of names should therefore be taken with caution.
One class for producer A might not objectively be the same for producer B, the difference being the terminology used but also and, we always forget to highlight, the expertise, the quality control and the discipline.
Names of categories are thus somehow relative, and what should retain the attention of the curious observer are the actual leaf qualities (thickness, texture, and colour) and their consistency.
On obstacles to use thick leaves: thick leaves – with rich organic contents from the top of the plant – will be more challenging to process into fine balanced brown leaves. More attention and time will be required for the drying, the classifications and the fermentations. Processes will logically be slower and longer, other than more sensitive. Results can easily become inconsistent, with leaves showing major imperfections and being catastrophic when used in a blend.
Good and slow processes involve more infrastructures and more energy. Beyond the difficulty of producing well fermented and balanced thick leaves, cost is also an element that might turn away some producers or manufacturers.
Then, like all personalities, strong temperaments – even balanced – are difficult to blend and so is the Medio Tiempo or thick ligero. Having a fantastic leaf of Medio Tiempo is not at all the insurance of a great cigar. The final blend has to be done with leaves that will combine perfectly together to form an harmonious cigar. To obtain a balanced blending and tasting, leaves must combined properly and in the right proportions.
A simple test: Medio Tiempo leaves are thicker and darker than their pairs in the filler. A visual analysis of the cigar can immediately confirm their presence. At the cigar foot, an aficionado can observe both leaves’ colors and distribution. A nice distribution – meaning a good density and distribution of spaces – will generally insure a good draw. Diverse colours – meaning a good assortment of different leaves thicknesses – will generally insure a balanced blend. The absence of very dark or nearly black leaves at the foot of the cigar can certainly confirm the absence of Medio Tiempo in the blend.
Conclusion: Medio Tiempo are very interesting leaves as they bring character and tastes to the cigar tasting. But for several reasons they are uneasy or more expensive to obtain and use. They do not appear on the plant as a gift, nor are extremely rare, but rather develop or not in function of the treatment quality given by the cultivator. Technically, when growers show knowledge and dedication, there is potential to produce good quantities of what will become Medio Tiempo. Growers with experience, passion, sensitivity and with enough resource and time, can always produce the famous Medio Tiempo.
Once thick top leaves are collected, they will still require good drying, classifications and fermentations to become balanced Medio Tiempo brown leave with character and usable in a blend. And then the magic of blending can do its role and produce a cigar with a straightforward personality.
Article written by Didier Houvenaghel, published in CigarsLover Magazine.