Handmade cigars have three constituent parts: the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. Each of the parts has a different function when the cigar is actually smoked.
The outside wrapper (or capa) dictates the cigar's appearance. As described, it is always grown under gauze and fermented separately from other leaves to ensure that is smooth, not too oily, and has a subtle bouquet. It also has to be soft and pliable so that it is easy for the roller to handle.
Wrapper leaves from different plantations have varying colors (and thus subtly different flavors, more sugary if they are darker, for instance) and are used for different brands. Good wrapper leaves have to be elastic and must have no protruding veins. They have to be matured for between one year and 18 months (the longer the better). Wrappers of handmade non-Cuban cigars might come from Connecticut, Cameroon, Sumatra, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Nicaragua. The wrapper is the most expensive part of the cigar.
The binder leaf (capote) holds the cigar together and is usually two halves of coarse sun-grown leaf from the upper part of the plant, chosen because of its good tensile strength.
The filler is made of separate leaves folded by hand along their length, to allow a passage through which smoke can be drawn when the cigar is lit. The fold can only be properly achieved by hand and is the primary reason why machine-made cigars are less satisfactory. This style of arranging the filler is sometimes called the "book" style, which means that if you were to cut the cigar down its length with a razor, the filler leaves would resemble the pages of a book. In the past, the filler was sometimes arranged using the "entubar" method, with up to eight narrow tubes of tobacco leaf rolled into the binder, making the cigar very slow-burning.
Three different types of leaf are normally used for the filler (in fatter sizes, like Montecristo No. 2, a fourth type is also used).
Ligero leaves from the top of the plant are dark and full in flavor as a result of oils produced by exposure to sunlight. They have to be matured for at least two years before they can be used in cigar making. Ligero tobacco is always placed in the middle of the cigar, because it burns slowly.
Seco leaves, from the middle of the plant, are much lighter in color and flavor. They are usually used after maturing for around 18 months.
Volado leaves, from the bottom of the plant, have little or no flavor, but they have good burning qualities. They are matured for about nine months before use.
The precise blend of these different leaves in the filler dictates the flavor of each brand and size. A full-bodied cigar like Ramon Allones will, for instance, have a higher proportion of ligero in its filler, than a mild cigar such as H. Upmann, where seco and volado will predominate. Small, thin cigars will very often have no ligero leaf in them at all. The consistency of a blend is achieved by using tobacco from different harvest and farms, so a large stock of matured tobacco is essential to the process.