Kretek is made up of natural products. The base ingredients of tobacco and cloves are finished off by a spice-and-fruit 'sauce' to enhance the flavor. Grown in Indonesia's unique climate and soil. these components are what give kretek its distinctive taste, depending on the type, age and proportions of the tobacco, cloves and sauce used.
Tobacco was introduced to the archipelago by European explorers on their expeditions. Today, Indonesia is known for producing some of the finest tobacco In the world. More than 100 varieties flourish in its rich volcanic soil, occupying over 250.000 of cultivated land primarily in Sumatera, Java, Bali and Lombok. Regional differences in the flavor and nicotine content occur due to soil conditions. rainfall, altitude, climate and local fanning traditions, but the best tobacco is accepted to be that from the Temanggung region of Central Java. The unique climate of this mountainous area is said to produce not only the most aromatic tobacco, but also tobacco with the highest nicotine levels in the world.
April is the usual planting season. Seedlings take six months to mature. Once harvested, the leaves are then shredded by hand and dried in the sun for two days. The tobacco is then graded according to quality and sold to kretek manufacturers, who further age it, sometimes for many years, depending on the kretek recipe it is meant for.
Cloves are actually the unopened flower buds of the clove tree, an evergreen plant indigenous to Indonesia. Despite finding their way into historical usage all over the world from India to Europe, until modern times, clove trees grew only on "the Spice Islands' of Maluku. The spice was thus expensive and highly sought after.
This valuable spice was indirectly responsible for the creation of the Indonesian nation, as the Dutch, English, Spanish and Portuguese all sought in turn to colonize Indonesia and dominate the clove trade.
While cloves are now grown in other countries as well, Indonesia remains one of the top producers of quality cloves. This is fortunate as the kretek industry demands vast quantities of cloves each year, amounting to 95 percent of the world's clove output.
Clove trees take at least five years to mature, after which they generate an annual crop. The buds are picked by hand in a labor-intensive process, then set out in the sun until perfectly dry. The cloves will then be weighed, sold, and eventually shredded before being added to the master tobacco blend.
The final ingredient in any kretek is the sauce, a closely guarded recipe containing spice and fruit essences, herbal extracts, and numerous natural aromas and compounds. This sauce brings out and augments the tobacco-and-clove master blend, delivering the final component that makes up the distinct flavor of each brand.