Not rum, not coffee but cigars and the best of the world come from Cuba of course and the most expensive ones, for sure is the famous Cohiba. Che Guevara or Fidel Castro barely got separated from cigars, which encouraged them. So, how are they made? What are the best ones and where can I buy them? Let’s see!
Travelling Cuba without trying a cigar is like going to Italy without tasting pasta. Following this supposition, often we go to the sunny Island and we smoke and brought a Cuban cigar. Subsequently, the result of this act depends on basic knowledge of what a good Cuban cigar is, otherwise we feel like a child lost in a toyshop. Here I bring you up the information you need the most: What? Where? How and why so expensive?
From Cuba, not only tourist brings cigars as a good souvenir for them and their friends; but also, cigars are one of the best exporting Cuban products. It is not a surprise that may be a lot of money is hidden among tobacco leaves. In 2019, Cuba earned more than 530 million USD by exporting cigars, a record year. According to relevant data, from the 400 million cigars are sold in the world, about 1/3 come from Havana.
Cigars into Europe? Personalizing pagan!
The first cigars smoked in Cuba were used in religious rituals and had not much in common with the ones the world over admire nowadays. The tobacco burned up wrapped in corn leaf. Those «cigars» were used frequently in the religious worship of Santeria that came to Cuba along with the slaves.
On the other side, the native community of Tainos, utilized the seeds of the Co-Jacana tree, notorious for its hallucinogenic properties, for a ritual called «Cohiba». They trusted in their shaman who took the seeds of the tree, fall over like possessed and could communicate with the deities out of this world. It is from this ritual how the cigar Cohiba receives its name; so, the history of cigars begins in Cuba. It was here, where the exploiters of the New World saw that is possible to smoke tobacco. It is not surprising that after watching these magical rituals and Christopher Columbus brought tobacco leaf into Europe, smoking was considered a pagan costume, punished with prison.
Cigars, like the ones we know at present, the Spanish started to roll them in 1717 in Seville and it was there, where the first cigar factories were established. Cuba allowed independent production in 1821 and ever since, became the number 1 in the world. A year earlier began the production of cigars in England, thus smoking emerged like something extremely popular in Europe and even smoking areas in Hotels and wagons started to be separated.
Cradle of tobacco – Pinar del Rio province:
Tobacco in Cuba is cultivated in several micro-regions. It is possible to find plantations on the Island over, but it doesn’t mean that tobacco culture is what we plant the most in Cuba: sugar cane is definitely the leader.
The exception is the westernmost part of Cuba: the Vinales Valley, the region of Pinar del Rio and Vuelta Abajo. It is there where is growing the most valued tobacco in the Island and also considered by experts the best of the world.
What to take into account? In the first place, these regions have a perfect combination of climate and properties of the soil of the area. Cuba is located very near to Cancer Tropic and it has a relative humidity of 79 % and an average temperature of 25 degrees. The combination of the rain and high per cent of humidity favour mainly the west region of the country that has the biggest tobacco fields in Cuba. Here is where are grown the higher quality of tobacco leaf that serves as raw material to roll the best and most expensive cigars in the world.
If we add to this climate the characteristic of the ground in Cuba, the chemical composition, the agriculture asset that distinguishes the tobacco regions as well as the experience and meticulous dedication and cares that tobacco cigar rollers put while producing this Cuban product, beyond all doubt we will understand the reason of success.
It is worth knowing that buying original handmade Cuban cigars should cost a bit, but don’t worry, in Cuba, most people want to do it and everybody will discover something among the cigars.
Habanos-100 % High Quality
The cigars very well-known in the world are those like Habanos (commonly called «puros» by the Cubans); appraised the world over, a Cuban cigar is a product of luxury, consequently, expensive.
This fact is composed of several factors, but before everything, it is very important the production process: it is long and complex from the beginning till the end, handmade and, as everyone knows, the cost of handwork is very high. A cigar consists of hundreds of handmade activities.
Cigars are submitted to a quality control process from the harvest of leaves until the decorated boxes you see in a shop. Every single production takes several years. We let tobacco leaf fermented and matured for many years like a wine of excellent quality, and the cigar tasting is very often compared to the slow sip of the finest whisky.
The tobacco already harvested before smoking should remain for a few years in different places, acquiring properties of the highest quality and of course, removing toxic substances from its leaf.
Among Habanos, we can identify over 30 brands and every single one has a different format in its collection: shapes and sizes (Spanish band) that determine the longitude and width of the cigar. There are over 200 in total! So, there is a lot to pick out.
The most famous Habanos:
- Cohiba: Even when it is the youngest brand, it is considered one of the best-renowned cigars of the world, principally because of its advertising face, that is to say, Fidel, to whom this brand was created in revolutionary Cuba. Until 1982, only the chosen ones could smoke them. The brand was introduced in the international market in the 80̕s and nowadays is very popular. From its most notorious band, it is possible to distinguish Splendid-Cohiba, V century-Cohiba and Robust-Cohiba (the price of a single specimen in Cuba goes from a dozen to $25).
- Montecristo: Che Guevara’s favourite cigar, who particularly loved the No. 4. It is the most common chosen brand but the most falsified too. These were the most famous Cuban cigars before successful of Cohiba. The price per one goes from a few dollars and is increasing according to format.
- Romeo and Juliet: It is one of the lightest, loved by Winston Churchill. One of its bands even received the official name of Churchill. The price is very similar to Montecristo.
Other known brands of Habanos are:
- Hoyo de Monterrey
- H. Upmann
- Ramón Allones
- Flor de Cano
- San Cristóbal de la Habana
Where to buy Cuban Cigars:
We buy Habanos in official shops of Cuba Tobacco: prices are fixing by the government, that’s why they will cost the same everywhere. There is a lot of these kinds of shops in Cuba, so we should find them in every good hotel, downtown of cities, in some bars and sometimes at bus stops of high social class(because this division is important). Definitely, if there is something missing in Cuba, it is not the rum and tobacco shops.
Of course, like in other cases, probably after leaving the airport or the next morning, someone in the streets will offer us «Original Puros» for an excellent price. We must remember that the black market is flourishing in Cuba, but while buying from a merchant in an alley we have no guaranty of originality.
Remember we should store the cigar we buy in a humidor box after returning to Poland. Our climate is different to the Cuban one, thus cigars could dry out in a surprising time. If we don’t have a humidor, Cubans always recommend putting them in a plastic box in a drawer with fruits or downing in the fridge.
Tasting Cuban cigars on the inner shelf:
Cheap cigars are selling in Cuban pesos
These cigars we will see in the ration stores are destined for Cubans and they are made of leftovers of tobacco leaf. Also, you can buy them in small local bars with Cuban pesos (that is almost for free…). The price is seductive but the taste is comparable to our familiar…jabola, without mentioning the smell, but obviously, it is for people to smoke them.
If we visit one of the many farms in the Vinales Valley, certainly the Cuban peasant will offer to buy a homemade product. The tasting is a little bit better and the price is increasing properly, there is no label, but you can be tempted as a matter of curiosity. The price is around 4 CUC each.
In the best plantations of the Vuelta Abajo region, you may also buy no label cigars, but they will be the equivalence of the best and most expensive of the world: identical, only without a brand (The price is about 10 CUC per piece).
Cigars produced mechanically
The cigars very well wrapped in individual plastic tubes, generally catch the attention of tourists. It is mainly due to the attractive price, good appearance and availability in official shops. The most popular brand among them is Guantanamera. The price of a single one starts from about 2 CUC and the quality, of course, it is not the one we take for granted to Cuban cigars; but for fiends of the laics, it will work as a souvenir brought from Cuba.
Warning! According to regulations, you can have 50 cigars on the plane per person. There is no need for a receipt.
How Cigars are made?
The most popular legend about making cigars is probably the story of the pretty Cuban lady rolling the tobacco leaf in her sweat leg. The only truth about this myth is that Cubans are pretty. So, how are made the best cigars in the world?
The secret of the perfect cigars is the proper ground; the climate and the asset of the experience of manufactures in the production process, that last till 5 years. A cigar already made go over a long way until it’s the last shape.
The individual phases are: the growing, the harvest of leaf, the drying, the fermentation, the blending and ageing process; and from all the above, the fermentation and ageing are the longest ones.
Seeding and planting Tobacco
The first phase in cigar production is the preparation of the nursery. In august begin the ploughing of fields destines for seeding, that last 45 days. When the soil is hummed enough, comes the moment of planting. The tobacco seeds have approximately 0.5 mm. After another 45 days, the best slip is selected and transplanted out of the nursery in the proper field, where we should keep a distance of 20-25 cm between each one, in other words, they will see each other like sun and rain. In Cuba everything is handmade.
Tobacco matures in around 3-5 months, reaching a high of 1.5 meters. All this time the plantation must be under constant hand care of the soil and the inflorescences. When the leaf became aromatic and easy to rip off the stem, starts the harvesting and needling in the wires.
It is time to dry out! The air circulation and humidity are naturally controlled. Each leaf is dried for about 3 months. While visiting a tobacco plantation you perceive that the texture of leaves is very impressive; they are not fragile, either breakable. After bending, doesn’t crack, but returns to its former shape. That’s the secret of the perfectly dried leaf while keeping around 18 per cent of water in its composition.
In Cuba, the agricultures sell 90 % of their crop to the government and the remaining 10 % at his willingness. In fact, the famous 10 % reaches 25 % of the crop. Let’s remember that Cubans can count and combine. One company, obviously state-owned, that from that moment on, will take care of the rest of the process of tobacco. TABACUBA is the enterprise in charge of the fermentation process. Tobacco provides jobs to a big part of society. Cuba produces around 30,000 tons of tobacco leaf per year and there are 96 cigar factories on the Island.
Fermentation of Tobacco
Cuba is proud of using only water during the fermentation, without extra aromas or artificial additives. Simply, they are not used in Cuba. The farmers very often pay the consequences of this because sometimes the crop is very small, due to the lack of chemical substances to control plagues. Nevertheless, the result of this is also having real ecological harvests.
It is time for the selection and division of the leaf. It is the Master Blender the person in charge of choosing the leaf to roll every single cigar. The mixture determines the flavour of the cigar. The stem is taking away from the leaf and the best leaf, except for a unique element, are rolled creating the filler of the cigar. The wrapper leaf, which is the external one, obviously, is a leaf more delicate and with superior quality; it grows in Pinar del Rio under the shade of light texture cover. Those plantations are a characteristic element in the landscape while we heading to Maria la Gorda beach from Vinales.
It is time to roll. The instructor in this activity is the roller master. It is tedious and exigent work. In most factories in Cuba, while rolling cigars, the employees read loudly books and newspapers to make more pleasant the working time. The «retractors» are considering very polite and well-educated persons. The course to become a cigar roller takes 9 months. Those schools are located in the same fabrics, where the student after finishing it, will try to find a job. The average amount of cigars rolled by a person who works in a factory is around 80-150 in a day. It all depends on the size of the cigar is making. Every cigar is rolled by the same person from the beginning to the end.
To make a cigar is not that simple. The core of the cigar is called filler and then there is another part that is superimposed to press the core, called a binder and the final one that is more flexible and softer, is the wrapper, providing beauty and a good end to the cigar.
The record for rolling the biggest cigar in the world, of course, belongs to a Cuban. In 2016, Jose Castellar batters his own record and rolled about 80 kilograms of tobacco leaf that measured 100 meters. The folding took 8 days and once again, was register in the Wines World Record Book.
So we have an aromatic cigar finished. The best way to store them is in a cider container that keeps the moisture and increases the aroma. The cigars may dry out, so we must watch out for the level of humidity. After bringing cigars to Poland from Cuba, we can keep them in a plastic bag on the lower shelf of the fridge.
As you can see the productions of cigars is a ritual, from the seeds to the final leaf. But like they say in Cuba, working with cigars is like dealing with women: the more attention you give with your hands, the more beautiful they get!