CUBAN CIGARS...The Taboo PleasureBy G Nowak (Barefoot Man) - from The Grand Caymanian Magazine
My rule of life prescribed as an absolutely sacred rite smoking cigars and also the drinking of alcohol before, after and if need be during all meals and in the intervals between them.
- Sir Winston Churchill
Despite 56 years of American trade sanctions against Cuban products, cigars have always remained one of the country's leading exports. In the early 90’s, thirty years after the Cuban embargo first went into effect, the country exported 77 million cigars, with a slight steady decline since then attributed mainly to a loss of much of the wrapper crop in hurricanes. Now it seems Cigar-loving travelers won't have to hide their Cubans in their luggage anymore. Tobacco products from Cuba are among the goods allowed under the new trade normalization rules recently announced by President Obama. The exact language of the executive order has yet to be revealed so let’s wait a bit before we convert one of our closets into a walk- in humidor.
The new rules could take some of the fun out of Cuban cigars. For the US traveler it’s always been sort of a “hide and seek” game between them and US custom officials. Amateur smugglers would hide bundles of Monte Cristos or Uppmans between dirty laundry or inside extra packed shoes hoping the border officials wouldn’t find them. Then there’s the “prove me wrong” strategy by removing the cigar band and having them clearly visible in your shirt pocket.
“Oh no officer these are from Honduras.”
Like a foam drenched mug of beer is a symbol of Germany or a pizza the classic representation of Italy, the cigar is the trademark of Cuba. Though often debatable, most cigar connoisseurs will agree “Cubans” are the best…most of the time. The uncertainty of “the best” comes into play due to the popularity of the Cuban cigars, in other words the demand for the best stogies has created a flood of counterfeit smokes. It’s been said that nearly 90% of the Cuban cigars found in the hidden shelves of USA tobacco stores are rolled forgeries. Cohiba Esplendidos, Hoyo de Monterreys and Partagas seem to be a favorite target for the imposter “torcedores” (cigar rollers). In fact it’s well known the fake cigar business in Cuba is bigger that the sales of real ones. A genuine government approved box of Cohiba’s can cost between $500.00 - $600.00 in Havana, or just stand on a street corner and look like a gullible gringo and in no time someone will offer you a box for $100.00 or less, but be prepared as you could end up smoking dried banana leaves.
Cuban cigars are rolled from tobacco leaves found throughout the country. The filler, binder, and wrapper may come from different portions of the island but all authentic cigar production in Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government, and each brand may be rolled in several different factories. Cuban cigar rollers are claimed by cigar experts to be the most skilled rollers in the world. They are highly respected in Cuban society and culture and the best of the best are allowed to travel worldwide displaying their art of hand rolling cigars.
In the United States, authentic Cuban-made cigars (when you can find them) are considered taboo for Americans to purchase. The “no-no” to buying the Cubans is not only due to the embargo, but when one mentions Cuban cigars straight away an image of Castro or Che’ Guevera chewing a super-sized Cohiba comes to mind. Fidel confiscated private property (including tobacco farms) following the revolution, so many former Cuban cigar manufacturers who had owned land in Cuba moved to the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua to continue production. When the production of tobacco grew significantly in these Latin America countries most former Cuban manufacturers continued to use their known company name while in Cuba, after the revolution the government continued production of cigars using the former private company names. As a result, cigar name brands like Romeo y Julieta, La Gloria Cubana, Montecristo and H. Upmann, exist in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic. However, the original Cubans will always be thought of as the best.
What is it that makes a genuine, non-counterfeit Cuban cigar stand out amongst the rest? There are many factors such as experience and environment. Cuba has been growing tobacco for hundreds of years, beginning first under the rule of King Phillip II in the 1500’s. The vast experience that they have in the cigar making business only serves to enhance their quality product. Also, Cuba itself is the perfect environment and climate for growing tobacco. The country’s soil allows the plants to produce very high quality leaves, and the humidity of the island is perfect for cultivating, drying and harvesting the plants. The permutation of ideal climate and centuries of experience result in what is considered to be the world’s best cigars. It takes 100 steps to suitably produce a single authentic Cuban cigar and all factories in Cuba follow a specific design and creation process which are strictly controlled by government inspectors.
In the few cigar lounges on Grand Cayman one can easily spot the cigar aficionado and separate him (or her) from those who just seek the novelty of smoking a Cuban. The connoisseur will narrate the quality of his smoke in the same fashion as a wine “sommelier” would describe a bottle of French Cabernet Sauvignon or an expensive Chardonnay.
“Oh this Monte Cristo number two is rather citrusy, tangy and a little tart, but I must admit there is a lingering, pleasant and woody aftertaste.”
The cigar that you like the most is completely a personal thing, however it seems to be that the overruling choice is the Cuban. It’s easy to see why these great cigars are so very popular worldwide. If you are a stogie buff, you simply must try a Cuban at some point in your cigar-smoking journey!
“I never smoke in excess...I smoke in moderation, meaning one cigar at a time.” – Mark Twain