Cuba produces some of the best tobacco in the world, but the best cigars in the world? That’s a matter of contention. Since the revolution, rival industries have sprung up in Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, producing cigars just as good if not better than what you’d find in Cuba. They couldn’t exist without Cuba. In fact, most of their strengths come from Cuba, but they’ve made Cuba’s reputation a matter of taste, when before it was a matter of fact.
Revolution & Struggle
Cuba’s place in the cigar industry can be traced back to the ancient Tainos tribes people, the world’s first cigar makers. They smoked dried tobacco rolled up in palm leaves and where the ones who introduced smoking to Columbus and later the world. They the exclusive tobacco supply for Spain’s royal court for over a century and were the main source of premium cigars in the United States and much of the world until the 1950’s. John F. Kennedy and Winston Churchill both smoked Cuban cigars.
Then Castro’s guerillas overthrew Batista and everything changed. They seized control of Cuba’s tobacco plantations and cigar factories, and forced many of Cuba’s top cigar makers to flee the country. A few settled in the United States, but most established new factories around the Caribbean in countries with like Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic – places with climates similar to Cuba’s. The soil wasn’t the same, but they did their best to replicate it and, more importantly, trained the locals using the traditions that had once been exclusive to Cuba.
Growing, curing, and rolling tobacco takes a great deal of skill. The leaves have to be picked individually as they ripen, and it takes a sharp eye to know when one’s ready to be plucked and how to sort them. Tobacco leaves come in three varieties – volado, seco, and ligero – and it takes a specific blend of all three to make a great cigar. Too much volado and the cigar burns too hot. Too much seco and its aroma’s too strong. Too much ligero and the taste is overwhelming. It’s the same with the draw. Roll the cigar too tight, and you won’t get any smoke. Too loose and the whole thing falls apart. It take years to learn the craft and there’s no training school. The techniques are handed down from father to son to daughter, which is why Cuban cigars were so prized and why the departure of its top manufacturers hurt them so badly. The experience that had once been theirs now belonged to everybody.
Cigar Boom & Bust
Cuban cigars took another hit in the 1990’s when, after years of sagging sales, the demand for cigars suddenly, exploded. Stogies began flying off the shelves and cigar shops couldn’t keep enough in stock. To take advantage, Cuba expanded their growing operations. They planted tobacco on substandard soil. They hired and trained a whole new slew of cigar rollers and slashed production times to rush their cigars to market. The result was a pernicious decline in quality that left most cigar lovers shaking their heads.
Fortunately, as the boom faded, Cuba’s cigar makers took steps to correct their mistakes. Farming was scaled back, stringent standards were re-imposed, draw machines were installed to ensure quality, and the effort paid off. Cuban cigars were voted the world’s best three times between 2004 and 2014, but they faced stiff competition from other countries.
The truth is that even through Cuba still makes some of the best cigars in the world, If you’re looking for some great cigars for your cigar humidor, you can find something just as good elsewhere. Their monopoly’s been broken. The taste is still unique, but the quality, skill, and experience aren’t.
What do you think? Are we wrong? Are Cubans worth the hype? Leave a comment and let us know.