What Makes Cuban Cigars So Special?
"There is nothing like a Cuban cigar." - Marvin Shanken
Out of all the cigars you can buy in the world, Cuban cigars have a unique reputation to aficionados, and as a Cuban Cigar Shop, we attest to this status. Whether it be its quality, its taste or its heritage – Cuban cigars have made their mark in the whole cigar industry and deserve the respect they receive. Today, numerous countries have established their own tobacco manufacturing industries and have become rivals to the well established Cuban cigar industry - such as Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, most of which have developed high-quality tobacco themselves. Despite the wide range of cigar choices in today's era, cigar aficionados continue to argue that Cuban cigars remain incomparable, and here are a few reasons why:
The Latin Americans have a long history of smoking tobacco - dating back to the Aztecs and Mayans; the ancient people enjoyed smoking tobacco leaves for medicinal purposes and worship rituals. It was not until Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas that he brought tobacco culture to Europe, and soon enough, Cuba started exporting cigars, becoming widely popular luxury item among refined societies. Soon after, Cuba created a ‘tobacco monopoly’ that lasted for 100 years, dominating the cigar industry at all angles, bringing about the rise of famous cigar brands like H.Upmann and Punch. Fast forward to the 20th century, Cuba was under a communist revolution led by Fidel Castro. The ‘rightist’ North American government did not approve of the ‘leftist’ ideology that was rising in Cuba, particularly when all the US businesses in Cuba were nationalised without compensation. So the US imposed a trade embargo in response to the reforms of Castro – and therefore, stopped Cuban cigars from being transported to North America. When Castro made the cigar factories state-owned, it caused many former owners to flee to nearby countries such as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, but alas, the taste was not the same. Ever since the embargo was placed on Cuba, the reputation of Cuban cigars became borderline mythical – giving it that “forbidden fruit factor” that enticed cigar aficionados to get their hands on an exclusive and rare cigar. Even today, Cuban cigars still retain the ‘mystique’ long after the embargo. This lengthy heritage of Cuban cigars makes it clear that Cubans have a vast wealth of knowledge to refer back to, and has been deeply ingrained in their culture.
Left: Ancient Mayan Man Smoking Tobacco; Right: Fidel Castro
It is well-known and documented that Cuban soil is full of nutrients and is the perfect soil to cultivate tobacco on. In French wine terminology, this environment the crops are put under is called ‘terroir’, referring to all factors including topography, climate, soil and surrounding plants. All these factors contribute to the ultimate quality of the tobacco leaves, which consequently affects the quality and taste of Cuban cigars. Terroir greatly varies depending on the location and therefore explains why the tobacco is different in various regions of Cuba. In Cuba, there are regions like Vuelta Abajo (home to the highest quality Pinar del Rio plantations), Semi Vuelta, Partido and Vuelta Arriba – each having their own distinct character and differences. This is due to the fact that even with the slightest change of environment, such as; the rain, wind soil or the human hand, the tobacco will turn out different. Many cigar aficionados say that the taste of Cuban cigars is very distinct, and this may be due to the high nickel content found in the soil. Cigars like the Montecristo Linea 1935 Maltes Cigar and the H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011 Cigar have tobacco obtained from Pinar Del Rio, all grown within its fertile, red soil.
Above: Cuban Tobacco Farm
"A DISTINCT FLAVOUR"
Many cigar aficionados have found that Cuban cigars have a distinct and unique flavour that is characteristic of them. There is a difference in complexity, strength and the character that makes it distinguishable among a comparison of cigars from other countries. If you have a knack for Tasting Cigars, you will find that there is a prevalence of earthier, grass and hay notes found in the cigars – a very rustic combination of flavours. Cuban cigars are also considered to be more intense than other cigars, with bolder flavours that provide a more complex profile. This is likely due to the soil, the hot climate and the handling of the tobacco. The land in Cuba’s tobacco regions have an abundance of iron, quartz and clay deposits in the soil, and therefore creating a more peppery taste for the cigars. Furthermore, the tobacco picking process – in cigars like the Cohiba Behike, they wait for the tobacco plant to reach maturity and harvest from the ‘medio tiempo’, which is a scarce leaf to find, some farmers estimate that fewer than one in ten tobacco plants grows medio tiempo leaves.
There you have it; these are the main reasons why Cuban cigars remain a popular choice by cigar aficionados all over the world. In a time when there are an innumerable amount of innovative and continually upgrading cigar brands, Cuban cigars remain an icon in the cigar world.
For more articles about Cuban Cigars, read our Cuban Cigar Blog:
- A Helpful Guide to Tasting Cigars: Flavours and Notes
- How to Season Your Humidor: A 5-Step Guide
- Made in Cuba: The Origin of Cuban Cigars