The Allure of Cuban Cigars
For decades the image of lighting up a Cuban has invoked feelings of luxury and the ultimate experience of enjoying a cigar. The Cuban is sexy and an emblem of wealth and status enjoyed only by elites. Hard to find in the U.S., time with a Cuban cigar is to be savored with the only preferred company or perhaps with Cuban rum.
One might ask whether that image is a true reflection of the quality of the cigar or just a mythology that has built up over generations. The answer I’ll give you is that it is a bit of both. While the cultural significance of the Cuban cigar is not to be discounted, the production method and crop location make its taste distinct.
The Appeal of Scarcity
Even before it became the subject of a U.S. trade embargo — along with all other Cuban products — the country’s namesake cigar was loved outside of the island’s borders. In 1962, President Kennedy asked an aide to purchase as many of the cigars as possible before they became unavailable stateside, just one example of a powerful person admitting to an affinity for this product.
Even after circumstances changed in 2014, and relations between countries shifted, Americans could still only bring home $100 worth of Cubans. This was only about three of the highest quality product. So these are not some luxury item you can get anywhere; holding or smoking these are enduring signs of membership in a prestigious class.
The Tobacco Growing Region
But cigars are a product that comes from nature. They are meticulously crafted from the leaves of the tobacco plant, which takes on the distinct flavors of the soil in which it is grown and harvested. The superior quality Cuban cigars come from the Vuelta Abajo region in the Pinar del Río province.
This earth gives elite Cubans their distinct flavor, even more, intoxicating than those made from tobacco in other areas of the country. The leaves are harvested from carefully cultivated tobacco plants that have been maintained in the area for generations. The seeds may be planted outside of Vuelta Abajo, but the cigars will not taste the same.
The People Who Make the Cigars
Also for generations, individuals have learned how to roll cigars. Quality is essential to on-the-ground workers in the tobacco industry. Small farmers dedicated to an organic crop of tobacco leaves may even remove insects by hand.
This commitment was best appreciated when things went sour in the industry, in an attempt to rush production and increase yields. During the period of 1998 to 2005, with the introduction of new hybrid tobacco plants, some planted in soil not suited for production, and poorly trained workers, some consumers feel that Cuban cigars declined in quality as leaves were too tightly packed affected the quality of the smoke.
Many of these flaws were attributable to the people who were on the front lines of making the product, perhaps dedicated to their jobs, but not raised with the necessary experience to create a high quality Cuban.
The Consensus of the Cigar Community
It is true that true cigar lovers know their vintages like oenophiles know their wines. The overriding belief is that Cuban cigars are by far the most superior, especially those from tobacco grown in the Vuelta Abajo region. It is hard to argue with the experts, and the experts seem to agree that Cuban cigars have unmatched prestige.
David Savona of Cigar Aficionado emphasized that handmade cigars have only one ingredient: cigar tobacco. For that reason, every aspect of the growing, harvesting and rolling process is essential to the ultimate quality of the product. When you choose to buy Cuban cigars, you are participating in an important cultural tradition. The extraordinary taste and draw of the cigar is almost just an added bonus.