Despite the uncertainty in Cuba following Fidel Castro’s death, there was a brief period in October when President Obama announced a furthering normalcy with the island after he enacted an Executive action and lifted the embargo which had banned the unlimited personal consumption of Cuban cigars and rum.
While online purchases for the long-storied Cuban stogies are still not allowed, the expectation that Cuban/American relations will only continue to improve.
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For those considering purchasing Cuban cigars, here is a starter kit about why so much fuss has been made in the past.
THEY ARE NO LONGER “THE BEST”
Although names like the Cohiba Esplendido, Montecristo No. 2 and Partagás Serie D evoke a serious amount of romanticism in the cigar world, many would be surprised to learn that Cuban cigars are no longer viewed as the best in the world.
According to Cigar Aficionado, the best cigar in all of 2015 was the My Father Le Bijou 1922 which is produced in Nicaragua.
As Executive Editor of Cigar Aficionado, David Savona, told The Washington Post, “Just because a cigar is Cuban doesn’t mean it will be a high-quality cigar. There are good cigars and bad cigars from Cuba, as with other cigar-producing countries.”
HOW TO SPOT A FAKE CIGAR
Cuban cigars are often produced with fraudulent intentions and involve instances where people acquire goods from the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua or Honduras for $20 USD, band them with facsimiles of Cuban cigar bands, put them in a copy of a Cuban cigar box, and sell them for over a 300 percent markup.
Other counterfeit scenarios include purchasing a cigar made of real Cuban tobacco, but one that was rolled and produced at a non-Cuban factory which severely undermines what makes a true Cuban a highly sought-after product.
The first thing a person should look at is the packaging. Real Cuban cigars come packed in boxes that are marked with the distinctive Habanos seal in the upper right-hand corner on top of the box, and a Cuban warranty seal on the left. If you believe you have a real Cuban cigar, all the proof can be gathered from the color of the ash. Counterfeits will burn gray, while Cubans will burn almost pure white.
COHIBA’S PLACE IN HISTORY
Cohiba is always a major focus for both collectors and casual enthusiasts – whose additionally fermented and matured tobacco grows in just five Vegas Finas de Primera – the best plantations in the Vuelta Abajo, Cuba’s legendary tobacco-growing region.
Once the personal blend of Fidel Castro – and made exclusively for El Commandante until 1968 – the brand is what most people think of when they think of “Cuban cigars.”
The original Cohiba, a long, thin cigar called the Lancero, became the diplomatic gift of choice to send to statesmen abroad who Castro admired like Luis Echeverria of Mexico, Omar Torrijos of Panama, Josip Tito of Yugoslavia and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt.
THE MOST POPULAR CUBAN CIGAR
The Partagás Serie D No. 4 is the most popular cigar made in Cuba and retails for about 174 Cuban Convertible Pesos per box of 25, or about $7 USD per cigar.
Defined by full-bodied traits of spice, coffee, chocolate and wood smoke, this cigar is a must-have in every connoisseur’s humidor.
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Cigars are measured in two ways – by their length in inches – and by their “ring gauge,” which defines a cigar’s diameter.
The largest standard cigar size is called an “A,” which is also known as a Gran Corona and is 9 1/4 inches long by 47 ring gauge. Other size denominations include the Petite Corona, Churchill, Robusto, Corona Gorda, Double Corona, Panetela, and Lonsdale – all of which are classified under the “Parejos” banner which indicates that they are straight-sided cigars and need to be cut before smoking.
CUBAN CIGAR PRICES
If you want the real thing, you’re going to have to pay for it. Typical prices for a cigar from a Havana tobacco shop now can run from $6 USD – for a Partagás Serie D, No. 5 – to $31 USD for a Cohiba Behike BHK 56.
While it remains to be seen if the lift on the embargo causes Cuban cigars to lose their price tag and cache due to increased ease of purchase, others believe prices might soar due to an increased demand which could overwhelm the handmade supply and drive the cost of a smoke even higher. The belief is that Cuba has a manufacturing capacity of about 150 million cigars a year, which is about 1% of the world market.
Much in the same way that fine wines can grow better in taste and higher in value with age, so too do cigars embody a similar virtue when placed in a humidor for even as short a period of time as one month.
The general rule is that the flavor of the cigars will continue to age with grace for up to 10 years. After that amount of time, cigars will no longer show any significant amount of improvement.
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