I’m in Ybor City, Florida, the onetime cigar capital of the world. Ybor, part of the west Florida city of Tampa, was built upon cigars. A melting pot community of Cubans, Spanish and Italians made more cigars here than anyplace else, some 500 million a year at its peak. The city was once dominated by proud, huge cigar factories made of brick, each standing several stories tall. Most have crumbled or have been converted into something else. Office space. Nightclubs. A chain Italian restaurant. A precious few still have something to do with cigars.
I’m quite impressed with the new Edmundo Dantes Conde 54, a Regional Edition Cuban cigar designed only for sale in Mexico. It’s not a big surprise. When the Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 came out in 2007, it was utterly amazing, so when we heard of a new Edmundo Dantes we had high hopes indeed. So far, in non-blind tastings, the cigar has lived up to its expectations. You can read about how good it is in Gordon Mott’s blog from earlier this week.
I reached for a cigar from my tasting humidor today and almost pulled a muscle. It was six inches long with a ring gauge well north of 60, perhaps as big as 64. Ultra-fat cigars such as this one are burning up the charts, selling amazingly well, but count me as a fan of smaller smokes. While they aren’t huge sellers, most serious smokers I talk to share my love for small cigars, particularly petit coronas. It’s a size I find myself reaching for increasingly often.
I recently returned from a little vacation with the family, and I'm getting back in the swing of things here at the office. That means getting back to smoking cigars. During my trip, I took a seven-day break. Every now and then, I don't mind missing a day (or a few days) of puffing cigars.
Those who say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," have never sat outside in Las Vegas in 105 degree heat. Trust me, it's the heat. But I'm not here in Las Vegas to enjoy the (all too copious) sunshine and blazing temperatures, I'm here to attend the biggest trade show in the premium cigar industry.
Next week, nearly the entire cigar industry will gather in Las Vegas for the annual IPCPR trade show. It's a showcase of new cigars behind booths manned by all the personalities of the cigar industry, with retailers from around the United States (and some from outside the U.S.) walking the aisles looking to buy.
Tampa, Florida, is a town with a rich cigar history. In the days before the U.S. Embargo against Cuba, tons upon tons of Cuban tobacco leaf was shipped to Tampa every year, and the city's myriad cigar factories rolled them into beautiful smokes known as Clear Havanas. At the peak of the Tampa cigar trade, in 1929, more than 500 million cigars were rolled in that city alone. For some perspective, that's more cigars than were sold in all of 1997, the peak year of the modern day cigar boom. Is it any surprise that one of the city's old baseball teams was known as the Tampa Smokers, and its logo had a big cigar right on the chest? Tampa is a cigar town, period.
On my latest trip to Cuba, I was reminded of my first visit to the island, back in 1996. I was a relative cigar rookie back then, and the first time I stepped into a Havana cigar store I was awed at the sight of all those great Cuban cigars staring at me when I walked into the humidor. To me, it looked like paradise.
When we arrived in Havana last week, Gordon and I were expecting to hear that the Partagas Cigar Factory had closed for its much-needed renovation. When we were in Cuba in February, everyone was talking about how Partagas would soon be shut down, the jackhammers brought out and workers would start the arduous task of undoing the damage done by years of hot, Cuban summers, drenching tropical hurricanes and years of salty sea air on the Real Fabrica Partagas, which has stood since 1845.
I'm back in New York after my week in Cuba. I spent most of the time in Havana, visiting 14 cigar shops, including each of the city's nine La Casas del Habanos. These are stores that sell Cuban cigars, of course, but there's more to a La Casa than just cigars. Being a La Casa del Habano means you have to stock a certain number of smokes, have a staff that is well informed about them, need a place where your customers can smoke and a bar serving drinks. They're wonderful places.
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