This week, the Tobacconists' Association of America is holding its annual meeting, a gathering of U.S. cigar shop owners and cigar manufacturers that has taken place for 47 years.
The meetings tend to be convivial, relaxed, quite unlike the hectic week of IPCPR trade show activity, which will take place this summer. The TAA is one part doing business and one part making new relationships and cementing old ones.
It happens in so many places in Havana that sometimes I don't even notice. But when it happened at El Rum Rum de la Habana, a skinny, bright and clean paladar located on the narrow streets of Vieja Habana, it made me think about how special it is, so I began writing.
Montecristos of all sizes, Romeo y Julietas galore and Cohiba Maduros for everyone you've ever known. Havana's cigar shops are full of cigars on this trip.
So far I've been to seven Casa del Habano cigar stores, including the standouts at the Meliá Habana Hotel, Quinta Avenida, Club Habana and the Habana Libre Hotel. Rumors of a cigar shortage have been overblown, but there's certainly things you can and cannot get.
It's all anyone wants to talk about—what kind of cigars can you buy for $100 in Cuba? More important, in my opinion—what cigars should you buy for that $100?
The landmark decision on December 17 to improve U.S.-Cuba relations has changed the laws about official America travel to Cuba. American visitors to Havana have long been forbidden to come back with so much as one cigar or a drop of Cuban rum, but as of January 16 those who visit this island on authorized trips can legally return home with $400 worth of Cuban goods, $100 of which can be tobacco or alcohol. No insult meant to Cuban rum, which is lovely, but my $100 is going to go strictly to cigars. Yours should, too.
It was late in Cuba's capital city. The air was warm and heavy, with no hint of a breeze, and the royal palms stood still, unswaying, as if they were made of stone. The car stopped on a quiet street, and our party walked through the flowered courtyard of La Moraleja, a fine paladar in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana.
Monday morning, at the Miami International Airport. I'm sitting by my gate, staring out the window at a silver, red and blue American Airlines jet getting ready to take on passengers and make the short flight south across the Florida Keys to Havana.
All good cigar companies have them: packages of tobacco wrapped in burlap or palm known as bales. It's the lifeblood of the industry, the raw material that is painstakingly turned into cigars. Without warehouses filled with bales you simply won't last very long in the cigar business.
The man in the suit reached out his hand, a smile spreading across his face.
"Randolph Churchill," he said.
The famous surname was no mere circumstance—Randolph Churchill is the great-grandson of the late, great Sir Winston Churchill, and I had the chance to meet him last night. The celebration was one worthy of his famous ancestor, a party with cigars and fine spirits celebrating the launch of the Davidoff Winston Churchill.
It seems like only yesterday when I landed on the red-eye from Las Vegas, coming back from the Big Smoke on the Sin City strip. A week from Thanksgiving and we do it all again—this time on the East coast, for the Big Smoke New York.
Tomorrow the Cigar Aficionado team heads out to Las Vegas on the eve of our busiest weekend—the Big Smoke Las Vegas. We're making the final preparations, sending out the bagged cigars for our Saturday and Sunday seminars, going over the final details of who is covering what and what needs to be said, and looking forward to reconnecting with our friends in the cigar industry and shaking hands with a few thousand of our many readers.
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