Far below, the blue of ocean was slowly replaced by the green of earth as the big jet dipped toward terra firma. Less than an hour ago we took off from Miami International Airport, and now we were about to land in Havana. The wheels touched down, and a few minutes later, I stepped down the gangway and onto the runway, hit by the heat of the tropics and the bright sky above. I was back in Cuba.
Making premium cigars isn't an easy business. Making them in quantity is even harder, and it requires staggering amounts of aged tobacco leaves.
It's a basic premise, but one that goes on behind the scenes at cigar companies, so it's easy to forget. Cigars smokers only see the final product, a neat array of boxed cigars, each cylinder the product of a handful of leaves rolled around one another into glorious, aromatic tubes that deliver savory smoke. But think for a moment about what it takes to make such a product, again and again, year after year.
I've left behind the ice and snow in New York for the tropical heat of Santiago, Dominican Republic. The ProCigar Festival is in full swing, and many of the nation's cigar companies are showing some 300 visitors all there is to know about Dominican cigars.
I walked up the stairs, turned to the left, and headed down the long alley to the main event. I ignored the racks of bright orange robes and stepped out into the glare of artificial lights and exhaled deeply, watching my breath come alive in the frigid air like a cone of cigar smoke.
I'm a bit of a weather junkie. I frequently check my weather apps on my iPhone, I'm guilty of turning on the weather on the television on a regular basis, and I'm adamantly opposed to naming winter storms. Part of my interest is occupational. Weather can play a major role in the cigar industry, with hurricanes, El Niño and volcanoes all posing risks of one sort of another to tobacco crops. But the major reason is just good old fashioned interest. I enjoy knowing about the weather, and its extremes fascinate me. Today, like many of you reading this blog, I'm thinking about the weather extremes in the Midwest United States.
It was the last day of a weeklong business trip. I had eaten red meat nearly every night, and smoked cigars each and every day. So what to do on that final night? Yes—a steak and a cigar.
It was Sunday, and the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend had concluded. I set out from the Mirage Hotel with senior features editor Jack Bettridge and headed to Paradise Road, home to Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steakhouse.
I stepped out my door this morning and was greeted by the dark cold. The air was chilly enough to make my breath visible—it looked like I was having a Cohiba before breakfast. Fall is here in the northeast.
I think about the weather on occasion, but it's always on the mind of cigar guys like Eric Newman, the president of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Co. When he asked "How's the weather?" over the phone last week, he wasn't making idle conversation, but looking for business insight.
Twenty-five years of anything calls for celebration, for a quarter century is a major milestone. In the world of weddings, tradition dictates that it be honored with a gift of silver. For Davidoff, that benchmark was celebrated with cigars.
I was filling out paperwork for a doctor's visit and I came to the question about smoking. This is typically a complicated answer on my part, and I bet, on yours as well.
The usual boilerplate is written something like this:
Team Cigar Aficionado is here in hot Las Vegas at the annual IPCPR trade show, where cigar companies unveil their latest creations for the retailers in attendance. For us at the magazine, we get a chance to meet with the players—major and minor—in the premium cigar business and test out their newest smokes.
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