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David Savona

The Secret of Behike

Posted: Dec 10, 2010 12:00am ET

The secret ingredient to Cuba’s superb new cigar brand, Cohiba Behike BHK, is a rare kind of tobacco called medio tiempo. While you may have heard the name before, it’s likely that you don’t know precisely what it is—it has been described improperly.

First of all, medio tiempo does not come from the middle of a tobacco plant. Some have described it this way, perhaps due to the word “medio” in its name. Second, it doesn’t come from below the ligero grade of leaves. After several interviews in Havana, the tobacco growing region of Pinar del Río and even outside of Cuba, here is a detailed description of medio tiempo tobacco.

Tobacco leaves are classified by their position on the plant. In the world of Cuban cigars, working up the bottom of a plant, there is volado (the most mild), seco (somewhere in the middle) and then ligero, which is powerful. On some plants, but far from all, two additional tobacco leaves grow at the very top, above the ligero. Those leaves are called medio tiempo. And medio tiempo is in every Cohiba Behike BHK cigar.

The highest leaves on a tobacco plant take the longest amount of time to ripen. They also get the full benefit of sunlight—tobacco plants are by nature leafy objects, and the upper leaves provide some shade for those that grow below. Medio tiempo leaves get more light than any other on a plant.

“It’s a very complex leaf that comes from the two top leaves of the plant,” said Habanos subdirector of marketing Gonzalo Fernández de Navarrete Gonzalez-Valerio during an interview in Havana on a rainy Thursday morning. “Not every plant has it.”

Carlos Fuente Jr., the maestro behind Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, once told me that medio tiempo leaves turned raisiny in the sun. He spoke of these rich, small leaves almost as someone would describe a most beautiful woman.

Medio tiempo is very rare. Some farmers estimate that fewer than one in ten tobacco plants grows medio tiempo leaves. So there are only so many. They’re also very small. I saw several leaves of fermented and aged medio tiempo at El Laguito, the factory where all Cohiba Behikes are made, when I visited the factory this week with Gordon Mott. They were considerably smaller than ligero leaves.

Despite their rarity, if you smoked enough Cuban cigars a few years ago you may have smoked some medio tiempo—in the past, Cuban tobacco processers would simply include it with the tobacco graded as ligero. But a few years ago, during the creation of the Cohiba Behike BHK cigars, the Cuban cigar industry sought to do something new, sought new flavor, and to do that they decided on using medio tiempo.

The Cubans began separating medio tiempo during the harvest (when they could find it), processing and aging medio tiempo separately. When it was ready, they began using it in the blending room, and now it’s one of six leaves that go into all Behike BHK cigars. Medio tiempo is heavy tobacco, and heavy tobaccos work better with thicker ring gauges. With heavy leaf, and six types of tobacco inside, you can see why these Behike BHK cigars are so fat, from 52 to 56 ring gauge.

So that taste you get when puffing on a Cohiba Behike BHK cigar? It’s medio tiempo, a rarity in the cigar world grown at the very top of some (but far from all) tobacco plants.

Comments   16 comment(s)

Tony Werner — Batesville, IN, USA,  —  December 10, 2010 10:33am ET

I was wondering if you knew of any non cuban cigars that utilize this leaf and also, categorize it separate from ligero as well?


Fouad Frem December 10, 2010 11:33am ET

Hi Dave,just asking u if u will be in havana at the festival del habanos at the last week of february ?


Paul Byrne — Toronto, Ontario, Canada,  —  December 10, 2010 6:04pm ET

And now we know why medio tiempo = maximo costo.


Taylor Franklin December 11, 2010 4:11am ET

Bullseye information from Savona, thank you.

Some of the newer genetically modified strains have 'at times' produced a few more Medio Tiempo leaves; still a rare bird.

That said, the newer strains in general have higher yields.


GORDON MOTT — NEW YORK, NY, UNITED STATES,  —  December 11, 2010 2:20pm ET

Guys,
Just one comment about the hybrids being used. The Cubans explain they not genetically engineered per se, in that the dna structures of the plant are not manipulated by human hands. They use the traditional method of cross-pollinating different strains of tobacco plants and then using those seeds in experimental plots to see how they perform.


Taylor Franklin December 11, 2010 5:58pm ET

Thank you for that important clarification Gordon.

Not so much Monsanto as grandma grafting the apple trees.

An excellent book on the subject by Cuban plant geneticist Eumelio Espino Marrero; quite interesting with a Cuban bias of course.


massiefulks@yahoo.com December 11, 2010 9:06pm ET

If I'm not mistaken, the Partagas Black has a Medio Tiempo wrapper.


jack charbot — beirut, beirut, LBN,  —  December 12, 2010 1:51pm ET

dear David
can you take some photos (if available) just to compare the plant that holds medio tempo leafs from the non holder .


Anthony December 13, 2010 12:03am ET

@massie

I was thinking the same thing. Partagas Black does have a Connecticut medio tiempo wrapper. I smoked one that was aged at least a couple years and i instantly loved it... very sweet, oily, and almost chewy texture. The fact they are really affordable helps too! It put me on a hunt for other sticks that also use medio tiempo wrappers... Hopefully I get the chance to try a Behike. Santa, are you listening ?? haha.


Christopher Mitchell December 14, 2010 11:24am ET

Hi David,
there is an error in your blog regarding the descriptions of both the seco and volado, in the 3rd paragraph. Seco is somewhere in the middle and volado is the most mild.


David Savona December 14, 2010 11:45am ET

Christopher, thank you for the note, and you're right. I've corrected the blog.


Seung Gin Lee — APO, AE, US,  —  December 17, 2010 3:23pm ET

just got a box of Behike 52's! Super excited!


stantine972 January 25, 2011 11:43pm ET

What else could beat a Behike in 2011's cigar of the year?


Nick S. — Toronto, Ontario,  —  April 26, 2011 10:16am ET

In Toronto Canada the BHK line is hard to come by i have only seen it at two cigar shops and the the prices start at 52-67.99,54-89.99 and the 56- 97.99 now i know why they are so expensive


Viktor Enns — Saarbrücken, Saarland, Deutschland,  —  March 1, 2013 5:39pm ET

Hiya David,

we are a German Casa del Habanos and just last week have done a cigar tasting of the new BHK52 (in German of course). Would you and perhaps your readers be interested in watching the video once it is up and running on youtube? The english subtitles are in the works too.

Here is our channel for your interest:
http://www.youtube.com/user/DalayZigarren

Cheers
Viktor Enns


MAURICE ANTONIUS KOKS — SANTIAGO, DOMINICAN REPU,  —  July 26, 2014 6:42pm ET

To answer the question of Tony Werner, yes now there is a non cuban cigar with Medio Tiempo leaf, our new Vallejuelo "Medio Tiempo" which we released last week in Las Vegas, this cigar has an amazing rich flavor profile and is a must try for anybody who can get its hands on these great smokes



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