He approached me with a smile, and a warm embrace. Enrique Mons, of the Casa del Habano at Club Habana in Miramar, looked like a man reborn after a lengthy bout with an illness. He was attending the morning seminars at the Festival de Habanos, which is taking place this week in Havana. He was walking around like a man in his domain, the world of Cuban cigars.
Mons said he was thinking about retiring, but used a term in Spanish that amounts to something more like a working retirement. He said he wanted to concentrate on the things now that really gave him enjoyment, like smoking cigars from all over the world.
“I say all the time that tobacco is tobacco. You have to smoke everything. I have respect for tobacco from everywhere,” he said, clearly drawing on his 50-plus years in the cigar business. “Each tobacco is different, and each has its own characteristics. But you have to try them all.”
He said one of his dreams is to visit Nicaragua and visit the tobacco farms there. We talked about the beauty of the tobacco lands there around Estelí and Jalapa, and he said he really wanted to see them first hand. I told him he would be pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the land, the richness of the soil, and by the tobacco.
Later, we stopped at the Casa del Habano at Calle 16 y 5 Ave, known by everyone as the Quinta Avenida shop. The shelves were packed with a great selection of cigars, everything from the three sizes of Behike (my favorite the Behike 52 for about $210) to Punch, Cohiba and all sizes of Montecristo. Carlos Robaina greeted us and said he had been signing copies of our November/December issue of Cigar Aficionado for customers from all over the world.
Robaina and the other prinicipal of the store, Osmany Rios, said sales had been brisk this week, with people wanting to try the great selection on the shop's shelves.
These are the kinds of encounters that make a trip to Havana so special. These men aren’t just cigar shop managers, but real men of tobacco, who understand the tradition of a great Cuban smoke. Next time you’re here, do what we do. Make enough time to visit them all, and find out what’s happening on the ground in the world of Cuban cigars.