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James Suckling

Back In Havana

Posted: Oct 13, 2008 11:55am ET
I am spending Sunday afternoon in Havana with a San Cristobal de La Habana El Morro. The Churchill-sized smoke is delivering very balanced tea and milk character with hints of flowers and cedar. It's a friendly, easy-going smoke that just wants to make you happy. Nothing aggressive or challenging here. It's like having tea with my grandmother.

It's funny how I still hear from people how Cuban cigars are much richer and more powerful than cigars from off the island. And how I often hear how Americans aren't going to like them when they are finally legally available in the United States. That is completely wrong. In fact, I often find that the top cigars from Nicaragua and other places are stronger. A number are too strong in my book, lacking balance and flavor. But smoking the Morro was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

When I arrived in Havana near midnight on Saturday from Cancún, I only had a Padrón Anniversary Principe in my pocket. So I lit that up in the airport while I was waiting for my bags. I asked one of the women at the VIP lounge for her lighter, and I think it slightly spoiled the cigar. Some Cubans refill their lighters with unclean gas, even insecticide. So the Padrón ended up having a chemical-like flavor. It was sort of a bummer to the beginning of the trip.

I am curious, even worried, about the situation in Cuba following the two hurricanes this September. What information I have gathered from people in Havana is that houses throughout the island have been flattened or lost their roofs, and the fields for crops have been severely damaged. Havana is fine, but there is a shortage of everything at the moment from food to wood to gasoline. You name it. It isn't around and what is around has gone up in price.

This said, I heard that the best areas of the Vuelta Abajo are fine and that the seedlings have gone into the ground. So wrapper tobacco should be OK, but I can't confirm that 100 percent for now. I did hear that prices are going up about 10 percent to distributors around the world for Cuban cigars. So I am not sure how much Cuban cigars are going to increase in price at retail, but I assume these increases going to be passed on to the consumer. It doesn't seem like the right time for price increases but the costs of production to grow tobacco and make cigars is ever increasing. What can the Cubans do?

In the end, I only hope the best for Cubans. And I wonder how hard it is going to be for workers in the fields for the coming tobacco harvest as well as works in cigar factories and processing plants. Hundreds of thousands of people have no shelter as well as very little food. It sounds bad. I will know more later.


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