Day 1: Morning View from La Habana

I woke up this morning in Havana in my hotel, the Melia Cohiba, and after a quick café con leche in the bar, I walked out onto the Malecon boulevard that skirts the sea in front of the city, and breathed the fresh sea air with a mixture of diesel and other smells of a bustling city.

There’s a special feeling when you are standing on the Malecon and first looking at the sea towards the United States and then back at the old buildings on the boulevard. It is like a lifeline to the city with most of the major traffic of Havana taking it to cross from one end to the other. There’s an energy, a vitality that is hard to describe.

It’s these indescribable sensations that bring so many people to Havana. This year is shaping up to be one of the best in ten years in tourism. I spoke to the manager of my hotel and he said that they had 96 percent occupancy at the moment and they expected it to continue for the next few months. Cuba and Havana seem to be back on the radar screen for visitors from Europe, Canada and Mexico – the main areas that tourists come from.

A large number of tourists at the moment are here for the Festival del Habano, the 10th annual cigar event for the city. I have already seen cigar smokers and merchants from Europe, North America, the Middle and Far East. In other words, they are here from all over the world and they are smoking up a storm.

After my video making on the Malecon, I went back to the bar on the 20th floor of the Melia Cohiba and it was full of cigar smokers. They had the window of the bar open and it was only about 9 am. There were too many people smoking cigars!

I ran into a friend from Lebanon who had a couple examples of the new regional cigar for the area – a Ramon Allones Sublimes. I smoked it most of the morning. What a blockbuster…a shit kicker. It’s loaded with coffee, spice and espresso bean character. I am going to hook up with the agents from Lebanon on Friday and smoke and video the session. So stay tuned.

I also attended a press conference at the Melia Havana with Habanos S.A., the global marketing and distribution company for Cuban cigars, and some of the top heads spoke about their plans for 2008. I have already written about some of the new cigars coming out in the market in my blogs from my last trip to Havana a few weeks ago. The main ones are the new Epicure Especial in the Hoyo de Monterrey line as well as the H. Upmann Magnum 50. I can’t wait to try them. In addition, they spoke about the new limited-edition cigars for 2008: Cuaba Piramides, Partagas Serie D No. 5 and Montecristo Sublimes.

There is also going to be a special humidor in circulation that is the recreation of an old humidor for Romeo y Julieta. It’s filled with 50 Romeos, which look like thick diademas. Only 250 humidors will be produced. In addition, volume seven of the Habano Collection will be a Cohiba Sublimes Extra, which is slightly longer than the Cohiba Sublimes produced a few years back.

I have a list of all the new regional cigars but I don’t have time to type them in at the moment. I will give you the information later in the week.

For me, the most interesting part of the meeting was the announcemnt of more tubes. It seems that most of the top cigars are now going to be produced in tubes, which come in three and five packs. For instance, the Siglo 1 is now going to be packed in packs of three tubes, which means that all the Cohiba Siglos now come in tubes. In addition, Partagas Serie D No. 4, Partagas Serie P No. 2, Punch Punch, and Bolivar Royal Coronas will be sold in tubes. The Serie P is the first priamide, or torpedo, to come in a tube from Cuba.

This is a very user-friendly development in Cuban cigars. Not only is it handy to be able to carry a tube in your pocket when you’re on the road, they don’t crush and the cigars maintain their humidity, but it’s easier in your mind to buy a three or five pack than 25 smokes in a box, considering the high prices for Cuban cigars now.

One Habanos executive also pointed out “that it made sense as publicity of the brand as well. We can’t advertise in many countries now because of the anti-smoking laws. So why not do a little of our own advertising with the tubes?”

Another development is that you are going to see more and more top Cuban cigars coming in packages of 10. This will help many people who would like to buy a box but can’t afford 25 or 50 in a box. This makes good sense. And it allows people to buy more different cigars without having to spend so much for a box.

I asked the small panel of Habanos people how their pricing was going to be this year and it appears, as always, prices are going up. They failed to mention how much but it will be the usual small amount to coincide with inflation in Europe. “Whether the price increases are passed on to the consumer is up to each individual importer,” said one Habanos spokesman.

So I guess most people will be paying more, buying less but selecting better when it comes to Habanos.
Jose Blanco February 25, 2008 4:32pm ET
James, have a great time, no tomes mucho cafe, pero sigue fumando mucho.
Edward Kobesky February 25, 2008 4:47pm ET
This is awesome. I can't wait to see and read more. Already, I can honestly say James' one-minute video gave me a better feel for what it's like to actually stand on the Malecon on a sunny day than all of the still photos I've ever seen in my entire life. Great stuff and the Festival hasn't even started yet!
Steve Cohen Oakville, Ontario February 25, 2008 5:45pm ET
The Cohiba Sublimes Extra sound like they could be a winner, as I have a box of the Sublime El 2004 and they are amazing. Let us know what you think of the Extra's. Have fun at the festival, but not too much fun.
Steve Cohen Oakville, Ontario February 25, 2008 7:44pm ET
And pictures of the Sublime Extra and the RA Sublime would be very nice.

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