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James Suckling

The Mysteries of Cuban Cigars

Posted: Feb 26, 2010 2:27pm ET
I unraveled more of the mystery of the great new Cohiba Behikes that will be launched tonight at the gala dinner in Havana during the 12th Festival Habano. The attendees of the dinner will receive all three cigars. I can’t wait to try one of the smaller ones.

I smoked the BHK 56—the largest of the three—the other day and I couldn’t believe how rich and powerful it was. It just about blew my head off, but then came into its own at the end of smoking These three Cohiba Behikes seem like ones to age and enjoy for years ahead, like the great cigars of the early 1990s from the island.

I went to the Cohiba factory yesterday—El Laguito—and I spoke to a number of rollers who were making the various Behikes. They said that they were using a whole leaf of the medio tiempo, which is the hallmark of the three cigars. There is no super powerful ligero, or the strongest leaf, in the blend. Instead, the medio tiempo is used. Most cigars have half a leaf of ligero, or less, in their blend. No other cigars in Cuba are blended this way.

I had an interesting conversation with the sub-director of the La Corona factory yesterday about medio tiempo. He said that the leaf is right in between the seco and ligero strength of filler, sun-grown tobacco used for Cuban cigars. “It’s neither seco or ligero,” he said as we were standing in the color sorting room of his factory. If you remember, seco is medium strength, medium flavor and aroma for a blend. Meanwhile, the ligero is for the strength.

I confirmed with him that the medio tiempo is usually classified as the lightest ligero. The strongest filler tobacco in Cuba is usually put in three classifications. If I remember correctly, it’s number 14, 15 and 16. Thus, most medio tiempo would be classified as 14, or the lowest grade of ligero.

After the factory visits and lunch, I chaired an hour-long seminar on vintage cigars with a number of friends, including Simon Chase of United Kingdom cigar distributor Hunters & Frankau, London-based cigar collector Alex Iapichino, Colin Ganely of European Cigar Journal, Jorge Luis Fernandez (Maique) of Habanos S.A., and tobacco technician Luis Sorines.

It was an information packed discussion and I was sorry it ran short. Luis Sorines was one of the most interesting speakers, talking about micro-fermentations and oxidations of tobacco as it ages. I had to admit that I didn’t do that well in university chemistry and that’s why I am a journalist instead of a doctor. So I didn’t get it all. But the magical change in Cuban cigars as they age obviously has science behind it.

I will blog more about this fascinating subject next week. But everyone agreed that Cuban cigars age very well. They offer a different experience than smoking young cigars fresh from the factories. They are not necessarily better, but different. It’s like drinking young wine versus old wine. Alex went as far as saying that he doesn’t smoke anything that doesn’t have a minimum of three years of box age.


You can follow James Suckling on Twitter: twitter.com/JamesSuckling

Comments   11 comment(s)

Art Sacks February 28, 2010 10:01am ET

James, the videos are cool. Any price points on these only for veteran cigars. 3 sizes.TIA, Art


Paul Segal — San Diego —  March 1, 2010 7:01pm ET

Ha Ha Ha...hey James sorry to be walking behind you during your video. that was ME in the hat that walked past! fantastic watching the Behikes being rolled. The 56 is a real kicker! the small one is roughly the size of the Cohiba Robusto, everyone has time for the BKE 52! They were a bit damp to be smoking them directly from the factory, but who could resist. Good seeing you again and bumping into into you everywhere. What a beautiful box they gave us at the GALA, but I guess once you have smoke them all, then what do you do with a gorgous empty box! Happy Smoking!


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 2, 2010 4:38pm ET

not to contradict you James, but just some additional info, The Medio Tiempo Leaves come from the top priming (corona) area, the two leaves have a rough texture and are less aromatic and have less richness then the Ligero (centro fino & gordo) leaves.The reason they used this leaves could be that they needed filler to cover the big ringgauges. remember this is Cuba.


James Suckling March 2, 2010 8:38pm ET

I see what you mean. But I am not sure what you mean regarding "needed filler to cover big ring gauges? I will check it out next week when I go to Pinar.


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 3, 2010 7:21am ET

Sorry James, sometimes i formulate my english wrong but I was refering to the filler needed to fill up the big ring gauges, to give an idea a 56 ringgauge consumes easy 42 Lbr of filler in the production, so i was joking that they are trying to safe the better tobacco by using the Medio Tiempo. Medio tiempo is not considered superior to Ligeros from the centerpart but it sometimes does give a different dimension to the blend so i am curious to smoke this new cigar, when are you there James since i will be in Pinar on the 22nd of this month and it would be a pleasure to share some thoughts with you while there. i guess you can find out my e mail, let me know.


James Suckling March 8, 2010 4:08pm ET

Maurice. I was in Pinar and you are exactly right. But the technican I spoke to thought medio tiempo can be as strong as ligero. It used to be called simply "maduro" by the compasenos. I wish I was still in Havana to meet you. Cuidate!


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 9, 2010 11:13am ET

Saludos James, thank you for writing and what a bad luck that you are not there, it would have been an honour to smoke some cigars together, maybe another time, i am sure i will be able to get some decent smokes since i will visit various factories in Havana and visit some pre industrias in Pinar, hope to see Robaina do word is that he is not feeling well so it is not sure that we can see him, un abrazo!


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 17, 2010 8:22pm ET

hi James, a short update, we will see Robaina this saturday, we will smoke some tabacos on his 92 birthday party. cheers !!


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 26, 2010 1:43pm ET

Hello James,just back from a heavy Cuba trip, we visited Robaina and met his grandson HirosjiRobaina had just a drip and felt weak but was happy to welcome us, we were acompanied by one of the people who knows more of tobacco negro then anybody else, Prof. Santos Bustio of the universidad de Pinar del Rio, we had a great time in Pinar del Rio where we visited Vi¿ales and the cuevas (Cave's) del Indios, the next day we headed to Havana and had an official meeting with people from "Instituto de Investigaciones del Tabaco" in San Antonio de los Ba¿os, we metthe director of Desarollo, Msc Eumelio Espino Marrero he is a master in everything you can think off regarding the growing of tobacco and with the general director Ing. Vladimir Andino Ruibal, we had a great time sharing information about seed variaties , investigations about sicknesses etc etc etc to much to tell you aboutthe next day we had the honor of visiting the famous Fabrica de Tabacos "El Laguito" for a meeting with the Director Lic. Arnaldo Ovalles Bri¿ones, also here great information sharing and we smoked some new Behike's, and toured the factory.later in the day we visited the main tobacco warehouse of Tabacuba (Division Cuidad Habana)this is a warehouse built by general cigar (before the revolution) and now in use for the storage and supply of raw materials to all the factories in the Havana area.We went also to the Partagas Factory were we had some nice smokes in the VIP area attached to the store inside the factory.long story short i can write a book of the trip, but all in all it was a great trip, but i am happy to be back in the dominican now since the food , apart from a few exceptions was not that great, so i was happy my wife cooked for me when i got back yesterday.i do have some great pictures and video so if you like we can share some of these James, just let me know, cheers


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  March 26, 2010 3:57pm ET

i just saw that the spanish n with the accent comes out wrong so the ¿ you see are n's


Maurice Antonius Koks — Santiago —  April 18, 2010 9:31pm ET

I am afraid i have to pass the sad news,the Legendary Cuban Tobacco grower Don Alejandro Robaina has passed away yesterday in his hometown San Luis in Pinar de Rio - Cuba, the world has lost a great tobacco man.



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