Havana Corner: The Cuban Cigar Fast Lane

I found the perfect "all-purpose" cigar yesterday at the Partagas factory shop. It's the Por Larrañaga Petit Corona. The cabinet boxes of 50 are to die for, and at $165 a box, they're reasonably priced. The cigar delivers wonderfully balanced aromas and flavors of blanched nuts, cedar, honey and tobacco. What a wonderful smoke. 92 points, unblind tasting. I have been smoking them like my children eat gummy bears in England!

While the price is reasonable, if you are paying in dollars you have to add a 20 percent commission, as well as an exchange rate of .898 cents to the Cuban convertible peso. I don't think the global stock market, European Central Bank or any other international monetary institution has anything to do with the exchange rate in Cuba. You even get charged 11 percent commission on credit card purchases.

Nothing I can do about all that. So if you are here, you have to pay. Unfortunately, the prices for cigars are about the same as buying in less expensive markets in Europe, such as Spain, or even Switzerland. Much of the incentive for buying Cuban cigars as a tourist on the island is gone.

Still, there's nothing more satisfying than kicking back in one of the top cigar shops on the island -- such as Partagas, Havana Club or Quinta -- and shooting the breeze with one of the merchants, smoking and maybe having a coffee, or rum or two. That's the good life…

I was speaking with Enrique (Kiki) Lopez at the Partagas shop; he, along with director Abel Exposito, is a rock star of cigars in Havana. Lopez was saying how his customers are loving the Petit Edmundo, or the "perfect one-coffee" cigar. He said you can smoke it in 10 or 15 minutes and it delivers all the richness and flavor you could expect out of quick-fix smoke. It's about the same time it takes to enjoy a good Cuban coffee, he says. I couldn't agree more.

Check back this week for more updates. And leave your comments on my blog in the Cuba section of the forums of the Web site.

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Previous Havana Corner: Cuba Blog, Day Two.

Next Havana Corner: Cuba Blog, Day Four.

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