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Taking the Time for a Good Smoke

Non-Cuban cigarmakers improve blends and cigars following boom years
From the Print Edition:
Raquel Welch, Jul/Aug 01

(continued from page 1)

I even found myself smoking a Padrón Anniversary Series Principe on a recent trip to the Vuelta Abajo in Cuba. I had tried smoking a couple of new Vegas Robaina Unicos en route to the fields, but they were raw and tight to smoke. Granted, the Padrón was the only cigar I had left in my pocket. I actually had two, so I gave one to my Italian friend, who was driving. We really enjoyed the cigar as we drove down the highway in his rented Jeep on the way to the tobacco fields. We were both laughing about it. "I can't believe that we are smoking a Nicaraguan cigar in Cuba," said my Milanese buddy. "That certainly tells you something about the state of the quality of Cuban cigars!"

Before hitting Havana last January, I had spent about four days popping into various factories in the Dominican Republic, including Altadis's factory in La Romana as well as the premises of General Cigar and La Flor Dominicana. I also hung out with Hendrik Kelner of Davidoff and Avo, and later in Miami with Jorge Padrón. These guys are making some of the best cigars of their lives right now. Of course, some blends are better, and one brand or one particular shape may be preferable to another, but they are all making cigars well worth smoking.

I still remember the morning in late January when I arrived at Tabacalera de Garcia factory in La Romana, and José Seijas, the mellow manager of the factory, was sitting in his office just after breakfast. He had eight robustos lying in a row on his desk. They were medium-dark brown and looked as if they had been wrapped in silk. I picked one up -- without asking since I couldn't stop myself -- and smelled the cut end. It was spicy and rich. I couldn't wait to smoke it.

"This is a new blend I have been working on," he said with a huge grin. "I am really happy with it. I can't wait for you to try it."

I instantly lit it up and it smoked like a dream. The draw was perfect with just enough drag. The flavor was spicy and flavorful like a light cappuccino with a hint of cinnamon. It left my mouth refreshed with each puff. "This is bloody good," I said, shaking my head. I greedily took three more of the cigars off his desk and stuffed them in my pockets. I was on my way to Havana in a few days and I couldn't wait for a few of my Cuban tobacco friends to smoke these new cigars -- of course, I didn't tell Seijas that.

"You know, I really prefer the situation now," said Seijas, as he puffed on his robusto. He was relaxed and reflective. "We can select tobacco better. We can make better blends. We have all the tobacco we need to choose from, between three and three and a half years' worth. We have the time to do what we need to make excellent quality cigars."

Yes, everything is at a much slower pace these days in the Dominican Republic, and it gives everyone, from smoker to cigarmaker, more time to enjoy better cigars.

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