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Coals to Newcastle in Cuba

From the Print Edition:
Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

(continued from page 1)

It wasn't the first time that I smoked a "foreign cigar" with Robaina. He is a curious man for an 89-year-old and he always likes to try cigars from other areas in the world. He wants to know what the cigar competition is like outside of Cuba. As proud as he is of his tobacco and Cuban cigars in general, he also admits that good cigars can come from other countries, whether Nicaragua or the Dominican Republic. He just wishes that they could use his wrapper tobacco.

Alejandro liked the Padrón. He thought it looked great, and the packaging from the white and gold bands to the wooden box was fabulous. He said that the cigar was perfectly constructed and drew like a dream. He loved that the cigar was box pressed. "I haven't seen cigars in Cuba like this in years," he said with a big smile. "Most cigars used to be like this before the revolution."

However, I am not sure he was all that excited by the character or flavor of the smoke. He used the word flojo, which literally means loose, but I think he meant it was lacking complexity. He said that the cigar was slightly earthy, like most Nicaraguan cigars, and it dominated the flavor of the smoke. "It's not really fair for me to say," he said. "I smoke Cuban cigars all the time and I smoke my cigars most of the time. So my taste is for that.

"I am sure that the public enjoys smoking the Padrón cigars," he said, almost apologizing for not being that excited about it. "They have wonderful character for what they are. And they draw marvelously."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that. I think he was trying to be diplomatic. I tried to explain to him that comparing his cigars to Padrón is like comparing Cuban coffee to Nicaraguan coffee. They have different aromas, flavors and character. But they are equally good. I have made the same argument to the Robainas, and to you, about wine. For instance, California Cabernet is different from red Bordeaux, and each has its own flavors and character. But they can be comparable in quality.

Nonetheless, it was still fun to see old Alejandro smoking the Padrón. He's really a wonderful man and a great aficionado of tobacco. I hope that one day he and José Orlando Padrón—a Cuban native—can smoke a cigar together. I would love to be there. After they had been smoking their cigars for a while sitting in rocking chairs on the terrace of Alejandro's house at the farm, their conversation would probably go down like this:

"Listen, Robaina. What do you think of my cigar?" Orlando would say, rocking back and forth in his chair. (I am sure they would have already eaten loads of succulent roasted pig, black beans and rice for lunch.)

"Very good," Alejandro would say. "Very, very good. And mine?"

"Very smooth, man," says Orlando, as he takes a huge puff. "It draws wonderfully."

"Yours does too," says Alejandro, holding the cigar in front of his face and staring at the wrapper.

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