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Havana Corner: Road Trip to Great Tobacco…and Fine Cigars

Reports from a trip to cigar country in Central America
Posted: January 10, 2007

I woke up this morning to the screaming sound of a pig. Yes -- it's destined to become our dinner on Wednesday. Orlando Padrón was very excited. I haven't seen him like that since he was smoking a Serie 1926, and that was the night before.

He said that I must meet the poor pork. I told him that I didn't like to meet things before I ate them. So the pig was taken away to meet her maker.

I threw down a couple of café fuertes -- better than what I drink in Cuba -- thick and sweet. And we hopped in a dirty Toyota Land Cruiser and 80-year-old Orlando took the wheel. I closed my eyes for most of the trip as he roared by buses, trucks, livestock and anything else that was moving. Mostly on curves. Mostly on the wrong side of the street. In fact, we had to watch out for iguanas and armadillos on the road because there are signs warning against their crossing the Pan-American highway.

I was very impressed with Orlando. Michael Schumacer should visit him for lessons. Just think: this driving was done all while having a conversation with Rudy Giuliani who was buying cigars at Padrón's office in Miami.

We arrived at a beautiful plantation called Santa Rita in the zone of Condega. We checked out the tobacco crop and it looked beautiful. Orlando said that a large part of the growing regions in Nicaragua have already suffered from too much rain, and some growers have been forced to replant their seed beds. But Santa Rita was in perfect shape. It is a slightly higher and drier sub-region of Condega, so the rain has been less of a problem. The tobacco that was hanging in the drying barns looked fabulous.

Jorge and Orland Padrón smoke in the factory.
Another thing that was fabulous was my first puff of the Padrón 80th Aniversary, or 80 for short. It was made to commemorate Orlando's 80th birthday, which was last year. It is a perfecto measuring 54 ring gauge by 6 3/4 inches. I loved it. I am not a big fan of big figurados, but this cigar is so flavorful and so balanced. It goes on and on. Here is my unofficial score: This is the bombshell. A perfecto that is almost perfect. It delivers very rich Cuban coffee and tobacco notes with hints of dark chocolate and earth. Full and round with loads of power on the finish. This starts off like the bomb and then goes, on and on. Perfectly made. 98 points.

Following a light lunch of picadillo (basically, a rich, juicy hamburger with white rice), we headed off to see the Garcia family, who run a new factory in Estelí, Tabacalera Cubana. We met the 36-year-old son of Jose "Pepin" Garcia -- Jaime.

A woman bands some 1964 Anniversary in the Padrón factory.
I was very impressed with his knowledge of cigars. We spoke for a long time about growing tobacco and making cigars in Cuba. His father was a quality control technician on the island and Jaime, after earning a degree in economics, went into tobacco as well. They know what they are talking about.

Their 35 rollers are making excellent cigars, in the style of fine Cubans. Plus, they are making super good blends. This is a factory to watch. The Garcias already make the excellent cigars for Tatuaje, owned by hipster Pete Johnson. They have the new factory in Estelí as well as a small one in Miami called El Rey de Los Habanos.

Jaime Garcia at his new factory.
The new Garcia factory should make 2 million-plus cigars this year. The Miami facility, which has only a dozen rollers, will make another 700,000 or so. Jaime said that the company will grow, but not at the expense of quality. I believe him.

Tomorrow, we head to Danlí, Honduras, with Rocky Patel to see what he is up to, while the rest of Nicaragua watches the inauguration of president Daniel Ortega on television.

Click here to read James Suckling's second day from his Central America trip.

Check back this week for more from James Suckling in Central America.

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