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The New Geneva

Hong Kong smokes Cuban Davidoffs, Dunhills and anything else great and rare
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Michael Jordan, July/August 2005

(continued from page 1)

Then there's entrepreneur Howard Yeung, 48, who bought almost the entire stock of Cuban Davidoffs from London's Davidoff shop in the early 1990s when the company stopped publicly selling the brand. (A long-running dispute between the Swiss cigarmaker and Cubatabaco, Cuba's cigar distribution agency, over quality, brand ownership and other issues had led to an agreement to halt production of Cuban Davidoffs.) Yeung knew that Davidoff no longer made the Cuban smoke, so he bought as much as he could before they ran out so that he wouldn't run out -- clever smoker! Today, he still has hundreds of boxes, from No. 2 to Dom Perignon.

"The amazing thing is that these guys all smoke these great cigars," said Thomas Bohrer, whose small company, Habanos Rare Wine and Cigars, supplied a large part of the above cigars to these collectors and furnishes rare vintage smokes to anyone else in Hong Kong who enjoys the leaf. He has a tiny core of affluent smokers and wine drinkers around the world who only want the best, and he travels the globe to source these rarities.

The good news is, you don't have to be a cigar-collecting tycoon to enjoy a great smoke -- or even an aged cigar -- in Hong Kong. A number of excellent cigar shops exist where the city's top smokers mingle with visitors to buy and smoke the best available at retail. Hong Kong is Cuban-centric or non-Cuban-phobic when it comes to cigars. They can barely give away a non-Cuban cigar in this towering town of skyscrapers and tall buildings. And you can smoke just about anywhere.

"Like with food and wine, Hong Kong connoisseurs always opt for the highest quality and best producers," said Bohrer. "Cigars are no exception. For us in Hong Kong, Havanas are the benchmark when comes to great smokes…. The [affluent] Chinese have discriminating tastes, and whether it is cigars, cars, watches or anything else, they want the best quality."

Some cynics might say that they are only interested in famous brands, or bands in regards to cigars. In other words, they think that if it's the most expensive, it's the best. While this is probably true, it can also sound like the attitude of the uninformed and nouveau riche. But the sophisticated Chinese I have smoked with are true connoisseurs. They don't just smoke with great gusto, they understand the subtleties of a great cigar. And more important, unlike a lot of so-called collectors, they smoke fine cigars on a daily basis rather than hoarding them and then smoking something new and less expensive.

It's not by chance that a Hong Kong resident wrote the best cigar book on rare Cuban cigars, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Post-Revolution Havana Cigars, in 2003. Min Ron Nee, a cigar-crazy Hong Kong doctor, co-authored the book with Andriano Martinez Rios, a former executive at the Cuban global export company Habanos. The tome includes photos and comments on just about every brand and vitola, or size, ever made in Cuba. It is the definitive work on the subject for the moment.

"It is a very select group of people, but more and more people in Hong Kong are understanding the quality of a great aged cigar," said Bohrer. "They know that each day cigars such as Davidoff or Dunhill get rarer and rarer because they are smoking them. One day there will not be any more."

In fact, the most interesting cigar shop in Hong Kong began as a distributor for the Nicaraguan brand OneOff, but finally had to give up the line due to the difficulty in selling non-Cuban cigars. Cigarro -- which used to be called Cigair because of its connection with OneOff -- is now specializing in vintage cigars. It is the only shop in the world that I know of where you can buy a large selection of single sticks of such legendary smokes as 1492, Dunhill Cabinetta, 30th Anniversary Cohiba and Davidoff Château d'Yquem (all 100 points), as well as pre-Castro and other aged Havanas.

"Our biggest seller is Davidoff Haut-Brion 1990," said Benson Tse, the general manager of Cigarro. Tse sells Haut-Brions, which haven't been made since 1990, for about $100 per cigar. When I visited, a huge pyramid of about 100 boxes of them sat on a shelf above the shop's entrance -- which is the amount the shop has sold in the past year. "Cuban Davidoff. Cuban Davidoff. There is nothing else really that my customers want," he added.

He had just about every Cuban Davidoff ever produced on his shelves, as well as Dunhill and other rarities, not to mention a few pre-Castro smokes. For instance, if you fancy trying a Davidoff Dom Perignon, it's available here for about $520 a cigar. The long and slender Davidoff No. 2 is a steal by comparison at $85. Or how about a 100-pointer like the Dunhill Cabinetta for $520 or the 99-point Estupendos for the same price?

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