From the outside, the La Corona factory looks like any other non-descript building in Havana, and perhaps Habanos wants it that way. I wouldn’t blame them. Within those walls are blend recipes, tobacco inventories and stockpiles of some of the most coveted cigars in the world. In Cuba, trade secrets are more than just privileged information. They’re considered a matter of national security.
La Corona has about 750 employees, 300 of which are dedicated rollers. They spend the hours making brands like Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Por Larrañaga, Cuaba, Diplomaticos, San Cristobal de la Habana and even some Regional Editions. On the day I went, I saw someone banding up Sancho Panza Gran Quixotes, large perfectos made just for the Belux region (Belgium and Luxembourg).
During an unusually overcast morning in Cuba, I got the chance to tour this factory. It was one of the daily activities of the Habanos Festival. There are few, if any, decorative flourishes at La Corona and it’s clear that the very beauty of this building lies not in its architecture, but in its productivity and, ultimately, its cigars.
The word “Tabacuba” dominates the central corridor of La Corona. It’s the state-owned tobacco company that supplies Habanos S.A. with Cuban leaf.
In the despalillo or destemming room, wrapper leaves are stripped of their central veins and then sorted by size and color.
The central rolling gallery is the heart and soul of La Corona. Each roller bunches and wraps tobacco with equal parts skill and speed until they have created a complete cigar.
Rollers at La Corona are given an allowance of five cigars a day to take home or smoke while they work if they wish.
Symbols of the Revolution pop up periodically within the factory. Here, Che Guevara (left) and Camilo Cienfuegos hang as a reminder of Cuba’s history.
A roller carefully applies binder leaf to a group of filler leaves, creating the bunch, before placing it into the mold.
Notice the pigtail on the cap of this heavy ring gauge cigar. The roller, or torcedor, proudly holds up his work.
Pirámides are sorted for color consistency to make sure that the wrapper hue is more or less the same on every cigar within a box.
It’s believed that women have a keener eye for color than men, which is why the sorters in any given cigar factory are mostly female. She can discern the many subtle tints of brown that most of us would miss.
Neatly tied with a ribbon, bundles of Por Larrañaga Petit Coronas are waiting to be placed into their respective slide-lid wooden cabinets.
A Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure De Luxe gets its secondary band, indicating the cigar’s status as a La Casa del Habano exclusive.
Dress boxes are masterful works of decoupage and assembled one piece at a time. Decorative trim, or filete, is neatly applied by hand to the corner of this box of Diplomaticos No. 2.
At quality control, a box of San Cristobal de La Habana Prados gets final inspection before it’s sealed, stamped and shipped.
Each cigar in this bundle of Hoyo de Monterrey Le Hoyo de San Juans is perfectly aligned. The finishing touch for perfect presentation.