Cigar Aficionado

Havana Corner: The Devil in Us

I survived a trip to Holguin to visit a new beach resort called the Paradisus Rio de Oro. The flight there took just more than two hours. I use the word survived because the plane was a faded Brazilian turbo-prop from the early 1970s. I was kind of worried when I found out that one of the passengers was the plane's mechanic, and my fears were hardly eased when he began reading a schematic of the fuel system about one hour and 45 minutes into the flight. But we landed. The bumpy ride back this morning on a slightly larger propeller plane was just as harrowing. The pilot came in too fast and did a one-wheel landing on his side…

It was all worth it. Paradisus Rio de Oro is a 300-room hotel on a fine white-sand beach with comfortable bungalows, refreshing swimming pools and a relaxing spa. The latter was as good as anything I have experienced in the Caribbean or even the Far East. What's more relaxing than a massage followed by a Petit Edmundo and a glass of 15-year-old Havana Club Rum?

A view of the sea from Paradisus Rio de Oro.
I was kicking back and something came to mind. I had had lunch with one of Cuba's most celebrated authors and poets, Miguel Barnet, and he spoke about the history of tobacco in Cuba. "You know that the Europeans first believed that tobacco was evil because it was used in religious ceremonies by the Indians," he said. "It was like the devil."

"It hasn't changed has it?" I joked, referring to the anti-smoking movement around the world, and how many people make cigar lovers feel like modern day pagan worshipers.

The El Laguito factory.
The other day, before lunch, I had visited El Laguito -- the Cohiba factory -- in hopes of getting a sneak preview of the three new Cohiba maduros, a new line of dark colored smokes made with five-year-old wrappers. One of the managers of the factory described them as "chocolate."

I saw a number of rollers at the factory producing the dark smokes. They looked phenomenal. They were also color sorting the Mágicos size, and the difference between a normal Cohiba wrapper and the maduro was impressive. The normal one almost looked like a light Connecticut-shade wrapper compared to the maduro. Nonetheless, don't expect them to look like those black smokes you see from other countries. They are mostly dark brown in color.

A rare glimpse inside the El Laguito factory.

Apparently 12 rollers of the 100 or so at El Laguito are rolling the cigars. Two of the three vitolas, or shapes, are made at El Laguito with the other one at the Partagas factory.

Cuba intends to debut the three sizes during this year's cigar festival in Havana in a few weeks. Everyone will see how they are then, but I have a feeling that no one will be disappointed.

Photos by James Orr

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