Havana, the Humidor

I was standing outside of the Palacio del Conventiones, the Havana Convention Center, with Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott, when a man walked up to us. I shook his hand and said my name.

"I've met you before," he said, and it was then that I recognized him. "You're Valerio, from the La Casa del Habano in the Cayman Islands," I said. We had last shook hands 11 years ago when we met inside Cuba's Partagas Factory. Valerio Cornale's memory is solid indeed. "You collect humidors," I said.

"Cigar boxes," he corrected me. "All types of cigar boxes. You don't need a humidor in Havana. Havana is a humidor."

Valerio was right-Havana is a humidor, and you really don't need a humidor while on the island to keep your cigars in smokeable condition, which is a revelation to someone like me who works in New York City. The air here is amazingly dry, and our humidors fight a constant battle with the elements to keep our cigars in fine condition. I don't dare leave cigars on my desk for more than a half hour or so, less they begin to dry out. But in Cuba, cigars are quite happy on your nightstand, on your desk—just about anywhere you leave them.

At the start of our visit we came across some Montecristo No. 2 cigars. The first ones we smoked, fresh from the cigar shop, seemed a bit young (despite their code) and perhaps a bit moist. They were far from bad, but they weren't Monte 2s at their best. A day or so into the trip, after sitting out in the open air, the cigars tasted better. We all noticed the change.

As a cigar smoker, it's hard to beat the convenience of having an open box of great smokes always on hand, especially something as classic as the Montecristo No. 2. We didn't smoke the entire box, but we did a fair job on it, and shared many with friends. And Valerio wasn't the only one to mention Cuba as a big humidor.

People often speak about how cigars taste better when you smoke them in the country in which they were made, be that country Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua or somewhere else. There's just something about being inside a giant, tropical humidor that makes cigar smoking seem perfectly natural. We found ourselves reaching for the first cigar soon after breakfast, and puffing the last cigar well into the night, paired with a little bit of fine, aged rum.

I'm happy to be home, but part of me misses that great, big humidor that's Havana.

"We are trying to have a Cigar Night for the troops in Afghanistan. We are desperately short of cigars. If you would like to contribute, the address is: Frank Pacenza Cigar Chairman 455 ECES/FP APO AE 09354" —March 10, 2011 06:33 AM
"I think it's all about the atmosphere of being down in the Carribean smoking a cigar in a land where it's prized instead of frowned upon. Add to that 80+ degree temperatures, local rum with no drive home and cool latin music and it's magical. Dave how do I sign up for your life!" —March 4, 2011 07:49 AM
"Valerio Cornale and Wallace and Omeida are three of the friendliest people you will ever meet. If you are in the Cayman Islands, stop by their shop and you will truly get the experience of what Cuban cigar smoking is all about. Spending a few hours with them teaches you so much about cigars as well as living the good life. M Meyer" —March 3, 2011 23:13 PM
"Valerio's shop is amazing and his collection is more impressive. Listening to him describe the Montecristo A he was smoking when I arrived, changed the way I think about and explain flavor, body and character in anything I taste. I hope to get back." —March 3, 2011 16:45 PM
"Indeed I too have found they taste better down there. Mind you: fun times, smoking anywhere and everywhere, many things enhance the experience. On thing I would add, is a humidor even down there helps to keep the Lasioderma at bay. But you really only need that for slightly longer term storage 3 or 4 nights would not seem to matter. I wonder if a Geko (Cuban good luck to have a few in your abode) would do a good job on the Lasioderma . . . hmm." —March 2, 2011 02:17 AM