Cigar Aficionado

My or Your Habano?

I might have found my new cigar for this year: Trinidad Robusto T. What an awesome smoke. I love the rich and spicy character with a fresh, clean and floral undertone. It has all the Trinidad style that I like and more. I think it’s a 93-point smoke, non blind.

I have always been crazy for the Trinidad Fundadores as well as the first Trinidads that were only available as gifts from Fidel Castro. The latter are called Trinidad Diplomaticos, and they are the same size as the Cohiba Lanceros. The commercial Trinidads were first sold in 1997, and although they are the same length at 7 inches, the Fundadores are slightly thicker than the Diplomaticos at 40 ring gauge instead of 38.

I smoked my first Trinidad Robusto T last night during the Trinidad Night at the Havana Libre hotel to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the brand. (And I just had one with lunch before writing this blog.) The main banquet hall of the late 1950s hotel, which used to be the Hilton, was packed with people. There must have been about 500 partygoers. I sat next to David Soul, better know as Hutch in the television series "Starsky and Hutch." He was a chilled dude and a big lover of Cuba. He is working on a play about Ernest Hemingway and comes regularly to the island from England, where he lives.

The dinner last was another in a string of parties during this week’s XI Festival Habano. The big gala dinner is tomorrow night when the Cohiba Gran Reserva is unveiled. The canonazo, the factory name for the new Cohiba, is made from five-year-old tobacco and limited production. The filler is all from the 2003 harvest. I have not tried it yet (officially or unofficially), but a few friends have and they say it is spectacular. Can’t wait to smoke one tomorrow.

I was over this morning at El Laguito, the mother factory for Cohiba. It was open for the festival for all attendees. I was glad I got there early. It looked like JFK on a Friday evening about an hour after opening this morning. Everything looked in order. The 100 or so rollers were busy at work. The factory made about 2.5 million cigars last year, or about 20 percent of all Cohibas produced. The rest of the production is spread out mostly between the Partagas and H. Upmann factories in Havana.

I was in the blending room, where the make the liga, and I was checking out the bales of tobacco on hand for the filler. The ligero, the strongest of the tobacco, was from 2000, while the volado was from 2007 and the seco from 2006 and 2005. That’s a good sign that they were using well-aged tobacco. The binder, or capote, was from 2008. That seems a little young. But what do I know? Hope it’s all true.

Cohiba remains the second most important brand for Habanos S.A., the global distribution and marketing company for Cuban cigars. According to Manuel Garcia, the Habanos commercial director, about 23 percent of the turnover for cigar exports come from the prestigious mark.  He gave a presentation yesterday to festival participants in the congress hall of Havana. The biggest money-spinner is Montecristo with about 25 percent of the turnover.

As already reported, last year’s revenues in cigar exports were down to $390 million from $402 million but it was still up from 2005 and 2006. Sales are expected to be down this year as well. Even officials at the El Laguito said that they expected to produce much less cigars than the 3 million forecasted this year due to the bad global economy.

This may account for the fact that Jose L. Piedra is gaining market share at the moment. Last year, the inexpensive brand accounted for 15 percent of all exports but only about 3 percent of turnover. It is a short filler, hand rolled cigar that sells for a fraction of the cost of those from most prestigious longer filler brands. A number of cigar agents and merchants I spoke to at least night’s dinner said they were selling a lot of the ubiquitous J.P.

"James~ It is an absolute pleasure to have ¿visited¿ Cuba through your blogs. If you¿re ever in Phoenix, you should drop me a line. I guarantee the best, most authentic cafecitos and Mojitos outside of Havana. Have a safe trip home! ~steve" —February 27, 2009 11:18 AM