The $100 Cuban Question
It's all anyone wants to talk about—what kind of cigars can you buy for $100 in Cuba? More important, in my opinion—what cigars should you buy for that $100?
The landmark decision on December 17 to improve U.S.-Cuba relations has changed the laws about official America travel to Cuba. American visitors to Havana have long been forbidden to come back with so much as one cigar or a drop of Cuban rum, but as of January 16 those who visit this island on authorized trips can legally return home with $400 worth of Cuban goods, $100 of which can be tobacco or alcohol. No insult meant to Cuban rum, which is lovely, but my $100 is going to go strictly to cigars. Yours should, too.
I'm here in Cuba all this week, attending the Habanos Festival with Gordon Mott, and I've been spending time in the city's lovely cigar shops to get a sense of what they have and don't have. Every time I poke around a humidor, I have an eye on that $100 question.
First, Cuban cigars are relatively inexpensive in Havana. Everything is priced in Cuban Convertible Pesos, known as CUCs, a currency that is officially equal to the U.S. dollar. (When you turn dollars into CUCs in Havana, you are charged a fee, once 10 percent but is now 13 percent, so $100 U.S. gives you roughly 87 CUCs.) But a fee is a fee, and the CUC is, officially speaking, equal to the dollar, so for our purposes we're looking at cigars that cost 100 CUCs or less per box.
Most cigars here sell for less than 10 CUCs apiece. The entire Montecristo line, for example, ranges in prices from 4.50 CUC for a diminutive Montecristo No. 5 to 9.70 CUC for the Double Edmundo.
Cohibas are quite pricey. The newish Cohiba Pirámides Extra Tubos is 22.50 per cigar, Lanceros are 15.90. Box prices for the Cohiba line put them far out of the $100 limit. A tiny Cohiba Siglo I (great cigar, by the way) is 172.50 CUC per box of 25. A box of mighty Cohiba Siglo VI (another fine smoke) will set you back 490 CUC. You're not getting many of those for your $100, so I would avoid them entirely.
So what can one buy for $100 here? A fistful of cigars is fine, but I want to come home with a box. I shot a little video inside one of my favorite cigar shops, the Casa del Habano on 5 y 16 (everyone calls it Quinta Avenida), where I found a box of 25 H. Upmann Half Coronas. Take a look.
That box is only 87.50 CUC for a box of 25. That's a great way to get a full box of 25 home, and with the extra 12.50 CUC you could even bring home a single smoke, like a Bolivar Libertador (11 CUC). I don't mind the Half Corona, but they are diminutive cigars. I think there's a better box for your $100.
Farther down the walk-in humidor at Quinta Avenida (a unique creation that hugs the wall in a tight, snaking shape reminiscent of an inverted question mark) I found a stack of boxes of Montecristo Petit No. 2. Only 10 cigars to the box, but these are superb cigars. We rated them 92 points in the April 2014 Cigar Aficionado blind taste test, and they are delicious cigars indeed, truncated versions of the iconic Montecristo No. 2, our 2013 Cigar of the Year. The box of 10 is only 75.50 CUC a box. That's a box worth bringing home, and with the extra 24.50 CUC you could buy a big Cohiba, or one Bolivar Super Corona EL 2014 (9.25 CUC), which has become a favorite smoke here in Cuba.
Of course, shopping for cigars is a pleasure. There's great joy to be had in poking around the cigar shops of Cuba. There's a few more on my list, and I'm happy to go pay them a visit.