The secret ingredient to Cuba’s superb new cigar brand, Cohiba Behike BHK, is a rare kind of tobacco called medio tiempo. While you may have heard the name before, it’s likely that you don’t know precisely what it is—it has been described improperly.
First of all, medio tiempo does not come from the middle of a tobacco plant. Some have described it this way, perhaps due to the word “medio” in its name. Second, it doesn’t come from below the ligero grade of leaves. After several interviews in Havana, the tobacco growing region of Pinar del Río and even outside of Cuba, here is a detailed description of medio tiempo tobacco.
Tobacco leaves are classified by their position on the plant. In the world of Cuban cigars, working up the bottom of a plant, there is volado (the most mild), seco (somewhere in the middle) and then ligero, which is powerful. On some plants, but far from all, two additional tobacco leaves grow at the very top, above the ligero. Those leaves are called medio tiempo. And medio tiempo is in every Cohiba Behike BHK cigar.
The highest leaves on a tobacco plant take the longest amount of time to ripen. They also get the full benefit of sunlight—tobacco plants are by nature leafy objects, and the upper leaves provide some shade for those that grow below. Medio tiempo leaves get more light than any other on a plant.
“It’s a very complex leaf that comes from the two top leaves of the plant,” said Habanos subdirector of marketing Gonzalo Fernández de Navarrete Gonzalez-Valerio during an interview in Havana on a rainy Thursday morning. “Not every plant has it.”
Carlos Fuente Jr., the maestro behind Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, once told me that medio tiempo leaves turned raisiny in the sun. He spoke of these rich, small leaves almost as someone would describe a most beautiful woman.
Medio tiempo is very rare. Some farmers estimate that fewer than one in ten tobacco plants grows medio tiempo leaves. So there are only so many. They’re also very small. I saw several leaves of fermented and aged medio tiempo at El Laguito, the factory where all Cohiba Behikes are made, when I visited the factory this week with Gordon Mott. They were considerably smaller than ligero leaves.
Despite their rarity, if you smoked enough Cuban cigars a few years ago you may have smoked some medio tiempo—in the past, Cuban tobacco processers would simply include it with the tobacco graded as ligero. But a few years ago, during the creation of the Cohiba Behike BHK cigars, the Cuban cigar industry sought to do something new, sought new flavor, and to do that they decided on using medio tiempo.
The Cubans began separating medio tiempo during the harvest (when they could find it), processing and aging medio tiempo separately. When it was ready, they began using it in the blending room, and now it’s one of six leaves that go into all Behike BHK cigars. Medio tiempo is heavy tobacco, and heavy tobaccos work better with thicker ring gauges. With heavy leaf, and six types of tobacco inside, you can see why these Behike BHK cigars are so fat, from 52 to 56 ring gauge.
So that taste you get when puffing on a Cohiba Behike BHK cigar? It’s medio tiempo, a rarity in the cigar world grown at the very top of some (but far from all) tobacco plants.