The Year of the Cuban Cigar

The Year of the Cuban Cigar
In 2012, Cuban cigars rated better in Cigar Aficionado magazine than at any time since the early 1990s.

Cigar smokers around the world still remember the "dark period" of Cuban cigars, a long stretch of time from around 1998 to 2003 when the quality of construction and taste of their cigars was below par. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 and the subsequent end of billions of dollars in annual subsidies severely impacted Cuba's tobacco industry just as the global cigar boom began. An attempt to meet soaring demand by increasing production with fewer resources—everything from fertilizers to gasoline was in short supply—backfired and undermined the quality of many cigars rolled on the island.

But those days are in the past. Cuban cigars scored extremely well in 2012 taste tests at Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider, showing improved levels of construction quality as well as flavor. In both publications, editors rated a total of 98 Cuban cigars. In Cigar Aficionado, 93 percent of the 70 cigars rated 90 points or higher, and in Cigar Insider, 25 of the 28 cigars, or 89.3 percent, scored 90 points or higher. The average score for both publications was 91.25 for the year.

There are several reasons for the improvements. First of all, newer and stricter quality-control measures have been implemented in every factory in Cuba since 2005. Every factory now has a draw test machine that samples production every day to be sure that draw performance is up to standard. Overall production levels are also being maintained at sustainable levels, which means that all the skilled positions in factories are now being manned by people with extensive training and experience, instead of people being rushed into production positions before they were ready, which happened during the boom years.

Another possible explanation is the vintage crops of 2009/10 and 2010/11; the former was considered outstanding and the latter was characterized by growers in Cuba as the best in 15 years. Tobacco from those years would have begun to be used in cigars with box dates in late 2011 and 2012, and could be producing some of the most flavorful cigars in years.

Cuban cigar retailers also have noted the better quality. Edward Sahakian, the owner of the Davidoff shop on St. James's Street in London, said in a phone interview: "It's been a trend over the last four to five years, but the cigars have gotten consistently better during those years. They just keep going from strength to strength." He noted that was a sharp contrast to "tragic years" from the late 1990s into the early part of the 21st Century.

David Tourgeman, who runs Casas del Habano in several cities in Mexico, says: "They have really cleaned up their shop...they've always had good tobacco but now they are aging the leaves longer, and keeping the cigars longer to age. They are going back to the way they used to do things before the cigar boom."

Given the variability of vintage crops, and the ongoing economic pressures on the Cuban government, there's certainly no guarantee that Habanos S.A. will continue to produce high-quality cigars every year. But it is clear that the Cubans have focused a tremendous amount of time and effort on the manufacturing process for cigars, and are achieving results.

"Personally I hope the embargo doesn't end. If it does, I think we will see a rush to purchase Cuban cigars by many people just for the ability to say they have smoked one. Thus causing another boom and need for rushed production. Which there are two ways it will most likely go down, they will either keep quality and increase prices, or decrease quality in favor of higher production. Either way, it won't end well. Now personally it is not hard to obtain Cuban cigars in the states thanks to online dealers. You just have to gamble on whether customs will confiscate them or not. " —December 11, 2013 08:01 AM
"" —November 1, 2013 02:36 AM
"Just started a white house petition to lift the embargo. You can sign it here." —October 28, 2013 12:46 PM
"I was recommended to use Brizna in Madrid, Spain, over ten years ago. I have since bought on many occasions from them and the service, price and quality is very good. Spain is also the biggest consumer of cigars in Europe which helps to ensure turnover is high. I live in England and purchase from Spain ... They are not allowed by European law to advertise their products on-line but drop them an email and they will sent you a price list and ship anywhere. Mine normally arrive the day after ordering, by DHL ! Hope that helps" —September 28, 2013 15:48 PM
"Try they are based in Montreal, quick on delivery and guaranteed products" —September 11, 2013 21:49 PM
"There is no need to seek out Cubans as if they are holy grail of cigars. The modern day smoker's pallet has changed (full body and full flavor) and competition has forced growers outside of Cuba to produce tobacco from Cuban seeds that are phenomenal. Look at CA's top 25 for the last 8 years and you will see Nicaraguan and Dominican Puros in the top spots. You will also see a litany of Binders and fillers from all over the place. This has been happening for some time; however, I will say that when a Cuban is at its best, its a superior cigar. Fact is, that is a rare occurrence. " —August 21, 2013 11:18 AM
"Nick B. - so who are the "legit and safe" internet providers? Your answer does not help or answer the question." —August 20, 2013 16:45 PM
"I've found real cubans on the internet. You just have to make sure the sites have legit prices and get to know the people behind it before you buy." —June 22, 2013 14:50 PM
"I lived in Mexico and Brazil for quite some time and was spoiled on great Cubans. Unfortunately, my stock is shrinking fast now that I'm back in the good old USA. Any good oversea websites to order Cubans from, or are they all fake?" —June 15, 2013 17:26 PM
"There is really nothing better a good Cuban cigar, that has aged well and been rolled with love and passion. I am quite lucky to be able to get them in Europe legally and at <a rel="dofollow" href="">prices </a> that don't break the bank." —June 15, 2013 07:07 AM
"Have any idea when Cuban embargo will be lifted so we can get the Cuban cigars in the good ole USA?" —June 15, 2013 04:57 AM