Cuba is internationally renowned for the Habanos cigars, whose lengthy tradition of excellence is based on its craftsmanship, which includes the similar quality control standards of pleasant wine or cheese producers.
Certainly, the names of Cohiba, Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, and the Rey del Mundo are familiar to every connoisseur. Such a culture is primarily based on the excellent flowers, and, naturally, the nice leaves, in addition to the celebrated talents of its growers and craftsmen.
The records of this culture begin long before the arrival of Columbus to America in 1492; It dates lower back to the first inhabitants of the island: the Taino Indians. The term ‘tobacco’ is the word that the Tainos used to name the cigar, the lengthy cylinders of leaves that they used to roll and smoke-dry tobacco leaves. This was a precursor of the current ones, the ‘cigar’ became invented by the Spanish within the 17th century. The key element of this invention consisted of the double roll of tobacco leaves that offers the cigar its recognizable shape: the layer, or outer sheet, and the tirulo, or internal sheet, which surrounds the gut, the tobacco filler that contains the “Puro”.
For centuries Cuban tobacco was monopolized by Spain, it wasn’t until early in the 19th century that the first local tobacco industry was set up because Spain allowed Cubans to export their products. This market change prompted a rapid proliferation of many brands that already existed for more than a hundred years in the mid-19th century. Some of them survive today, like Punch (1840), H. Upmann (1844), Partagas (1845), El Rey del Mundo (1848), Romeo y Julieta (1850), and Hoyo de Monterrey (1867).
Millions of cigars are produced yearly in Cuba, however, all these cigars are dispatched from Havana. At least two-thirds of the overall production is questionable because they use the strongest type of tobacco in Cuba, all blended. These cigars are those that Cubans themselves smoke. The lands with the exceptional tobacco cultivation are reserved for export, almost all of them placed in these lands known as Partido, in the province of Havana, and, especially, within the well-known area referred to as Vuelta Abajo, in the West region of the island: the land of the highest quality of tobacco known to the world, according to the Cubans. The weather and soil of these areas are ideal for growing tobacco.
Two kinds of flowers are used to make a Habano: the Corojo, which provides the leaves for the wrapper, and Criollo de Sol, which is used for the “tirulo” and the “tripa” (gut). The cultivation of Corojo requires special attention: it must be planted under pricey cotton canvases, which defend the plants from the extra sun, violent winds, and parasites. Each plant contains sixteen to seventeen leaves. Criollo de Sol provides 12 to 14 leaves per plant.
At a point, it even became possible that the Habano would disappear from the face of the earth. When Castro came to power in 1959, he went straight away to nationalize the entire tobacco industry in Cuba by setting a state-owned company. With these objectives, the first thing he did was to prohibit the previous privately owned enterprises to consolidated the Habano within a single brand.
A single brand, Siboney, to over the production at that time. They had four sorts of Siboney, so it was a truly exceptional transformation of the Cuban tobacco industry. The result became catastrophic for the country’s economy, and the Siboney, an image of the revolution, become extensively rejected by the overseas consumers, and exports collapsed. Everything worsens with the 1962 US exchange embargo. This was a critical hit given that eighty-five percent of Cuban tobacco exports were destined for the United States at that time. This substantially affected the Cuban cigar industry and pressured them to establish stronger ties with Europe, which became the region in which all Cuban cigar exports were headed to.
In the next couple of decades, the exceptional quality and experience of Cuban cigars persisted and kept improving, but in 1990 with the crumble of the Soviet Union, Cuba entered a very tough financial situation. The constant financial difficulties affected the Habano and its production.
Cubans and the overall public bear in mind Cuban cigars to be the best within the world, however, tough competition among the producers started because cigars were started to be produced in other parts of the tropical belt. Some of those competitors were and are still established in places like Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, the latter been currently the largest producer in the world. The obvious reason is that Cuban manufacturers went into exile in different locations after the revolution, taking with them the best Cuban seeds, as well as their experience and know-how.