The cigar world is rich with variety: a plethora of growing regions, seed varietals and blending possibilities have allowed for a vast and varied catalogue, which many argue is unparalleled among other industries. Despite this however, there is one particular cigar with a prestige and reputation that surpasses all others…

Vibrant Havana, with its art, music, history, and culture, runs deep in the hearts and imaginations of all cigar passionados and connoisseurs. The moment a match or a cedar spill is lit signalling the commencement of a timeless ritual, one can hear soft jazz swinging in time with the crisp rattling of ice in mojito glasses, taste the sweet cafe Cubano with its rich espumita, whilst plumes of aromatic smoke swirling above panama hats and guayabera shirts perfume the scene with an incomparable and unmistakably nostalgic redolence. The heartbeat of this tableau is a dulcet, flavourful offering which has become synonymous with the highest standards in quality, craftsmanship and tradition: the Havana cigar.

The cigar, in its earliest and most primitive form, was enjoyed in Cuba by the taino people centuries before Christopher Columbus’ discovery. Tobacco was a gift brought to the tainos by Bayamanaco, who was guardian of the flint, god of fire and supreme creator. It was utilised medicinally, recreationally, and spiritually; the ritual de cohiba was performed by the behike (local witch doctor), who used the smoke from the tobacco plant as a communicative medium between the tribe and their deity. 

Upon arriving in the Bahamas in 1492 Columbus and his men were attacked by the local tribes. Days later, he landed in Cuba seeking refuge, drinking water and other essential supplies. Fearing another hostile reception, only two men volunteered to make contact with the locals; upon meeting Rodrigo de Jerez and Luis de Torres for the first time, the tainos sought divine guidance through the ritual de cohiba to determine whether the men should be spared and treated as friends, or executed as enemies…thankfully, the smoke signalled salvation for the first Europeans to smoke tobacco, and Columbus’ entire crew was saved. It is for this reason that tobacco is considered by historians to be the key to the Americas. 

Columbus sailed back to Spain with a plentiful supply of this new discovery, catalysing a roaring tobacco trade; several cigar factories were set up in Spain rolling Cuban puros. People were entranced by the seemingly divine practice of drawing smoke and expelling it from the mouth and nostrils, as well as by the pleasantly soothing effect of smoking. However, not all were convinced: de Jerez’ wife, upon catching him enjoying a cigar in his bedroom, accused him of sorcery and possession by the devil. Some historians say he was imprisoned for what remained of his life, whilst others suggest that he was burned alive…ironically, some years after his supposed satanic act, religious ministers had commissioned the farming and manufacture of their own private supply of cigars. 

By the late 18th century it was acknowledged that rolled cigars survived the transatlantic journey from Cuba to Spain in far better condition than loose tobacco leaf. As such, a plethora of cigar factories were set up in Cuba, and by 1810, Cuban brands were registering for trademarks. A legend was born…

True to their non-conformist nature, the cigars which we recognise today were born of revolution. In 1717 restrictive taxes and legislation imposed on peasant farmers, aimed at placing a stranglehold on their ability to cultivate and capitalise on tobacco, catalysed the first Cuban rebellion against the Spanish authorities. The farmers were forced to disperse all throughout Cuba, exploring alternative growing regions on the island; these were Las Villas, Oriente, and two zones within the Pinar del Rio Province which are now considered to produce the best tobacco in the world. It was these zones within Pinar del Rio (Semivuelta and Vuelta Abajo) which provided an ideal climate and sandy, mineral rich soils. The allowance of free trade by Fernando VII of Spain in the same year allowed the tobacco grown here to enter European trade routes. As a result, the legend of the Cuban cigar spread like wildfire, and its reputation throughout the world flourished. 

Emblematic of Cuba, this offering has withstood war, revolution, natural disaster, the rise and fall of dictatorships, and seismic social and political change. Remarkably, despite this, the delicate and precise processes involved in making Cuban puros, all performed by hand, have remained largely unchanged. The artisanship behind this complex and unique craft has been passed down and perfected generationally, allowing the Cuban cigar to evolve into a product appreciated by connoisseurs all over the world. 

To withstand hardship is an achievement in and of itself; the Havana cigar, however, has thrived and been defined by it. Cohiba puros are the perfect example: arguably the most well known Cuban brand in the world, it was established in 1966 as a limited and incredibly exclusive brand rolled only for Fidel Castro and the high level officials who were lucky enough to receive one. Castro’s bodyguard unintentionally smoked the first ever Cohiba, at the time an unbranded blend rolled for him by close friend and cigar maker Eduardo Rivera. The cigar entranced Castro to such an extent that he sought out Rivera, asked him for the recipe and set up the El Laguito Factory before hiring a team of cigar makers to roll them exclusively for his consumption.  The cigar became emblematic of the passion and hope which drove post-revolution Cuba, and following its commercial release in 1982, became synonymous with global cigar culture. 

To the people of Cuba, their cigars represent endurance, history, and are among their proudest achievements. By enthusiasts, the Havana cigar is respected and revered for its full flavour and aroma, neither of which can be replicated. They are as unique and iconic as those who have smoked them: Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, John F Kennedy and Sir Winston Churchill all found respite and reprise in this finest of luxuries. Smoking a Cuban puro transports one back in time, allowing them to transcend centuries of history in experiencing one of the most well preserved and culturally significant art forms in the world. It is a moment unlike any other, one which affords smokers the indescribable opportunity to experience poetry in its most visceral form: the eyes of a non smoker drawing their first puff of smoke from these pristine works of art signal a moment of realisation almost impossible to convey linguistically. 

I refer to this as the Cuban mystique; try one for yourself, and experience it with us. 

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