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Cigar Friendly Articles

In response to numerous requests from our audience, CigarFriendly.com is pleased to announce the addition of this new section devoted to Cigar Articles. We will attempt to provide you with new ideas, new product introductions, suggestions, and any other pertinent information relating to cigars. CigarFriendly.com welcomes our viewers to submit articles for inclusion on this section as we attempt to branch out and cover multiple topics. The first series of articles are devoted to general cigar industry trends, purchasing Cuban Cigars in Cuba, and how to host and plan cigar events. A brief biography of our contributing editors is provided for your convenience. Thank you for visiting and please be sure to return often as new material will be added continuously.

 

Master roller Rodolfo Taboada produces arguably the finest custom rolled cigars in the world with specially selected Cuban tobacco that offers unrivaled flavor and strength. The staff of CigarFriendly.com caught up with Sr. Taboada on his most recent visit to La Casa del Habano in Tijuana in October, 2008 and had an opportunity to sample one of his excellent cigars.

Special Report: La Casa del Habano—Cancun, Mexico: Grand Opening Party and the 9th Annual Habanos Festival in Havana, Cuba” : as reported by Mr. Moises Vargas from La Casa del Habano and edited by CigarFriendly.com founder Roy M. Stein.

A day at the La Casa del Habanos in Tijuana Mexico: a conversation with Manuel about some of the rumors about La Casa del Habano in Tijuana.

Where to Eat in Havana: an essential article that provides viewers with several of CigarFriendly.com's favorite state-supported and private (i.e. paladar) restaurants where you can enjoy award-winning cuisine during your next visit to Cuba's largest city.

Cigar Sensibilities: A basic primer for aficionado or novice that describes industry trends, smoking venues, cigar etiquette, and more. Written for Biztravel.com magazine by CigarFriendly.com founder, Roy M. Stein.

Buying Cigars in Cuba: William Gallagher returned from Cuba recently and shares some tips on buying cigars in Cuba. Specifically, you will learn where are the best shops, what to avoid, and how to make sure you are buying genuine Cuban Cigars--not counterfeits.

Greg George of Smoke Connections, the industry's leading turn-key solutions service provider, offers must reading suggestions for anybody interested in opening up a new cigar shop or cigar bar. Learn all about turn-key solutions, how to build a cigar shop from scratch, and choosing a proper smoke and odor removal system for business or residential use. For additional information, you may contact Smoke Connections at 800-500-3944 or info@smokeconnections.com

"Enjoying Your Humidor" contains invaluable advice from Trapp's Classic Humidor owner, Tom Trapp, that will help you get the best possible performance out of your humidor.

Cuban Cigar Prices in Europe Retail prices of the officially offered Cuban cigars in Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland. Prices current as of: February 1, 1999. Please enjoy a wonderful comparison chart that has been prepared by fellow aficionado, Eckart M. Schaper.

 


 

Just returned from Tijuana, where I had the opportunity to finally meet up with Sr. Taboada on his current visit to Mexico. Sr. Taboada has been rolling at the La Casa del Habano since his arrival on September 18 and will continue to do so through November 18. 

For those of you unfamiliar with Sr. Taboada, a brief background. Taboada began rolling in 1955 at age 15 for La Corona Factory, where his grandmother was a roller. By age 25 he became the "primer torcedor" or prime roller of the factory. At age 30 and after only 15 years of experience, he became a "Master Torcedor"--a level that normally takes 25 years for only a select few to reach. He ultimately became the master of the La Corona factory with full responsibility for production, quality, packaging, and training all rollers.

The cigar I had an opportunity to smoke on this recent visit that stands out amongst the various sizes Taboada is currently rolling is the Jose Gener "La Escepcion" (exception in English). The blend for this particular cigar is modeled after the cigar that was produced and went by the same name in the 1980's. It is interesting to note the Jose Gener brand was taken over by Hoyo de Monterrey in the 1980's, though you will still see the Jose Gener name referenced on current Hoyo labels. This particular brand and cigar was discontinued in 1989 as customers found the strength to be too strong.

If you are a fan of strong cigars, you will love the La Escepcion. La Escepcion is considered a Corona Extra Larga and rolled in Cazadores format with a 44 ring gauge. What makes this cigar strong in terms of flavor and overall power is its exclusive use of "Ligero 17". What is ligero 17 you ask?--it comes from the very top part of the plant and receives the most sun which has a direct impact on the cigar's outstanding flavor. Think of ligero 17 as the equivalent of prime filet. This is not to say other cigars do not contain ligero 17--they do but only as part of a mixture of other larger ligero leaf that comes from further down the plant and with somewhat less flavor. The La Escepcion is filled exclusively with Ligero 17 which, I might add, is also harder to roll since it involves a smaller leaf to work with.

From the very beginning, the La Escepcion had a very distinct and strong flavor often associated with Taboada rolled cigars. It had a combination of peppery, woody, and earthy flavors that became even more pronounced the more one smoked this landmark cigar. The cigar burned exceptionally well (no need to relight this baby) and produced a long ash which is often uncommon for a cigar this shape but is a testament to the roller. To compliment the cigar, I enjoyed a cup of Danesi espresso--without question, the Rolls Royce of all coffee brands. In short, if you have a preference for strong tasting and powerful cigars that will leave your head spinning, the La Escepcion is the perferct cigar for you.

Following my enjoyable smoke, owner David Tourgeman took me on a tour of the Importadora y Exportadora warehouse in Tijuana. This is one of 3 warehouses operated by Mexico distributor Max Gutmann (the other two being in Cancun and Mexico City). Talk about being like a kid in the candy shop--there must have been at least 800 or more boxes of Cuban Cigars in the room, highlighted by several boxes of Cohiba Lanceros that were produced in 2001.

In summary, it was a good to see my old friend Sr. Taboada, to enjoy one of his exceptionally strong and equally well rolled masterpieces, and to have an opportunity to visit the Mexico import warehouse for Habanos SA. I intend to visit at least one more time while Sr. Taboado is in town and would encourage other aficionados to do the same.


 

Special Report: La Casa del Habano—Cancun, Mexico

As General Manager and Vice President for the La Casa del Habano in Tijuana, I had the privilege of being able to attend the official grand opening of our brand new sister location in Cancun, Mexico. As many of you know, the original La Casa del Habano franchise was founded in Cancun and holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Habanos SA. Within the past year, David Tourgeman—who also owns the shop I manage in Tijuana--acquired the rights to the La Casa del Habano Cancun and decided to move it from its previous location to a much larger, brand new facility. I must say this newer location is hard to beat and contains a mammoth sized walk-in humidor, full bar that serves Havana Club rum, offers its privileged clientele free internet access, and is situated overlooking a lagoon and features a small swimming pool and boat dock. No expense was spared in creating what many inside Habanos SA consider to be the crown jewel of all La Casa del Habano franchises in the world—including those from Cuba. A special grand opening party at the La Casa del Habano Cancun was held just a few days prior to the 9th Annual Habanos Festival. More than 60 guests attended this invitation only event, including special dignitaries Javier Terrez (Vice President for Habanos—Spain); Manuel Garcia (Vice President for Habanos SA); and Max Gutman (Vice President for Habanos—Mexico). There were many wonderful cigars and cocktails passed out at this first class event and it was an excellent warmup for the upcoming Habanos Festival.

Following a couple of days in Cancun, the party shifted to Havana, Cuba for the annual Habanos Festival. This was my first visit ever to Cuba and I was most impressed with the hospitality of the people and the extent to which Habanos SA goes all out to make its worldwide distributors feel like VIP’s. There were numerous exhibits and workshops scheduled throughout the entire festival and any thoughts of my being on vacation went out the window during the very first morning following numerous meetings and presentations. I had an opportunity to meet many special people at this event and I welcomed the privilege of speaking with and having my picture taken with the legendary Alejandro Robaina. I also enjoyed my visit to the Partagas Factory and adjoining La Casa del Habano. The highlight of the Festival for me though was the grand dinner at the end of the festival. In addition to having had the opportunity to sit down and party with many newly made friends, the special custom made humidors that were on display and auctioned off later in the evening were a sight to see. I also was glad to attend this particular event, because a special regional cigar that will distributed exclusively in Mexico was introduced and passed out during the ceremonial dinner. The Montecristo Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 ( 50 ring gauge and 7 ¼ inches long) made its debut and was clearly the star of the festival. Most regional or limited edition cigars need to be aged a couple of years before they reach their full smoking potential; however, the Montecristo Edmundo Dantes Conde 109 I smoked at the event was already aged and smoked perfectly. This cigar will not be available until early summer 2007 and only 600 boxes will be produced for all of Mexico. Needless to say, I expect this special cigar to sell out quickly.

I have met with many prominent Habanos and Cuban Cigar industry heavyweights in the past—Manuel Garcia has visited our shop in Tijuana on numerous occasions and from time to time we are fortunate to have the legendary Rodolfo Taboada custom roll cigars in the store. However, my attending this event in Havana added a new dimension for me. It also helped solidify my relationship with Habanos SA which ultimately benefits the customers who visit either our Tijuana or Cancun locations. On this trip, David and I were able to acquire several boxes of Bolivar Immensa from 1997 as well as always hard to find boxes of Juan Lopez #2 and Diplomatico #2. Please enjoy the pictures I took from, both, Cancun and Tijuana and remember that I am always here to serve you—our valued customers. 


"Mr. Moises Vargas and Alejandro Robaina at the 9th Annual Habanos Festival".


"Mr Moises is a connoisseur of, both, fine cigars and fine looking women"


"Mr. Max Gutman--Importer and VP Habanos SA, Mexico; and Mr. David Tourgeman, owner of LCDH Tijuana and Cancun at the grand opening ceremony in Cancun".


Mr. Moises Vargas has two lovely assistants to help him pass out Partagas Serie D No. 4's at the LCDH Cancun grand opening party.

 

A day at the La Casa del Habanos in Tijuana Mexico—May, 2005
By: Pete Haas

At dinner we discussed many topics and asked Manuel Garcia—Vice President of Habanos S.A.-- many questions. I listed the questions and answers below. One thing we discussed at length was the idea of bringing back a discontinued cigar from the past and making that cigar only for the Mexican market. Habanos S.A. recently did this for one of the European markets with the Bolivar Gold Medal. After dinner, on our way back to the La Casa Del Habano--Tijuana, Manuel asked me to pick out my favorite cigar, regardless which one, and he offered to have a box rolled for me with our names on the bands as a gift of his appreciation and friendship. He also offered to be our host if we ever come to Cuba. I told you he is a very nice man.

During the day we talked with Mr. Garcia about many topics. He is a well-spoken man and extremely knowledgeable about the world of cigars. I am fortunate to have spent some time with him. Some of the topics that we asked Manuel are; 
Q. How many cigars were exported from Cuba in 2004 for all markets?
A. 105 million premium cigars.


Q. How many non-premium cigars were exported in 2004?
A. 65 million non-premium cigars.

Q. How many premium cigars were exported in 2001?
A. Approximately 180 million.

Q. Is this why it is presumed that the quality of the cigars was lower around this time?
A. Yes, the market was demanding more cigars, and we did all we could to meet the market demands.

Q. What was the number of cigars consumed in Cuba in 2004?
A. 150 million and these were non-premium cigars.

Q. What is your favorite cigar?
A. Trinidad Fundadores.

Q. How many Habanos S.A. Presidents have you served under?
A. Four.

Q. Is there any truth to the rumor that Cuba uses tobacco from other countries?
A. There is absolutely no truth to that rumor.

Q. Is it true that the best quality premium cigars go to England and Spain?
A. This is not true. All premium cigars are shipped from the same warehouse to all locations. Habanos s.a. is interested in having consistent quality throughout the world.

Q. Is it true that the cigars in tubes are of a lower quality or higher quality than the non-tubed cigars?
A. No, there is no intention of placing cigars of different quality in tubes or not in tubes.

Q. Is it true that cabs have better quality cigars than the dress box cigars?
A. No, we package cigars in cabinets because many customers enjoy purchasing some cigars in larger quantities. Like the tubes, there is no intention of any difference.

Q. Is it true that many types of inconsistencies can happen with the exporting of Cuban cigars?
A. Yes. Many things happen during the process of rolling and packaging. Bands can be off in their printing, boxes can have labels missing, and the names of cigars can be misspelled.


I was able to have a conversation with Manuel about some of the rumors about La Casa del Habano in Tijuana. I asked Manuel what his feelings are about the possibility of the owner selling fakes and what he personally thought of the owner. I can tell you that Manuel has complete trust in the entire staff at this shop and laughs at the idea that they would even need to sell fakes of any kind. He said that, “La Casa del Habano--Tijuana is a respected member of the Habanos s.a. family”, so much so, that Manuel announced to me that the owner of this shop will be taking over the Cancun franchise. He added that “Cancun is a considered a very special store to Habanos S.A.. because Cancun is the very first franchised La Casa del Habanos store opened. This is how much we trust him.”

We had a fantastic day, and we learned a lot, but I could not help but think that some how the accusations will still be made by people that want everyone to think that they know everything about Cuban cigars. The only thing that I hope, is that the people that read these accusations will not be so quick to believe them and will at least attempt to find out the facts for themselves before they pass judgment.

 

 
Where to Eat in Havana


Most people who visit Havana, Cuba go for the sun, rum, cigars, music, beautiful women, or antique cars. Rarely, does one mention food as a primary reason for visiting this Caribbean paradise. Until fairly recently, tourists had good reason to complain about the cuisine; afterall, many of the basic spices and ingredients were often lacking and, quite frankly, the food was often quite bland. As Cuba has redirected its economy and efforts towards attracting more and more tourists, it has also witnessed a significant increase in the amount and quality of its food offerings. The staff at CigarFriendly.com is pleased to share with you it's favorite places where you can dine at-be it the state supported restaurants or the privately owned paladares:
  1. El Aljibe: Located in the upscale, Miramar suburb of Havana, this is arguably Cuba's best and most consistent restaurant. State owned, El Aljibe specializes in roasted chicken that is cooked in a special, secret sauce (most would agree it is probably garlic based) that comes served with rice, black beans, plantains, and French fries. It is located in a large, bamboo hut and features a central dining area as well as a bar in the back. A typical all-you-can-eat meal with a couple of beers will cost approximately $20 - 25 with tip. The food is definitely outstanding and the restaurant is worth going to whether this is your first trip to Havana or your seventh.
  2. La Cocina de Lilliam: This is arguably the finest paladar in all of Havana. Also located in Miramar (Telephone: 29 65 14), diners have the option of eating inside this beautiful house or outside (our recommendation) on their beautiful patio. Traditional Cuban cuisine is served which includes seafood, pork, and chicken. Fresh baked bread and a decent liquor and wine list make this the perfect place to enjoy a wonderful meal in equally spectacular surroundings. Slightly expensive by paladar standards but well worth it.
  3. Osteria dei Fiori: As much as I love Cuban food, it helps to break up the monotony by being able to sample some other type of cuisine during your visit. If you are like me and must have your fix of Italian food while on break, then you should definitely give this place a try (Telephone: 32 06 31). Located in Vedado (not too far from the US interests section), Osteria dei Fiori features outstanding antipasto, great pasta dishes, Italian wine, and award-winning deserts. A full meal that includes bread, appetizer, dinner, 2 beers, and dessert can be found for +/- $15 - 20 USD. When in town for a week, we usually dine here at least twice during our stay.
  4. Ranchon: Our favorite place for lunch, hands down. Located in Miramar at 5th Avenue and Calle 16 (adjacent to the La Casa del Habano), Ranchon serves some of the finest seafood in town. Our personal favorite is the combination shrimp and lobster brochette that can be served with excellent white rice and perfectly cooked French fries. After lunch, you can smoke to your heart's content at the La Casa del Habano and enjoy a nice cup of Cuban coffee to wash down your meal and cigar.
  5. La Casa: Another private restaurant (Telephone: 81 70 00) that is inside a refurnished house in the section of Havana known as Nuevo Vedado. Particularly nice is the inside decorations which includes a wall with water flowing down. Many diplomats and those in the know can be found dining here and this paladar has received many writeups in prominent publications such as Cigar Aficionado and the New York Times. An extensive appetizer list as well as many award winning entrees make this one of the more popular paladares in the city.
  6. Club Habana: Located on the western edge of Miramar adjacent to the Marina Hemingway complex is a facility known as Club Habana (formerly the Havana Biltmore Yacht Club). This complex features a private beach, tennis courts, shopping center, gymnasium and some very fine restaurants. Our choice for a nice casual lunch is at the restaurant located by the poolside where diners can feast on grilled seafood or, our personal recommendation, their basic tuna sandwich with French fries. During the evening, there is a more formal dining area with an award-winning wine list as well as a beautiful piano bar where many of the Havana-based foreign dignitaries congregate.

    These are but a few of the many fine places to eat at during your stay in Havana. It is also quite common to make friends with local Havana residents who will invite you to their home where you will be served Havana Club rum and traditional Cuban fare, such as pork and yucca. We hope you enjoy your next vacation and please be sure to share your experiences with us.

 


  Cigar Sensibilities

By Roy Stein

April 28, 1997
Reading time:
± 4 minutes

Little did Mark Twain realize when he coined the phrase, "If I cannot smoke in heaven, then I shall not go," that it would become the battle hymn of this decade’s most vogue fashion statement—cigar smoking. It’s been hard to ignore the phenomenon. A dormant industry up until a few years ago, cigars have made an incredible comeback. Manufacturers are reporting record sales and can’t keep up with the orders. Investors have been snatching up public offerings from cigar companies. A humidor previously owned by John F. Kennedy fetched a whopping half million dollars at an auction last year.

Why the sudden resurgence in popularity? Most industry experts attribute the growth to a number of factors. Certainly, the 1992 debut of Cigar Aficionado, an upscale magazine produced by Wine Spectator publisher Marvin Shanken, played a large part in elevating the awareness and status of cigar smoking. It introduced a new generation of consumers to cigar events, cigar clubs, and terms like "cigar-friendly establishment." No longer looked upon as a symbol of vulgarity or pomposity, the cigar’s association with the entertainment industry has helped propel it to downright respectability. Hollywood stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson, among others, have adorned the cover of leading magazines, brandishing their favorite "stogie." George Hamilton successfully launched a line of cigars under the H. Upmann label, and recently opened a cigar bar in the New York, New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas bearing his name. Even women, who in the past were derided for the practice, have developed a passion for cigars and are consuming them in record numbers.

Statistics aside, what is it about cigars that makes them so darned appealing? Quite frankly, they taste good. Like a fine wine, the flavor characteristics vary from cigar to cigar, and even within a particular brand. Cigars can range from smooth and creamy in flavor, all the way up to spicy and peppery, as with Cuban cigars. And quite frankly, there is simply no better way to finish a meal than by enjoying a fine cigar with a glass of cognac or port.

The aura, the ritual of cigar smoking has created a whole new setting for social interaction. It is quite common today for strangers to begin a conversation by sharing thoughts about the brand of cigars they’re enjoying. It is not surprising, therefore, that cigar bars have been opening up across the country in astonishing numbers. In years past, one would simply purchase a cigar for home consumption. Nowadays, cigar lounges with names like Club Macanudo, The Cuba Club, and The Grand Havana Room are catering to young professionals who can enjoy the comforts in a living room-type setting, but with cocktail service, big screen television, and even the rental of private humidor lockers. Chiropractor and entrepreneur Dr. Craig Berko has even developed a successful nationwide networking event called, aptly, "The Cigar Schmooze."

A PRIMER TO CIGAR SMOKING

Cigars are currently manufactured in several countries, including Cuba, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Brazil, and the Philippines. Cuban cigars, illegal in the United States, are considered to be the world’s finest. However, the quality from other countries has improved dramatically in recent years and, in many cases, rival their Cuban counterparts.

When selecting a cigar, there are certain pre-smoking characteristics one should look for, such as construction and aroma. A well-constructed cigar will be smoothly rolled, but should not be too tight. Don’t be afraid to ask your tobacconist for assistance or advice. A full-flavored cigar should be consumed with a big meal, not on an empty stomach. A beginner might wish to start off with a mild cigar, such as a Macanudo, before progressing to more complex flavors. Whatever you do, just remember one thing: do not inhale. Simply take a puff, letting the flavor circulate within your mouth, and then blow out the smoke.

Once you’ve made your cigar selection, it is important that they remain properly humidified. A cigar that has been allowed to dry will burn unevenly and too fast; a cigar that is over-humidified will be tough to draw from. A humidor (a humidified storage receptacle) will maintain your cigars for months, and sometimes even years, to come. Humidors vary in size and price, and are an excellent investment for anyone who truly enjoys the pleasure, and not the fad, of cigar smoking.

Exactly how long the current craze will last is anyone’s guess, but most industry experts agree that there are at least another three or four years before popular interest wanes. Expect prices to increase as more-and-more consumers jump on the cigar bandwagon. Nevertheless, it’s well worth taking advantage of the increased popularity, both in terms of the numerous, new smoking venues and the vast array of cigars available to the general public. Keep an open mind to new and different brands. You just might find a brand that stays with you a lifetime.

If you have any cigar-related questions, feel free to contact Roy at roy@cigarfriendly.

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Copyright © 1997 Biztravel.com, Inc.
All Rights Reserved.


  Buying Cigars In Cuba

By Bill Gallagher October 1, 1998

Before going to Cuba on a business trip, I inquired at several cigar sites if anyone could offer advice on purchasing cigars there. I received a number of thoughtful responses, for which I am grateful. Having just returned, I offer to those who may be interested some of my impressions.

I had a free weekend to spend in Havana, and a very specific list of cigars I wished to purchase. Here are some things that I learned:

  • Some of the most sought-after shapes - figurados such as torpedoes and belicosos - are difficult to locate. The Montecristo "A". was also nowhere to be found (but see below).
  • Some of the sales outlets in Havana recommended on the web were disappointing. The much-lauded cigar shop at the Melia Cohiba Hotel, for example, is small and has a extremely limited selection, as does the Museo del Tabaco store in Havana Vieja. The latter had indifferent service. Unfortunately, the highly-recommended cigar bar at the Melia Cohiba was closed when I was there Saturday morning (it opens at 2pm).
  • For last-minute cigar buying, the store in the new Havana airport terminal has a decent selection and a nice humidor. They were out of Montecristos, though.
  • There is a refurbished, art-deco style, very well-stocked Casa del Habano on the corner of 5th Avenue and 16th Street in the Marina district, a residential area in Havana. Very friendly, knowledgable service, and you can wander about the large walk-in humidor.
  • The store at the Partagas factory in Centro Havana sells a number of different single cigars as well as boxes, and has a room where you can sit and relax in a comfortable atmosphere, have an expresso or other drink (the Cubita brand coffee is fantastic) and chat with fellow Habano lovers. I tried a Cuaba and talked with a Cuban couple. She had perfect New Jersey English; he is a good friend of the manager of the Casa del Habano in São Paulo - the only such establishment in Brazil (180 million people and one store). Asked me to say hello when I go there. I will.
  • Prices among state stores are quite uniform; the difference between them is in the quantity and variety of their stock.
  • It is good to have a list of what you are looking for. Besides differentiating you from the casual buyer for the salesperson, a list helps to keep you focused so you won’t slip into a "kid in the candy store" mode.
  • The combination of economic crisis, the influx of tourists, and the fact that it is now legal for Cubans to possess dollars has created what you might expect. People are hungry for dollars, and one way to get them is to sell illegal cigars to tourists. Many try to do so. They even hang out in front of legitimate stores in Havana, to tell you they can sell to you for much cheaper than what you will pay inside. It’s not only on the street; you can’t sit in an outdoor café, or even at a hotel bar without being approached. They are extremely persistent, and almost always begin by you offering Cohibas. I was firmly determined to follow the advice of those who had warned me to only buy from legal sources. But a curt "no" seemed rude, so I finally resolved to tell these entrepreneurs that I was only interested in Montecristo "A"s. That worked until, on a crowded, narrow street in Havana Vieja, a guy who approached me claimed he had some. Curious, I followed him a few blocks to the entrance of a building where he introduced me to his "sister" who "works in the factory". They wanted me to "go upstairs" to see the merchandise. It didn’t feel right, and I refused. So she went up, and after a long delay, came down with a box which I examined while standing in the building alcove. A large varnished box, and inside, those incredibly long cigars. Ninety bucks for the box, she said. Two boxes for $150. Now, this is the moment you have to control your impulse to score a bargain. I tried to examine them carefully. The light wasn’t very good, and the seller was edgy, looking over his shoulder, trying to hurry me. I ran through the check list in my mind: "nivel acuso" on the bottom of the box? No. Green and white state seal? Yes, but the one on the box was the small one I had seen on five- cigar packs, not the larger one on boxes. The cigars did not appear to be all exactly the same length, nor were they of uniform color. Curved finger lift cut in the corner of the cedar layer divider? No. Well, no, way, José. I told the guy I would think about it. "What do you mean?", he said menacingly, "I’ve already opened the box!" Great. Now what? All I wanted to do was get out of there. I noticed that by that point, we had been joined by a couple of his friends. So talking all the time, I got out of the alcove, into the street, and kept moving. They were right next to me. I saw the dealer make a negative gesture to his friends, who backed off. I went into a public building where he didn’t dare follow, and left it from another exit. "Go up and examine the merchandise". Yeah, right.

It is incomprehensible to me why anyone who is fortunate enough to go to Cuba and to have a chance to buy what are undoubtedly the best cigars in the world, would take the chance of being either swindled or rolled there. Compared to what one has to pay anywhere else, Habanos in Cuba are an incredible bargain at the legitimate stores. In my opinion, it is scandalous how much they are marked up by, for example, vendors on the web, whose advertised Habanos prices appear to be at least 5 times what the cigars costs at authorized stores in Havana.

Here are the cigars I bought, and the prices I paid per box (in US dollars)

  • Hoyo Double Coronas ($154)
  • Punch Churchill ($143)
  • Hoyo Epicure Nº1 (SLB) ($109)
  • Cohiba Siglo III ($167)
  • Bolivar Royal Corona ($105)
  • R y J Exhibición Nº4 ($90)
  • Montecristo Especial Nº2 ($120)
  • Juan Lopez Selectos Nº2 ($118)

As luck had it, business took me to Pinar del Rio - the westernmost province of the island - which includes the Vuelta Abajo. The scenary is spectacular. Rustic tobacco barns with thatched roofs dot the landscape. Fields are cultivated using oxen-drawn plows. Cool morning mist covers the green mountain slopes.

During lunch time I visited the Francisco Donatien factory, which that day was rolling Vegueros and boxing Montecristos Nos. 3 and 4. The tour gives you a walk-through, providing the opportunity to see leaf selection and classification, rolling, quality control, and packaging, and to talk with worker-artisans at each of these stages in the production process. It was fascinating to handle, to feel the beautifully thin silk-like texture and elasticity of the wrapper produced in the Vuelta Abajo. At leaf selection, after talking to her and admiring her work, a charming lady gave me some central veins from leaves. The most fragrant part, she said, and instructed me to put small pieces of them in cologne.

The factory store humidor is quite well-stocked. The store was crowded, though, since just before I went in, two buses had arrived filled with German tourists. I noticed there and elsewhere that many tourists buy only cigarillos. Of course, these are the least expensive product in the shops, but it is a pity that they don’t take advantage of the real treasures that are there in front of them.

Also in Pinar del Rio, I visited a manufacturer of a drink called "Guayabita de Pinar", a spirit made from a dwarf guava which is native to that area. A quick tour and a tasting. They make sweet (30 proof) and dry (40-proof) versions; I much preferred the latter, which is aged in old (pre-Castro) American bourbon barrels. Although production is very limited, I did see it in the duty-free shop at José Martí Airport (at $3 a 5th).

One more observation: it is not only in Cuba that you have to be careful buying Cuban cigars. My travels have taught me that the problem of bogus Habanos is chronic. I have seen them at airport stores in Panama, in cigar stores and hotel shops in Santo Domingo and in Rio, and being hawked by street vendors in Cartagena. At the only legitimate Habanos store in Cartagena (at the airport) the owner told me that for every real Habano on the world market, there are probably 10 fake ones. This makes me loath to buy anywhere in Latin America or in the Caribbean except at one of the (too few) Casas del Habano in the region. Within the U.S., the chances of buying fakes is probably even higher. Personally, I wouldn’t risk it.

Once again, thanks to those of you who answered my pre-Cuba trip query. I hope the information I have offered may be of some interest and use to anyone who is fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Cuba.

Bill Gallagher

billinchile@mi-mail.cl

billinrio@uol.com.br


  An Article by Greg George

Smoke Connections
American Air Technologies

TURN-KEY SOLUTIONS:
Today when one gets involved in the cigar business , he or she has a number things to consider. You must have a business plan and have a lot of information on a lot of different products and services. Firms such as Smoke Connections have put together a program that allows the customer to deal with one firm to fullfill all of the store and bar's needs. Being able to have a store fixture package, a complete store stocking of all cigar accessories and personal humidors, and a full line of premium cigars will cut out the hassles of dealing with 30-40 different vendors. Turn key solutions works better because it will reduce the stress of delivery of all of the different items and the nightmare bookkeeping problems that exist with multiple vendor programs. Being able to get a cash register with a custom software package that is pre loaded for easy installation will save a lot of headaches. If a person has a concept, Smoke Connections can make it happen. If you want sound advise you must consult with someone who has a lot of different experience of putting the total package together and then delivering on it.

BUILDING A CIGAR SHOP OR LOUNGE FROM SCRATCH
When one considers building a cigar shop or lounge they must put together a plan that outlines who they are and what they want to accomplish. The business person must find a location with good traffic and visiblity in the community. The sizes range anywhere from 700 sq. ft. to 3000 sq. ft. for a cigar lounge. Being in a mall or next to a high traffic coffee shop or liquor store would be most appealing. One must have a plan of how they want the store layed out; this may be completed with the help of an architect or design consultant. Once the location has been chosen a budget must be put together. One must include all store fixtures, construction cost, signage, six months cash flow and many other store or bar needs. Choosing a consultant is a good way to accomplish this challenge. After the budget is agreed on the parties must order the major store fixtures and start up cigar and cigar accessory products. Putting together a marketing program is also very important. If a facility has private lockers or just private memberships, the clients must receive some special privileges. Letting the community become aware that you are in business is important, a detailed ad campaign is a good way to generate immediate profits. Once all of the items start arriving and all of the cabinetry is in place all of the items must be carefully displayed throughout the store or bar display case. The chore of putting it all together is quite a challenge but if you are associated with knowledgeable people you can make it all happen.

CHOOSING A PROPER SMOKE AND ODOR REMOVAL SYSTEM
Trying to figure out how the air is supposed to be clean , but don't have a clue? Don't feel alone! Many people across the world have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on clean air equipment that does not work. The reason is that for fifty years American companies have been marketing equipment that is inferior. Most of the systems have been over promised and under delivered! The technology that has been available has been of the electronic type that used the wrong filters and not enough airflow. The proper way to clean the air happens only one way, the proper amount of air changes, proper air movement, and the correct filtration. When you size a project whether it be residential or a sizeable cigar lounge it is all sized the same. You must first measure the square footage of all of the areas that will be smoked in and multiply that amount by the ceiling height. Once this measurement is made you have the total cubic footage. You then take the cubic footage and divide it by how often you need an airchange. After almost 10 years experience we have developed a system of different air changes for different type applications. In a cigar smoke application one needs an air change every 4-6 minutes; if it is a cigar lounge more like 2-4 minutes. The equipment used should have a filtration package that includes a HEPA filter , carbon filter , and a pre-filter to catch the big stuff. There are 3 basic styles that work efficiently. There is an above ceiling system that is hung above the ceiling and has 4 runs of duct work running from it. Two of the duct runs are hooked up to vents that pull the dirty air out of the space and two that take the air that has been pulled out of the room and cleaned, back into the room. This particular unit is the most preferred because it is unseen and very quiet. Sometimes though these units cannot work because of ceiling restrictions. The next choice is a ceiling flush mounted unit that is usually installed in a drop ceiling style setting. This unit fits in a 2 x 4 ceiling tile area and it normally hung from some bars in the ceiling. This style unit uses no duct work and is very easy to maintain. The drawbacks are is they don't cover as large of an area; the positives are that they are more cost efficient and easier to install. The last choice in a commercial application is a free hanging unit. This is normally the last option and is used when there is a difficult ceiling to work with like a concrete ceiling. These units tend to be a bit noisier but are very cost effective. The main problem with these units is that they can be an eyesore. They can, however, be painted the same color of the ceiling. Clean air in a residential setting can be very difficult. One must choose the space to be smoked in without infringing on the family (like our wives)! Generally speaking a portable HEPA/charcoal system that will blend in and make as little noise as possible is most preferred. Normally a unit that moves 500 cfm is appropriate for most residential applications. A good portable unit can be purchased for under $500.00 delivered. Clean air is one of the most important issues of today. So before you go out and blow your hard earned money on a piece of junk, do your homework and choose a system that gives you the appropriate requirements at the right price.


  Enjoying Your Humidor

by Trapp's Classic Humidor owner, Tom Trapp

Here are a few quick tips to begin enjoying your humidor. First, get a good container from the kitchen that will allow the humidifier to lie flat in it. I use a Rubbermaid plastic container with a lid. You can save the leftover water in it. Next, buy a gallon of DISTILLED WATER. Most important. It reduces the chances of mold growing on your cigars in the summer. Pour the water in the container so that the humidifier will float. Cover and wait 10/15 minutes. Take the humidifier out, wipe dry, and replace on the metal strip on the lid. It should feel noticably heavier. Put it in your humidor. Now that wasn't hard.

It may take 2 or 3 days for your humidor to come up to temperature. Try to keep it in a constant temperature enviroment, it will control the humidity easily. Don't put the humidor in your trunk or the back of your hatchback where the temp goes way up. It will ruin your cigars and attitude. If you travel with your humidor, try to keep it in the back seat with a towel over it to keep the sun off and the temp fairly constant.

Depending on your local and humidity, you should need to refill the humidifier every 25 to 35 days. A gallon of distilled water will last a good year at that rate. Don't wait until its dry, refill when the humidity gets down to 67 or 66%. In very humid times, you may have to remove the humidifier completely from the humidor for a couple of days. This is particularly true with our big 500 cigar humidor. You may only use 1 humidifier all summer. If your humidifier fails to absorb water (it gets noticeably heavier) take the same container of water and put 4 or 5 drops of unsented kitchen dish soap. Set the humidifier in it for 5 minutes and its good as new.

If you notice sap forming on the spanish cedar interior, don't panic. It's no big deal. Remove your cigars, gently wipe the sap with lacquer thinner, sand with 150 grit sandpaper, let the box air out, and presto-good as new. That sap usually appears when the humidity gets way up there, so again, try to keep the temp constant.

If, God forbid, you run out of cigars and are not going to keep your humidor up and running, REMOVE THE HUMIDIFIER. Otherwise the hygrometer and humidifier will cover with sap. A pain to clean.

Now for the digital hygrometer and temperature gauge. On the back there is a removable plastic piece with a arrow on it. Remove that panel. Take a toothpick (or similar object) and pop out the battery. Use the toothpick to remove the opaque plastic strip. Replace the battery with the writing up. Replace the plastic cover. Turn on to it's face and peel back the cover over the screen. The battery should last a year or so, and replacements are available at most hardware stores.

Hope some of these suggestions help you enjoy your humidor, and get the best performance out of it. If you have any questions call us and we'll do our best to solve the problem.

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