Spring 2009, Tbilisi, Georgia

Over the years, the more I learned, I spread cigar education all over East Europe.

Blending Seminars with Jose Blanco

There are many reasons to join at least one of Jose Blanco´s Blending Seminars.

Señorial Cigars - Only The Finest Tabacco

Señorial By José Blanco use filler-tobaccos all from The Dominican Republic, from Tabacalera Palma’s own farms.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Interview with the Active Dominican Cigar and Jazz Group, THE SMOKING SEVEN! S7!

To all my dear readers, let me first apologize the long time in between posts the past few months! It has been extremely busy times, not to mention my very first own line of cigars (Freyja) and much more as José Blanco´s and my company, Las Cumbres Tabaco, steadily grows...!

Nonetheless, I do not forget nor neglect my blog which I genuinely cherish!

José, our amazing son and I are this very week in the process of moving to the New York area, and as my last article as written while still residing in the beautiful cigar-country, Dominican Republic, I jumped on the chance to interview an impressive group of seven Dominican cigar loving men promoting their country, this one that I am sitting and writing in as we speak! :-)

This post is a bit of a "good-bye" to the DR for me, yet it is merely an "Au revoir" because we will be coming back here regularly to the factory, naturally, and of course also to the Dominican ProCigar Festival in February of 2016.

First of all, before introducing you to these gentlemen of their group named "The Smoking Seven," I strongly suggest to visit their blog, a very pleasant and exciting one! - smokingseven.blogpsot.com

Their intro to our interview is as follows:

The Group: “The passion for smoking and the search for new sensations and flavors through tobacco made it to seven friends getting together under the name  'Smoking Seven'.

One of the many wonderful and heartfelt quotes in this interview was by Ben Durán (as will be introduced below) who said: We want to communicate to every cigar smoker and tobacco manufacturer that things can still be done to improve the industry and the pleasure of smoking. 

I (Emma) could not agree more! This is an industry with constant growth and a business filled with creativity!

Another quote I want to kick-start this post with is from Hector Montás (as also seen below).
He says: We aim to share with others our experiences, obtained from each smoke and contribute even one bit to boost the Dominican cigar industry that is so neglected.

Well, I (Emma) have to say, the Dominican Republic is indeed a giant in the premium cigar industry, yet I have to agree that the hype and work on promoting this brilliant cigar-country has stooped a bit in the past few years As I feel, along with a number of other smokers I have spoken to, the greatness of this cigar-country has been taken a slight bit for granted

This group of Brothers Of The Leaf are doing a fantastic job promoting their own country in terms of cigars. And they are promoting Jazz TO their nation, hand in hand with tobacco!

 The basic story and its Start:

On Wednesday May 20, 2015, the following seven Dominican gentlemen decided to share their experiences and exchange opinions about the cigars they smoked, doing tastings, visiting factories and providing feedback to tobacco companies through their professional cigar reviews.

This list of Seven cigar aficionados truly shows how premium cigars and its lifestyle brings people from different backgrounds together!
See below THE Smoking Seven and who they are:

1.    Fernando Rodríguez De Mondesert Group President: I love music, I live it, I cannot think what my life would be like without its presence, especially my so beloved Jazz... I am a Free Spirit and a family-man who loves to listen to good Jazz with a fine port wine or a glass of Gentlemans Jack, a great Cigar, a fine game of Backgammon, and especially love a great sunset with my loving wife!!!
2.    Héctor Montás - A Business Administration graduate with work in the maritime sector for 22 years. He then became a founding member of Smoking Seven.
3.    Ben Durán Photographer Fernando invited me to the first tobacco-trip and right where S7 was born.
4.    José Miguel Font - Systems Engineer, Photographer, and Art student at the Altos de Chavon School of Design (in Casa de Campo, La Romana). Also founding member of the Demiurgo Philosophy & Literature Circle of Studies. 
5.    Fernando Charrón - Industrial Engineer for whom cigar smoking started as a hobby, then became a passion and today is a lifestyle: Today I work as a manager in the most important and stocked cigar stores in the Dominican Republic: 'Cabinet Tabaco Boutique'.
6.    Rodolfo Nuñez - Owner of "Tabaco y Ron Cigar Club."
7.    Plinio Pina Lawyer: It is not a given for me to speak in the first person, I think that others do the talking about me. I am deeply passionate about all we do at S7, and of course cigars!

Smoking Seven also writes about topics such as:
·         The physical aspects of a cigar
·         Anatomy
·         The blend itself of what they are smoking
·         Rituals
·         Selection
·         Cutting, lighting
·         Conservation, maintenance and care.

Fernando says: Our contribution serves to enrich and deepen the knowledge of our great passion for the wonderful world of cigars.
He continues:
One of the phrases that this group has taken as an inspiration is from the great Winston Churchill: Smoking is like falling in love. First, youre attracted to their shape, you stay for their taste and you always should remember, never let the flame become extinct.

I (Emma) have to agree!!! Wonderful inspiration!!!

Interview with The Smoking Seven: 

1. Please tell me: What is The Smoking 7to you?          

·         Fernando R It started as a group of friends that shared good smokes together that has grown into an active group whose interest is to give back to cigar manufacturers honest views on their products and at the same time sharing our smokes and adventures with the general public!
·         Hector also adds that they thrive to learn from each other´s experiences in the world of cigar as well as their personal ones.
·         José feels that it´s more than 'a group that decides to visit factories and do tastings'" - They go deep into this field and the group has become an extremely tight friendship!
-       Such as what Ben and Fernando C also add the word Brotherhood.

Note: I personally love that they include the word learning hence, premium cigars is a never ending learning process and such a grand field altogether, and cigar-life truly is enjoyment in the same time!

·         Rodolfo finalizes and concludes with the same togetherness and intensity as mentioned above, and adds: The family!"


2. You relate your passions to each other: Jazz Music and Premium Cigars. How did you get the idea?

-       Fernando R: It was rather easy as I have loved both for practically my entire life - smoking a cigar while enjoying a great jazz tune is truly an out of this world experience. I was able to communicate both, via digital media, for the enjoyment of each reader with articles that are concise, precise and at the same time passionate and informative.


3. How did you form it a group of Seven? It is not always easy to perform such great team-work!

Fernando R: I had an invitation to spend an afternoon with ¨The Maestros¨ at Tabacalera de Garcia in the South Eastern town, La Romana. I asked permission to take a few friends along, which was granted by Pedro Ventura, whom I thank!
Still unbeknownst to us, this decision would be a key factor in the life-events to come.
We took a small factory tour and then a guided cigar tasting with this group of professionals of the tobacco industry.

On the way back, we stopped for a smoke, and the idea of giving back to the factories via a formal tasting was born. We did not want to simply leave, smoke their cigars, bring some home and just say say Thanks! See ya!! We wanted to do more than that to all wonderful cigar-factories and their warm people.
Hence, all of a sudden we had a purpose for the group and Smoking Seven was born.


4. For how many years have you been active with Jazz?

Fernando R: "I am a jazz lover since I can remember; I was exposed to it by my parents and family. Later on as I grew up, my love for jazz was influenced by myself and my lifestyle.

As for Jazz in The Dominican Republic, I started it as a blog  My Jazz project is to support the dissemination of the genre of jazz, help raise the musical-cultural level in our country. 

We also contribute to increase available venues that offer live presentations by local musicians, we have held over 850 events in which many groups made their official debuts:
Concerts, tributes and more - the  public in attendance has enjoyed all kinds of Jazz, Blues, Bossa and more all the above by above 220 musicians and vocalists from all over the DR as well as visiting artists from: Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica, Curacao, Aruba, Spain, France, Italy, Russia, Holland, Denmark, Belgium, Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Chile, Canada and the United States."

He continues with passion:
"Jazz is synonymous with freedom for its musicians!
I admire this musical art tremendously!

Note from my (Emma´s) point of view: Indeed, Jazz (or any favorite type of music for each person) and premium cigars go very much hand in hand. For me they definitely do! My life has always had a great amount of music and dance ever since I was a kid, a true passion, and as an adult, cigars and the cigar-business is an additional deep and genuine passion!


5.    For how many years have you all smoked cigars?

Fernando R: I smoked my first cigar at age 18 in 1974, an illegal Cuban Bolivar Belicoso (I lived in Houston, Texas back then). I alternated cigars and pipe smoking for about ten years, and since 1982 about 99% of my smoking is of premium hand made cigars.


6.    What is a truly GOOD cigar for each of you? Profile, origin, tobaccosthis is a rich subject!
I personally find this to be interesting since you are such a diverse group!

Some of their preference and palates:

·     "I am quite partial to a medium-full to full strength well-balanced smoke. It should have a clean combustion and draw. I also want changes throughout the duration of the smoke. A cigar that will challenge my palate and whose make-up is as challenging with the variety of tobacco from our fields, as well as others around the world.
·    A variety of flavors and nuances, changing throughout the smoke - (Complexity and growth).

·         A good smoke to me is one where the cigar would not show any bitterness, not be aggressive, have a pleasant finish and a medium to full strength; favorably of Dominican origin.
·         A creamy cigar, medium strength, well-balanced, without any issues in draw or combustion. And on occasion I mix my passions: A good cigar with a good book!
·         No favorites, just fine cigars, each has its charm, its time, and its particularity, you just have to simply place it in its proper dimension!
·         A good smoke for me is a cigar without bitterness. I do not care if it is mild or very strong/full bodied in strength, as long as the cigar remains interesting. As far as origins go, I have a preference for Dominican cigars but fully enjoy cigars from many origins!

Note from myself (Emma) This group are indeed extremely diverse, yet a similarity in their cigar-preferences show one thing altogether: COMPLEXITY! QUALITY!

They often prefer Dominican cigars My note on this latter: many Dominican cigars are of BLENDED origins to begin with So I even find this group´s diversity and love for the complexity of Jazz music to mirror their enjoyment of cigars!

Nevertheless, this group does hence promote their country, which they do beautifully.


7.     As seen in your blog, you sometimes review cigars: what made you want to add that piece of workto your blog and activities?

Fernando R: After we started sharing the reviews with the factories, their cigars and smoking notes, which was always a topic with our different groups of friends, we said Hey, why not share this information with others.
José: "The motivation came from the experience of a tasting with the master blenders at Tabacalera Garcia in La Romana, on our way back to town we came up with the idea to form the group and do formal tastings.
Thus we decided to simultaneously start the Blog and the group page in Facebook."

Three questions to wrap this up! 

Describe in three words: 

1. what is for you the marriage between Cigars and Jazz?
- Diversity, Excellence, Pleasure.

2. Describe the Dominican Republic in three words!
- Diverse, Hospitable, Fascinating.

3. Describe jazz in three words!
- Improvisation, Freedom, Inclusion.


My Personal conclusion to this fun and exciting discussion!

As well known, my blog is mainly about cigar- and tobacco-education. This interview is, for me, also education in terms of cigar life-style coming from this dynamic group of Seven cigar and music passionates and on top of that, from one of the greatest cigar-countries!
- So, to conclude dear S7: what is you advice to the cigar-passionate, what is your advice to BOTLs and SOTLs living the cigar-life-style?
Fernando once said in this conversation: Cigars and Jazz! Both are erroneously labelled to be for the elite, and this misconception needs to be addressed, who better than a friend and/or a group of friends to take it on!
True! And I will add what José Blanco often says: Cigars is one of the few pleasures in life where a young cashier from McDonalds can sit next to an oil-tycoon and discuss almost everything, from their mutual love of cigars to just about anything in the world, simply enjoying time together.

This group, The Smoking Seven, are proving what José often says, his quote here above, and they are actively promoting our beloved industry, which they do with passion and fun times!

This group of gentlemen basically said something that expresses all of this!

- Read, ask, talk, get involved in getting to know about how a cigar is made. From seed to cigar, it is such an interesting journey! And Convert the smoke of a good cigar to a passion, to a lifestyle in which you include anything you wish, in our case, we include jazz!

Final note: for all you jazz-lovers, The Smoking Seven´s blog (mentioned in the beginning of this piece) will fulfill you with more music and jazz-talk than I mentioned in this post. Enjoy! :)

To actually end this piece, I will share an inspiring poem written by Fernando Rodriguez de Mondesert:
Note: Fernando wrote this poem originally in Spanish and he himself translated it into English.

One truly has to be a Premium Cigar Lover to understand and appreciate all the "notes" and the meaning in between the lines ;-) 

Again, the same photo as the one that started this post: This is the photo associated to this poem

Tasting Notes (Jazz, Wine, Cigars)
In the music room
Open windows
Christmas breezes blowing
Miles playing in the background
A red wine in hand.
Cigar smoke
Dancing, swaying
To the beat of the
Sensuality of the sax.

The quintet paints a sonorous canvas
Bold colors
Notes that roll
Songs that undress
Abstract harmonies
That touch the soul
They go in crescendo
They reach a climax.

Glass in hand
Ruby colored liquid
Expressive aroma
Fruity notes
Elegant taste

Excellent cigar
Extraordinary taste
Woody tones
Spices, pepper
Subtle, pleasant
Outstanding aroma
Gray ash
With whitish edges.

Excellent evening
A special tasting
A great pairing ...

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Box Pressed / Square Pressed Cigars

It has been quite a long time since my last post!!! I apologize for that, work has been rather overwhelming these past few months! As many know, I came out with my very first own cigar, Freyja, and shortly after, it was time to prepare for the IPCPR show which takes up all possible time before, during and after!

In this topic I am tackling a topic that I had to deeply research into before writing. Yet I have been asked about box-pressed cigars from dear Sister Of The Leaf, Darcie Rowan AKA RobustoCigarBabe from New York. I would never disappoint such a wonderful and true lover of the leaf such as Darcie, so I have asked around, researched and learned in the factory where our cigars are made: Tabacalera Palma.

To be frank I have noticed that very little information has been written about box-pressed cigars.
Yet first of all, what is a box-pressed cigar?

A box-pressed cigar, which is sometimes called "square-pressed" is not round but square shaped at the ring gauge. See photo above.

Lack of Information:

Before moving on however, I would like to point out further the lack of detailed information about this cigar-shape. As for myself, I honestly and humbly admit that I knew very little about this subject. In a very non-excusable and weak defense I am European, and in Europe box-pressed are not a hit like in the United States. Of course there are some box-pressed cigars that are very popular in Europe as well: just to mention a couple - Padrón 1964th Anniversary, Aging Room Quattro F55... And Rocky Patel box pressed also seem to sell largely on my beautiful Continent. CAO also produces great box-pressed lines, and many more...!
Nonetheless, in my culture, and also from my years working in Europe with premium cigars (see "About Me"), I confirm that the general talk and hype felt for this shape of cigars are very slim in comparison to the American market. We tend to stay rather "classic" in some regards.

I must also add that, for me personally, box-pressed shaped cigars are not the ones of my choice. This square pressed stick does not feel comfortable in my hand nor on my lips.
On the contrary, I have read in many forums, that some smokers specifically prefer box-pressed for the exact same reasons as I mentioned here above about my classic beauties! So, many smokers feel comfort of that shape between their fingers and even in their mouth as they puff.... Interesting!

To get back to the topic of this section: Lack of Information

There is information, but for a tobacco-geek, a hungry one, like me, there just isn´t enough. Cigar Aficionado has written about Box-pressed cigars with a very interesting little video in Partagás Cigar Factory in Havana, Cuba, not to mention their enchanting article about Padrón!
Furthermore, Padrón have talked a good deal about this shape, so has Rafael Nodal (you can see him on Youtube if you search for his name and "Box-pressed cigars"), as has Rocky Patel, CAO, and many more certainly.
It is easy to Google up all these names in connection with "box pressed cigars," good information as well as opinions are being openly told.

I also read through a good number of forums on this matter and once more the lack of knowledge was palpable. Yet it was also very refreshing! This lack of expertise was not in a bad way, it was in a genuinely sweet and comical way. Smokers did not try to show off some false knowledge, there were barely any misconceptions and what was true awareness was deep and genuine... but hence, quite little.

What made these forums enlightening to me, as I was researching on the topic, was how many (it was MANY) smokers who jokingly wrote "it won´t roll off the table!"

I liked that because it was simply honest and funny, loving cigars with a pinch of humor.
Moreover though, these forums confirmed what I mentioned above: many smokers enjoy the feel in their hand and on their lips (on the exact contrary to me and many other smokers).

The Initiation of Box Pressed Cigars

Like many other cigar-related matters, this one started in Cuba. Note though: a great variety of cigar-
related matters are starting NOW as we speak in several other cigar-countries, some better traditions than others. Yet this one did indeed debut in Cuba.

There is however a little debate over if "box-pressed" cigars, as we know them today, were really how they started back in Cuba...? I am not saying that I know the answer, I do not, therefore I put up a question-mark and leave this debate open. There is a "Spanish-Press" which is an old and original Cuban cigar which has this square shape although not quite as sharply edged as the ones that we (mostly) refer to,

So did we in fact take the Cuban "Spanish Press," apply sharper square molds and heavier press on these beauties?

In fact, Padrón´s first cigars were produced in one size which was the "Cazadores" - this shape is not round and not quite square either. This shape would form itself naturally from the essential oils, humidity and the boxes in which the cigars were packed while still fresh. This is far from my expertise so I am explaining this very generally and I am open to further knowledge in the matter. Nonetheless I would conclude that these Cazadores were also being Aged in there packaging and hence the shape stuck.

This shape, the Cazadores is still available today in one of the Cuban Romeo y Julieta lines (see photo to the right).

How are Box-Pressed Cigars Made?

The way that this process is seen in the Partagas factory in Havana, the boxes are literally "box-pressed" meaning that the actual final boxes filled, with very tightly packed classic (round) cigars, are piled up and pressed with a typical hand-press (like all factories use for all types of cigars) although they are typically used on molds, not on the actual boxes like in this case.

Nevertheless, there are always details of tradition that vary from factory to factory, not one being "better" per se than the next one, merely slightly different.
My example comes from Tabacalera Palma, Santiago, Dominican Republic. As many know, Tabacalera Palma create, among a few other box-pressed cigars, the Aging Room Quattro F55.

The bunching and rolling is made identically to classic round cigars.

There are a number of differences in the pressing of the cigars.

In the case of classic round cigars:
  • A classic shaped round cigar is bunched (the filler leaves and the binder are rolled) and it is the Bunch that will be placed in a press.
  • The press will provide pressure to the cigars approximately 30 minutes on one side and then for 30 more minutes after having been flipped around - I say "approximately" because this varies from factory to factory: some do 20 minutes times 4, or 30 times 2, or 45 times 2... and so on. Also, this depends very much on the vitola, ring-gauge and tobaccos of each blend.

- Aging of round cigars in bundles seen in picture to the right.

In the case of box-pressed cigars:

  • The Box-pressed cigar will go into the mold once it is fully rolled: bunched and rolled with the wrapper on. This means of course that the placing of the cigars into the square-ring-gauged molds is a slower process due to further care and perfection.

  • The time spent in the press is also much longer than the classic round bunches, easily doubled, tripled or even more, again depending on the tobaccos as well.

  • In addition to the latter, the press is often heavier. Traditionally they are pressed with the hand-manipulated press (as seen on the photo to the right). 

  • Some factories also use more vigorous techniques, some fancier than others: Why do I say "some fancier than others?" Because here at Tabacalera, following the classic press, they use bricks: as simple as that! And highly effective! (see photo with bricks to the left).

  • Furthermore, box-pressed cigars are often aged within their square-ring-gauged molds - See photo to the right of the square-pressed cigars aging in cedar-molds.

  • So what about the extra cedar-notes in the profile? Does aging add a lot of this profile? The cedar will sometimes add just a little bit more than to round cigars, again depending on the blend and the richness of the original blend. Round/classic cigars are hence ages in bundles but still with cedar-wood all around and sometimes even with this wood shaved into minuscule pieces covering the floor of the aging-room (this is how it is at Tabacalera Palma).

- Note on these photos from Tabacalera Palma: Some cigars are more sharply box-pressed than others... The Aging Room Quattro F55 made here for example are not extremely sharped edged... It is difficult to differentiate from these photos which are which, this detail is to me further felt by the hand and lips.

The Cedar wood influence:
- See in photo below the thin-cut cedar spills covering the floor in this aging-room (where classic round cigars are aged). Important: this shredded wood is there to attract extra humidity, that is the purpose: not flavor.

Note 2: It is vital to understand the delicate procedure of the above mentioned way of entering the cigars, rolled into their silky wrappers, into the molds in which they will spend quite some time!

Even so, what is not often mentioned is that sometimes, in order for the blend to fit into the mold without any risk of the wrapper tearing up, the percentage of tobacco/leaves, might be slightly decreased - naturally so in correct proportion!

All in all, it is quite a bit of work for everyone involved, from the blender to the production manager and supervisors to the buncher, and the roller who will then carefully place and press them.

Affect on Tasting Profile of Box-Pressed Cigars

There is a lot being said about the taste being enhanced in this shape, mostly due to tightly pressed tobaccos which get to marry each other on another level.

This is true, yet not always:
Every Vitola of one given blend will have a certain give, and its own profile-notes added, such as in the growth of the ring gauge of a Perfecto or the thinning of the latter such as in a Pyramid, and so on... The box-pressed shape will also have its special give to the profile but it is not the only shape with "more flavor" as is often thought.

  • In like manner, I have seen in some forums that a box-pressed cigar will smoke longer: this could be true in some tight square-pressed blends, yet not always, in the thinner filler-cases, in which case the smoke performed longer thanks to Excellency in blending and so much more along the process.
- Moreover, the amount of ligero versus the amount of seco tobaccos will also affect the length of the burn regardless of the shape.

Yet, some other opinions are what I just called them - "opinions," as in for instance:

  • "Box-pressed cigars will have just as much, or more, flavor as the previous inch or more..." This latter opinion which I have frankly seen a few times now should not be applied solely to a cigar being box-pressed! 

- As I find myself recurrently saying, this should be the fact for any well-blended, well-proportioned, well-constructed cigar, regardless of it being round, square-pressed, a parallel or a figurado!
(Note: See my previous article "Smoking Different Sizes, Vitolas and Ring Gauges of Premium Cigars" here in Cigar Fantasía).

  • Likewise, in forums smokers talk about box-pressed cigars as providing "a better burn..." or "a worse burn...!"

--- Well, taste is, as I repeatedly say, subjective.

On the other hand, it is correct that often tobaccos will be pressed more tightly and how they marry can show extremely interesting and rich in a box-pressed cigar!

  • Yet will pressing the tobaccos in this manner work for every blend?
- No. Some blends simply will not perform well as box-pressed.

Some blends will perform fantastically as a box-pressed stick but cannot have their specific tobaccos pressed so tightly together which is when the proportion is worked carefully to fit in which case the statement of "the cigar being more rich and flavorful due to the tobaccos pressed tightly together" will not hold.

Finally, there is a difference in the taste-profile as with all vitolas, and in the cases of given blends that can afford to keep their original proportion pressed tightly together, those are indeed extremely interesting and often memorable cigars!

My Personal Conclusion to this Topic

First of all, I would like again to point out the lack of detailed information and general knowledge on this matter - why? Maybe there is not much more to say about it, or maybe it is understood enough already to know how, when or if to enjoy a box-pressed cigar.

As many know though, I never settle with "Maybe there is not much more to say about it" so if anyone has more information and deeper wisdom about this shaped cigar then please contact me, enlighten me and I will be happy to write further (of course with mention of the name to whom credit is due!).

The cultural aspect of this cigar is very interesting, as mentioned far above. Americans generally enjoy box-pressed cigars much more than Europeans and perhaps Internationally - mind you though, this is VERY Generally spoken! There will for sure be Europeans and Asians reading this thinking "Absolutely not! I love this shape! It´s my go-to!" while many Americans will be reading and thinking "Absolutely not! I am a 100% classic round Corona smoker!"
Nevertheless, generally speaking, this is what this trend looks like at the moment, culturally.
Will it change? Perhaps... Perhaps not... Some trends move, change, go back to basics or move on to what we are yet to see! This industry is fast-moving!

Will I choose a box-pressed cigar if the same chosen cigar is available in a round shape? No. I will choose the round classic shape. Still, if the box-pressed cigar of choice comes in a ring gauge I prefer (I prefer 38 to maximum 52 Ring Gauges) while the round one only comes in a 60 Ring Gauge, I will opt for the square-pressed stick.
- A couple of examples would be the Padrón 1964th Anniversary and the Aging Room Quattro F55, to which I don´t thank no to!

I merely give my opinion which is 100% subjective to my own taste and palate - it is simply an example to how sizes and vitolas are chosen when the cigar and SKU itself is pre-desired.

As seen in this post, there is much more to a box-pressed cigar than this one square-shape that we know about: 

  • There is the original Cuban Box pressed cigar which is not quite as sharp edged
  • There was the original "Spanish Press" in Cuba 
  • We have glanced upon the "Cazadores" 
  • And nowadays the well-known sharp-edged Box Pressed sticks "that won´t roll off the table!" :) 
Finally, box-pressed cigars are further examples of the passionate craft and art that is Cigar-Making!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

View of the Premium Cigar Industry from a Fresh Young Mind in a Cuba-Dominated Market

This will be a quite long article and depending on the time and circumstances, reading it slowly and in two parts would be understandable. Yet I could not cut it in two, it has a flow and each paragraph, each thought, feeds from the former one...

Let´s Go! Another article with strong regards to Cuba!

As seen in this blog, Cigar Fantasía´s number 1 most popular post is my very first article: "Cuban Cigars vs Non-Cuban Cigars: Myths, Facts, Truths, Opinions."

I promised my blog to be as unbiased as possible although naturally I am open with my own opinions as well as with respect to everybody´s subjectivity; I also promised to answer smokers´ questions and write about their interests.
Therefore, when I recieved early on the question about "Cuban Cigars vs Non-Cuban Cigars" from Sister of the Leaf, Lyril Haneman, that was my topic of choice for a strong kick-off, yet I did not know back then that it would stay on top as number 1 post this long!
Moreover, quite a number of cigar-lovers have asked me to write something in regards to Cuba again.

The Interest in Cuba-related Topics - It is often not so much about Cuba, but more about the Non-Cuban tobacco: 

This request has in fact not been for the "preference of Cuban Cigars!" It has further been about the love of fantastic ones from many cigar-countries: Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras and more, and for the admiration of many outstanding tobaccos of several origins.

I did not plan on writing about Cuban cigars again until something truly and genuinely new happens: Imagine the day that the Embargo lifts - THAT´s when I was planning my next opinionated writing about this in one way or another...Yet, seeing the pace in which this dream is moving, I doubt that will still be in Cigar Fantasía though! Who knows... :-)

Another View on this Topic:

Nevertheless, Linus Mattisson, one young smoker got my attention. He is also the founder of a cigar-facebook-page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/691043084318087/ - "Vasaskolans Cigarrsällskap" meaning "The Vasa-School´s Cigar-Community."
He managed to get a second Cuba-related article out of me, because he stressed the business-side of it and he sent me very strongly opinionated thoughts. Furthermore, he is from, and residing in, a robustly Cuba-dominated culture: Sweden. Also I will add the fact that he is a very young cigar-smoker, Linus is 19 years old and has reached the legal age of smoking in his country. Since that day, he has been smoking many cigars from different origins and most importantly with a very open mind.

Linus, being young in a country where all cigar-origins are available, definitely represents the future of our beloved industry! It is therefore deeply refreshing that he is as open to further knowledge as he is; he reads about tobacco, he looks at and listens to interviews with Master Blenders, he asks many questions and he tries a bit of everything premium that is out there in cigars!

The Differences between this Cuba-related article and my previous one

  • The first post in Cigar Fantasía was indeed in regards to Cuban Cigars but it was truly about the actual tobaccos, profiles, qualities and even traditions of many cigar-countries, their similarities and their differences.

  • This piece will touch more of the business-side with the point of view of Linus, his friends´ and mine. I find that he touched many subjects and it is extremely interesting to talk about these observations and their approach.

First question from Linus:

Are Cuban cigars the best cigars in the World?

My answer is actually written in my first Cigar Fantasía article, but it is interesting to answer again and I know that Linus asked this as a conversation-topic rather than as an actual question.

I know his own answer to this: he smokes a bit of everything but actually he tends to buy more Non-Cubans than Cubans. He loves to smoke different origins, think about them and keep learning without having a specific preference.

I agree with Linus,  but let´s ask it anyway: does the difference in quality alter depending on the country of origin? Yes and No, but definitely Not as "Cuban" or "Non-Cuban!!!"

Technically, no: Cuban cigars are not "the only best in the world" - there is not one single "cigar-country."
as we call them, that makes better cigars than another one. If anyone says "yes, Cubans are THE best" then it is a fact that education is necessary and the opinion would be extremely subjective.

Areas that grow and produce premium hand-made cigars - with reference to the first article mentioned above - this picture is very general, as will be seen below it does not include some phenomenal tobacco-growing areas, yet it merely gives an idea and show that there is more than One single area and country.

Naturally though, some countries produce better quality premium cigars than others, but it does not stop at "Cuba vs All Non-Cubans."

A list of exemplary countries producing fantastic premium cigars in Alphabetical order so there is no preference:
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • and more... Costa Rica was not on this list, it is still very "young" but they do make some great quality cigars.. and more
Outstanding premium Tobaccos used for hand-made cigars:
Again, this list does not include every single country, but it gives a good idea - and hence again, in alphabetical order for no preference:
  • Brazil
  • Cameroon (Africa)
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • Honduras
  • Indonesia (a lot of good tobaccos with Sumatra seeds, grown in Sumatra or elsewhere)
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Peru
  • The United States (Connecticut serving as a prime example as one these US-areas - see previous Cigar Fantasía article "US Tobaccos")
  • This list will also grow and is currently growing - if I left some out it was not intentional.

Does Cuba have The Best Origin Awareness in The World? Have Cuba Created a Legendary Quality to their cigars?

Linus: "Sweden is very strongly Cuba dominated in cigars, and most of Europe still is - Why is that?" 

In my opinion, YES! Cuba as a country has indeed created a legendary quality to their cigar-business.

In the same time as Cuba was already famous in cigars, their neighboring countries were also growing prime tobaccos and producing premium hand made cigars. However, those countries did not focus much on cigars Internationally like Cuba did, they focused each on other businesses and each on respective challenging Political situations.

I cannot give many examples as I myself have much to learn, but I can write about José Blanco´s story:
José was, as many know, born in New York in 1949. That was because his father, Riquelme Blanco, was a political exile from the Dominican Republic´s then Dictator, Trujillo. It was not until José was 12 and a half years old, in 1962 (after that Trujillo was executed in ´61), that his family moved back to their roots, the DR.
Meanwhile, José´s Uncle on his father´s side, Arnaldo Blanco, opened a hand-made cigar-factory, Tabacalera Palma in, 1936 (now run by José´s cousin Jochy Blanco).
Also, José ´s and Jochy´s great-great grand-father grew tobacco, following which sons and cousins kept growing tobacco for premium cigars, down to today´s generation - hence, Tabacalera Palma still stands, produces and grows a good number of famous brands.

This latter story is a perfect example of another cigar-country rich in tobacco-history, but this market did not put such focus and world-wide legendary promotion on itself as a "cigar-country" such as Cuba did throughout all those years. The same goes for Nicaragua and some other countries above seen.

This brings me to Linus´ next observation:

In some Cuban cigars dominated markets, such as where he lives, some smokers call Cubans "Real cigars"and the all others "Non-Cuban!"

"Non-Cuban = "Not Real?"

It had me personally deeply shocked that this issue and education has in fact gone this far backwards for some smokers!!! All meanwhile many others are researching and working hard on learning about the diversity of excellent origins for cigars (Linus and his friends luckily being a part of the latter group!).

I do believe this to be a minority of smokers though and I genuinely strongly hope that they will experience their way to more open-minded palates. Then, if they still prefer only Cuban cigars, that would be fair subjective opinions of taste as long as respect to the other origins in the field are felt and somewhat acknowledged, at least to a minimum of awareness.

I remain optimistic: from my years of working in Eastern and Central Europe up until now working mainly with the US yet still worldwide, my past 10+ years in this industry has shown me growth in knowledge and even heavier cigar-consumption growth in the markets altogether - this to me proves that we are moving away from such absurd comments like "Real" vs "Non-Cubans..."

Advertizing and Marketing

Moreover, Linus along many of his friends and Social Media acquaintances worldwide feel that when the topic "cigars" come up, Cuba automatically shows. Therefore he adds that "Cubans don´t need the same advertising and PR that non-Cubans do and actively work on."

  • I completely agree with Linus here, but I also agree for a second reason:

- Non-Cuban cigars use a lot of creative advertising and great PR-stunts, and one of them is in my particular case Education. I do not educate and share the knowledge I have to promote our brands but it might help, just like all PR and ads out there do each in their own way...

- So, why advertise that is NOT for the above reason of not having the Cubanesque legendary stories behind us?
--- Simple answer: we all compete against each other as cigar-countries and brands - just like any product, and notably very likely to the wine-industry.

All the above being said, the "Master Blender Legends" today: where are they? Who was the last living legend of Cuba? I would say late Alejandro Robaina, a fascinating tobacco-man who left this World in 2010. Today one of the very few Cubans whom I consider truly Legendary is Benjamin Menendez (who has retired from General Cigar Company), yet Benji, just as most other Cuban tobacco "legends" and families are now residing, and some of them still producing their magic, in other cigar-countries.

Nevertheless, the term "Cuban" vs "Non-Cuban" is still used, and we are in fact, as I am writing this today in this very moment, still discussing this very matter.
Next question:

"Do Habanos S.A. have the Best Marketing?"

- Linus, as a consumer in a Cuba-dominated market believes the answer is "yes."

- This time I will personally disagree (but still, as seen further below, I recognize their strengths too).
I believe, as I have repeatedly witnessed myself in several countries, that Habanos S.A. often rely on the legend that Cuba has made itself. In my opinion that is a given marketing-strategy that makes work easy in many ways.
Yet with the growing market of many magnificent "non-Cuban" cigars this strategy must be getting harder and harder to base their marketing on.
Therefore, I also believe that Habanos S.A., depending on the country and the people working out on the field, must be using many different strategies nowadays, some better than others - just as the rest of us: some marketing strategies are better or worse, and even this is subjective.

I myself have always worked in the marketing-field of this very industry, and I did not always agree with my colleagues or even my bosses - did that make me right and them wrong? Absolutely not! This is, I repeat also from personal feel.
Nevertheless, without mentioning names or country(ies) with respect, I do however not appreciate when some people in Habanos S.A. have openly and officially had the nerves to say as "a fact" that Cuban cigars are "THE Only best and only "real" cigars in the world" - I find that to be extremely arrogant and even shows a sign of missing information and knowledge in one´s field - and this is not "marketing" in my opinion.
As José Blanco says in his seminars: "If anyone tells you that he/she knows everything about cigar, go home and mentally press ´delete' because it is impossible to know it all; this is a very large and complex industry and we all have much to learn no matter how much one may already know." 
On the other hand, if by asking this question, Linus actually meant "awareness" as opposed to "marketing" then yes, as seen above, Cuba does have stronger awareness due (again) to the above mentioned.
Also, Habanos S.A. most definitely have a great team, generally speaking worldwide, to keep the legend alive! Therefore, they have great marketing-people, but so do all cigar-companies Internationally, and of course, some better than others.

To move forward in any business, one must acknowledge the strengths and the positive of all others competing the field. Consequently I add that I am always looking forward to try new origins, both in my personal cigar-smoking life and in my professional one, thriving our business ahead.



Linus: "when looking for a good cigar to truly enjoy, what we smokers look for are three things: Quality, Appearance and Taste/Natural Flavors."

Mattisson is a curious guy, which I love in cigar-smokers! Premium cigar lovers should be curious and hungry for more knowledge and keep asking! So with his good example, here comes Linus´next question: 
He says that "Sure, when looking for a good cigar to truly enjoy, what we smokers look for are three things: Quality, Appearance and Taste/Natural Flavors."
I find that interesting; I do not know if he put "appearance" before "taste" but they are all valid. Something else interesting is the cultural differences: in the United States I have found that along with "quality, taste and appearance" also come "Strength and Size/Ring Gauge" which are also all valid.
Following this comment, Linus added: "yet what seems to mean even more, often and most probably so, are the opinions of friends and/or neighbor, the chosen internet-sites and so on."
  • The latter says A LOT! This also adds to the Cuba-domination in many countries: It only takes ONE friend/neighbor/internet-site/book, that is biased on the Cuban legendary story, to make a new smoker blind to what more is out there.
  • On the other hand, the former says a lot too, which in this case is contradictory to the latter: What was the first that many smokers want to see? It was Quality as Number 1. That is absolutely believable hearing it from a Swede, Sweden is all about quality.
Needless to say, no matter how great a Cuban cigar can be (and they can be absolutely fantastic!) they are also very inconsistent in quality.

In this case, I could not fully answer the question all too clearly, yet this does give another example of how complex and interesting our industry is!

Linus along with many Swedish smokers often say: "We are aware that Cuban cigars are not all that consistent, they may lack quality, construction, aging and/or other, but we take into consideration that they are in fact a hand-made product and that the latter easily happens!"

My reaction from inside the industry: "AH!" That is so nice to hear, but we, Dominican or Nicaraguan cigar-manufacturers, from my experience, but the same goes for all non-Cuban cigars:

We do NOT get that understanding and consideration (except for from our dear Linus of course :) )

When I was working for Swedish Match (General Cigar cigars), when I was behind Jose Blanco´s curtain at Joya de Nicaragua, and while I am now at our own Las Cumbres Tabaco: If a cigar has any misconstruction, we HEAR about it! And when someone complains to me personally, I make sure to make up for it with a few free samples or whatnot...

So why does Cuba get a free pass on this in contrast to certain other cultures? Surely not only Swedish smokers feel this way. Also, I repeat: Linus is very well acknowledged and actually smokes more Non-Cuban cigars as he loves their complexity. Nonetheless, his observation is extremely interesting!

Cuba´s free pass on Inconsistency vs Non-Cubans:

Is it the charm of the long-living legends and stories?

Who still has not seen this legendary photo to the right? ;-)

- Or this one below - in this case I have two comments:

1. Please see my article about sizes here in Cigar Fantasia...

2. Cuba never produces these large ring gauges, they do now produce a 54 ring gauge Toro and up to a 56... Maybe a 60 max. So this type of 70+ we see on the photos is pure fun and should be taken as such.

I am merely going through Google and find plentiful playful and charming Cuban photos...:

Then what about Dominican Republic and all that Dance! ;-)

The same goes for Nicaragua, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica and all other tobacco- and cigar-countries!
This time I even show my own son:

1.  Nicaragua-born, carrying his Nica flag in his father´s country´s Dominican
Republic, in school celebrating ALL Latin America:

Note: I painted the Nica-flag :-)

2. Another celebration in my son´s Dominican school - typical of any school around here :-)

And.... Not to mention all the cigar-legends from Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and more, and the Cuban Cigar-legends living, blending and producing in Non-Cuban countries!
Could this be about the understanding of Cuba´s difficult political and economical situations?
The same goes for all the other Latin American cigar-countries - they have all lived through and suffered through their own dictators and they are still developing countries today.
The same way as a joke I have seen on Social Media saying: "Miami is not North Cuba" I will add: "Dominican Republic (and the other cigar-countries) are FAR from "South US!"
With some jokes and some serious in the mix, what I am saying is that it is vital to understand the history and legendary background of Cuba and cigars, while the other cigar-countries also had premium tobacco, the difference being that they did not focus Internationally on premium cigars near as much as Cuba did - and they ALL have their own charm.
A well-made Cuban Cigar can be fantastic in my taste!

As I had mentioned in my first post, I truly love and appreciate a well-made Cuban cigar and find some of them truly memorable. This is to say that this is not a preference-post, it is a discussion with some opinions and some facts.


In this wonderful yet complex industry of ours there are many misconceptions as we know, but also misunderstandings.

There have been some Europeans, and for sure smokers worldwide, who have bought cigars from the US online for good prices. Some of those have been Cuban names such as Cohiba from General Cigars (Dominican Republic), Romeo Y Julieta from Altadis and so on... Yet some smokers have thought that these latter two along with other Cuban names created by these non-Cuban countries for the US, would have been made "to compete with Cuba and to try to resemble Cuban tobacco:"
  1. First of all, the companies who do that do it with complete Right and for the US market - now with the online-industry that we live in everything can be found almost worldwide, and they are NOT trying to resemble Cuba, on the opposite these companies simply use these names with full right from the creations of local Master Blenders with no intentions to hide the distinctions of the Cuban names.
  2. Even if the above was the case it would simply be impossible and brand-owners and especially their Master Blenders are fully aware of that. It is not possible to create a Cubanesque cigar with other origin-tobaccos, the same way as it is impossible to blend a Nica-like cigar with 100% Dominican tobacco and vice versa... and this list goes on...
I would like to add that one of my absolute favorite cigars is Partagas signed Benji Menendez, blended by the latter gentleman and made at General Cigar, Dominican Republic! A fenomenal smoke: medium to full in body while more of a medium in actual strength, full-flavored, smooth, hints of sweetness and all in amazing balance with obvious long-aged tobaccos of supreme quality.
Does it resemble the Cuban Partagas? Not at all!
And I do appreciate a well-constructed Cuban Partagas too though in a completely different way.

A Superb Conclusion from this Young Cigar-Smoker, Linus - The New Cigar-Generation!

I find this young man´s conclusion so well-described and enlightening that I will mostly quote what he and his friends had to say. As seen above, he is 19 years old and the next generation of smokers in more than one way (of being barely 20) but in another way too: he is a smoker of the new times of the Embargo (hopefully) being lifted.
Yet to me, the other way I see Linus and his friends as the next generation is the following:
Cuban cigars will flood the United States, Non-Cuban cigars will flood Europe, Asia and everywhere beyond and in between, even further than they are now. Non-Cuban cigars are growing fast Internationally with a few countries preferring Non-Cubans like Germany already does, but when the Embargo lifts, these cigars will be seen and smoked much more globally. Meanwhile, the Americans will have to adapt to a certain difference in consistency and to less diversity until the market will smooth out to open fair competition.

Finally, this group of young Swedish men, Linus and his friends and acquaintances feel that as young cigar-lovers, Non-Cuban cigars have gained a much stronger fascination and understanding in the younger generation. Most of this group of friends actually started their cigar-journey on Non-Cubans, but even those young ones who started with Cubans smoke the other origins just as much or even more. Taste is subjective no matter from what point of view we look at it.
They also understand that the Cubanesque profiles of cigars are deeply imprinted into their culture (as in many cultures I believe) and there is no wrong in that.
Nevertheless, these young guys hope to open up the minds of many cigar-smokers, that yes Cuba make some great cigars and they have a well-known history, but most other cigar-countries also have a history although less famous ones, and produce exquisite cigars, and that it is a matter of taste.
I also see the markets worldwide to lean towards these thoughts more and more and I do believe strongly in this type of open minded smoking in the near future.