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THE CUBAN CIGAR STORY (secrets of the Cuban cigar and counterfeits).

THE HISTORY OF THE CUBAN CIGAR

When Christopher Columbus discovered new lands in 1492, he thought he had finally reached the India he was looking for. And he called the inhabitants Indians. The natives called themselves Arawaks. They welcomed the visitors with hospitality and gifts of fruit, meat, drink, and some dried leaves of a plant with a fragrant aroma. Columbus accepted the gifts but threw the leaves overboard as useless. If only he knew what he was throwing away…
After Columbus, other adventurers rushed to the New World, and a certain Rodrigo de Jerez spent several months in Cuba, where the Indians taught him to smoke rolled tobacco leaves, the smoke of which was more intoxicating than wine. Back in Spain, Rodrigo demonstrated the smoking of a cigar in public.
The smoke pouring out of his mouth and nose frightened people so much that the poor fella was accused by the Inquisition of conspiring with the devil and imprisoned. He spent 7 years of his life in prison. But temptation always overcomes the law, and by the time the unfortunate Rodrigo was released, half of Europe was smoking tobacco. So the Indians of the New World have contributed to the corruption of world civilization. They taught us to smoke!

Demand created supply and people began to grow tobacco leaves all over the world. However, it was recognized that the best tobacco still came from Cuba. It paid well and Cuban tobacco became one of the most expensive commodities. There were also surprising stories. An eighteenth-century Dutch merchant loaded his ship’s hold with barrels of honey and sacks of Virginia tobacco. In the Atlantic, a violent storm shattered the barrels and turned the entire cargo into sweet mush. The owner was on the verge of bankruptcy. To get out of the situation, he spread the wet tobacco out on the dock and let it dry in the sun. And miracles happened! His ‘honey tobacco’ became very popular with smokers! The best pipe tobacco has been Dutch ever since.

In time, mankind perverted the Indians’ invention and invented the cigarette. The old Indian cigar was left for connoisseurs. By blowing the smoke through your nose, you spare your lungs. The cigar slowly intoxicates your brain and you enjoy the aromas of tropical nuts and fruits. Your imagination paints distant islands and the piercing cries of exotic birds transport you to heavenly places on earth…
The cigarette does not create such illusions, so the Indian cigar remains the best way to enjoy the pleasure of smoking. The demand of the world market for the Indian cigar has been confirming this for more than a hundred years.
Choosing the right cigar is a long journey of experimentation and rare discoveries. For beginners, this journey can take years. To achieve the desired result in this art requires experience and special knowledge, once acquired, the cigar lover will be able to enjoy the pleasure that the Indians of the Caribbean islands enjoyed long before Columbus discovered their lands.
In this history of the Cuban cigar, I will share with you the secrets of how to choose the right cigar and how to smoke it. Would you like to know how a cigar is made, the whole process from start to finish? Then please follow me.

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STEP 1: GROWING THE LEAF.
It takes three months for a small grain of tobacco to grow into a large bush on which 15-17 leaves ripen, saturated by the sea breeze and the sunny warmth of the tropics. Tobacco pickers cut only two or three of these, picking the ripe leaves and leaving the rest to ripen. There are three types of leaves on a tobacco bush, each with its name and purpose, depending on the location of the bush.
The top of the bush is made up of leaves called ‘ligero’. These juicy, dark green leaves give the cigar its greatest aroma and strength.
The middle part of the bush is made up of ‘Seko’ leaves. These give the cigar additional aromas.
The lower part of the wrapper is made up of ‘Volado’ leaves. These leaves are used as filler to dilute the strength of the ligero. As the structure of the ‘Volado’ leaves is more durable, they are used in the rolling of the cigar.
Picking tobacco leaves is an art that requires many years of practice, where every little detail is important. An experienced leaf collector can tell the difference between ‘Ligero’, ‘Seko’, and ‘Volado’ leaves by their color and smell!

STEP 2: DRYING AND FERMENTATION OF THE LEAVES.
Once the desired leaves have been cut, they are hung to dry in a special warehouse called the “casa de tobacco”. This vault, the size of a football field, is made of cedar wood and is specially designed for drying and processing (fermenting) tobacco leaves. The storage area is located in the field, taking advantage of the sea breeze for natural ventilation. The leaves are sewn together in pairs and hung on long wooden poles to dry. The hot tropical sun heats the wooden storehouse, creating a sauna effect inside; under these conditions, the tobacco leaves quickly lose their moisture and change color from green to yellow and finally to brown.

The dried tobacco leaves are folded into packets of 50 and stacked on top of each other. Under natural pressure, in conditions of hot air and humidity, the fermentation process begins in the lower bundles to rid the tobacco leaves of chemical impurities. The temperature in the lower bundles reaches 70 degrees Celsius during this process!
The fermentation process is monitored around the clock and the bundles are moistened with water because if the temperature rises, the leaves in the inner bundles will simply rot. Fermentation removes oils, ammonia, tar, and nicotine from the cigar leaf. It is this combination of toxins that is deposited in the lungs of smokers of unrefined cigarettes.

After 35-45 days, the bundles are shuffled, with the lower ones giving way to the upper ones, and this process continues for many months, during which the leaves are stirred several times until they are completely cleansed of impurities.
The cigar leaf is then subjected to a process similar to the aging of young wine when the winemaker wants to achieve the flavor of an excellent drink.

STEP 3: CURING THE CIGAR LEAF.
Each peeled cigar leaf is placed in an individual jute bag to allow air circulation. The bags are stacked on top of each other and left in the storage room where the temperature and humidity are controlled by specially designed windows that open and close depending on the direction of the breeze. This is where the cigar leaf matures for the next 2-3 years (!), slowly absorbing all the flavors and aromas of a warm tropical ocean.
After 2-3 years, when the master is satisfied with the quality of the aging, the tobacco leaves must be sorted. Trained professionals sort the leaves by size, color, texture, and other factors known only to them. This process requires special skill and care to avoid damaging the beautifully finished leaf.
At this stage, the tail of the cigar leaf is cut off and the leaf is left to ferment at a higher temperature for a further 45-60 days.
During the secondary fermentation process, the cigar leaf is cleaned of any remaining impurities and undergoes another aging process. This time the tobacco leaves are placed in cedar wood boxes and left in a special room for a few more years.
It takes time, care, patience, and great skill to make the best cigar in the world!

STEP 4: ROLL THE CIGAR BY HAND.

Each cigar company has only one master. These names are very few in the industry and each of these professionals is known to everyone else who makes cigars for the world market.
Once the master has determined the final readiness of the cigar leaf, it is ready to be rolled. Sorted and classified by color, size, and other qualities, the tobacco leaves are sent to a special workshop (blending room) where professionals separate them into strong, medium, and light types, each cigar having its classification, taste, and aroma.
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The artisan prepares the tobacco leaves for rolling and his team prepares a mixture of thinly sliced pieces of ‘Ligero’, ‘Seko’, and ‘Volado’ leaves that will form the heart of the cigar. With more ligero – the cigar will be stronger, with more seko – the cigar will be rich and aromatic. More Volado – for a softer cigar. This is the work of the masters!
Those who roll cigars undergo special training and can only reach the level of a master’s after many years of practice. This is more serious than a university degree, where the graduate must also have many years of practice before becoming a professional.

The hand-rolled cigar is placed in a special wooden press, which is turned by hand until the cigar maker is satisfied that it meets the standard. The cigar then goes to the master’s table where it is wrapped by hand in a leaf of tobacco using the ‘chaveta’, a special curved knife, and natural sap from a tropical tree to join the ends of the wrapper. The cigar is ready!

The master cigar maker carefully inspects the cigar for any flaws and after his inspection, the cigar is returned to a special warehouse for further aging before it goes to its lover. Aged cigars are rare cigars!

STEP 5: CONSERVATION OF THE CIGARS.

The finished cigars are wrapped in paper, 50 per bag. The cigars are wrapped in old newspaper, which ‘breathes’ by allowing air to pass through. The paper-wrapped bags are placed on storage shelves, with separate sections for different types of cigars. Each section has the classification of the cigars and information about the manufacturer. The temperature and humidity of the warehouse are monitored around the clock, as cigars are sensitive to these fluctuations and quickly lose their flavor if the storage conditions are not maintained. After all, how many years did its makers work on it before it landed in your hands?

TIP: If you do not have a humidor, wrap the cigar in a newspaper or long paper napkin and store it in a cupboard away from extremes of temperature and humidity. This will preserve its flavor and aroma for a long time.

STEP 6: PACKAGING THE CIGARS FOR SALE.
This final process also requires a lot of training for the workers. It takes special knowledge and practice to pack cigars in a box. The first step is to apply the label to the cigar. The label must come off easily without damaging the cigar’s wrapper. The glue used is the same tree sap that the master uses to glue the wrapper, thus completing the production of the cigar.
After the band, the next step is to wrap the cigar in cellophane. This protects the cigar from moisture and the ambient temperature. But do not despair if you are offered a cigar without cellophane. This is a modern invention of mankind, not all cigars like to be wrapped in cellophane, the main thing is that they are kept in the right conditions as described above.
A good cigar box is usually made of cedar wood. This wood is the best guardian of a cigar’s qualities. By now you will probably agree that making a real cigar requires special knowledge, effort, and time.

PART II. CAUTION! COUNTERFEIT CIGARS!
The Cuban cigar created the world tobacco industry. The secrets of growing tobacco and making cigars have been copied in the USA, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, and other countries with similar tropical climates. There is big money in the industry, and where there is big money, there are big cheats.
Counterfeiting Cuban cigars has become a shady part of the global tobacco business. Today, a tourist buying a cigar in Cuba has no idea that it may have been made in the neighboring Dominican Republic, while in Cuba they have simply added a label and doubled the price. In the age of computer technology, even a clever student can print any label on his home printer. You can be sure that professional counterfeiters do their job professionally.
Only an experienced Cuban cigar smoker can spot a fake. But how many experienced cigar smokers do you have around you? They have proven sources for buying cigars from over the years. And the fraud business is designed for thousands of new and inexperienced beginners.
The fraudsters have taken advantage of the embargo situation when Cuba is under US blockade and has no legal protection in the international system.

And what about our novice smoker? In the excitement of the pleasure to come, having bought a ‘real Cuban cigar’ at a bargain price, he will be disappointed to find that the taste is nothing special. When he returns from his holiday, he will not tell anyone about his experience of smoking the so-called ‘Cuban cigar’ for fear of being laughed at by his friends. He will make big eyes and spread his fingers when he talks about this cigar. And the secret of this fake will remain a bait for new simpletons…
Having lived in California for many years, I have smoked many cigars grown from Cuban seed and rolled in Nicaragua and Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, and Ecuador.
But there are no genuine Cuban cigars for sale in the USA, it is a prohibited product.

Once I was at the cigar show in Las Vegas where I met a dealer from Miami. We were drinking Scotch in the bar and my new friend George shared with me some of the secrets of the business he was in. He told me about the counterfeit Cuban cigars and the methods used to get them into the legal market and sold to tourists, even in Havana itself!
George suggested that I buy a quality cigar from him, made by Cuban artisans who had fled Cuba and were living in Miami. At first, I thought he just wanted me as a new customer. I used to run my own business and I know that in a world of oversupply, all salesmen commit fraud by luring potential buyers with fairy tales.
Shortly after the Vegas show, I went on holiday to Miami and it was a good opportunity to visit the cigar factory. I met the team of artisans and they showed me the whole process of making cigars.
I have been smoking George’s cigars for two decades and he often surprises me with his finds.
Now that I live in the Caribbean, where Cuban cigars are legal and available everywhere, I’ve tried a few labeled ‘Havana Cuba’ but have been disappointed every time as they don’t have the familiar taste and aroma.
I once visited a friend of mine who lives in Cuba. The name of the island is immediately associated with a Cuban cigar, and that is the merit of world marketing. Well, the merit of the cigar itself, of course.
In Havana, I wanted to replenish my stock of Cuban cigars. In a tobacconist’s, my friend watched my attempts, then smiled and offered to postpone until tomorrow.
In the evening we drank rum punch with fruit on the open veranda of his house. At sunset, the ocean was as quiet as a lazy cat.

A friend had treated me to a cigar that was amazingly flavored with the taste and aroma of tropical fruits and nuts. I had never smoked anything like it before. I asked him what kind of cigar it was.
He answered my question by taking another cigar out of his humidor. On the heel of the cigar was carved the Latin letter ‘R’. And that’s it, no label. “That’s Rabaya,” said a friend, “that was the name of a cigar maker. He was a personal friend of Fidel’s and his cigar supplier. Señor Rabaya died two years ago, and with him died many of the secrets of the Cuban cigar.
“Now you know a real cigar, Walter, and tomorrow we will try to find you a similar one,” he smiled.
I still have a few cigars hidden away in my humidor, a reminder of this trip. When I light one, I enjoy the pleasure of the bitter smoke and aromas of Cuba.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT CIGAR AND HOW TO SMOKE IT.
It is a long journey of experimentation to choose a cigar that is good for you. Which cigar do you prefer? A cigar wrapped in a black Maduro leaf that gives you a strong Kilimanjaro aroma?
Or a classic cigar wrapped in a chocolate-colored Cuban leaf? Or a leaf grown in Nicaragua from Cuban tobacco seeds and filled with the sweet aromas of the South American forests? Or perhaps you prefer a Brazilian cigar, tart, and full of the dancing rhythms of local beauties?

And what size cigar do you prefer? The thicker cigars have more Volado leaves and a milder taste. The thinner cigars, made with more ligero and seko leaves, have a stronger taste. What do you like to find in a cigar – the taste of nuts, papaya, cocoa, or all of these at the same time? What kind of cigar do you prefer – very strong, full of spicy aromas that not everyone can smoke, or medium-bodied, pleasant in casual conversation?
I am afraid you will spend years searching and trying before you find your cigar. My knowledge is not absolute, but I will share it with you in the hope that some tips will help you avoid the mistakes of a beginner and make cigar smoking a real pleasure.
How do I choose a cigar? Tobacco, like coffee and tea, is very sensitive to changes in humidity. Coffee experts recommend that you store the carefully packaged product in a refrigerator where the humidity does not change. If you leave your bag of coffee open, it will lose its strong aroma the next day as it becomes saturated with moisture from the air. And no matter how you try to make an aromatic drink from that coffee later, you will only get a substitute. The same thing will happen to a cigar if it is not stored under the right temperature and humidity conditions.
If the label of a world-famous cigar attracts your attention in a supermarket, but the cigar is not stored in the right conditions, leave it where it is displayed. You can smoke the dried banana leaves, the effect will be the same. A cigar stored with limited humidity will retain the taste and aroma of roasted nuts, cedar seeds, licorice, and cocoa.

When choosing a cigar, look at the wrapper. A good cigar has a shiny, polished appearance. A cigar that has not been properly stored, even a Cuban, will lose that shine. And the aroma too.
Press lightly on the cigar with your finger; if it is firm, it has been rolled by a professional. This cigar contains all the aromas promised for your enjoyment.
If the cigar feels “rubbery” under your finger, it either has a weak filler or has been damaged by moisture, which has washed out all the flavors. And no matter what the big name on the cigar label says, it is the same “banana leaf” that I mentioned. You can still try to cure such a cigar by placing it in a humidor box with limited humidity, but the process will take months. Would you wait that long?
Unlike cigarettes, cigars are not smoked while walking. The cigar invites you to enjoy its taste and aroma with your favorite drink, be it coffee, cognac, wine, or simply juice. The cigar is not a complement to your drink, but the other way around!

All the details are important: how to trim the cigar, how to light it, and how to smoke it.
It is very important to have the right cutter, a kind of pocket guillotine to cut off the end of the cigar. The sharp end of this guillotine is made at an appropriate angle and cuts off the end of the cigar easily and without pressure. Any other tool, such as a pair of scissors, a pocket knife, or even a razor, requires additional pressure, which will cause the wrapper to tear and the cigar to crumble in your mouth, depriving you of the pleasure of smoking.

The best way to light a cigar is with a high-temperature torch lighter. Holding the cigar in one hand and the lighter in the other, use a slow circular motion to heat the tip of the cigar. Only then can you taste the cigar. When the smoke tickles your nostrils with its aroma, you have achieved your goal. Do not allow the cigar to overheat from the fire; this will dull the flavor of the cigar.
Let the cigar burn slowly. When smoking a cigar, check the temperature of the burning end by placing the cigar between your fingers, where the skin is most sensitive. If the heat burns your fingers at a distance of one inch from the burning end, put the cigar aside for a minute.
The cigar ash should be light grey, almost dull white, and should last a long time without falling off. The longer the ash, the better the quality of the cigar. A good cigar will retain its ash for about a third of its length or more. If the ash is dark and falls off quickly, or the cigar burns unevenly, then you have chosen the wrong cigar…

The time it takes to smoke a cigar depends on its size. A Robusto (5-6 inches) or Churchill (7+ inches) cigar will take about an hour to smoke. This is plenty of time to enjoy a cigar during a relaxing evening with friends.
If your enjoyment is interrupted by urgent matters, do not extinguish the cigar as cigarette smokers do. Just leave it in the ashtray, the cigar will slowly die out and you can light it again later and enjoy the fragrant smoke.
That’s probably it. I hope this story and my little tips will help you with your hobby. I wish you much discovery and enjoyment!

© Copyright: Walter Maria, 2023
Certificate of Publication No.223011201530

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