Visiting Cuba without buying a cigar is like visiting France without indulging in a croissant.
Cigars are synonomous with Cuba – they are cultivated and crafted locally using the finest ingredients and have become Cuba’s finest and most recognised export. When it comes to sourcing the best, though, there are a few things you need to know. Here is a basic overview.
The first thing you need to know about buying Cuban cigars is that they aren’t cheap – even in Cuba. But they are certainly more affordable here than anywhere else in the world. You should expect to spend anywhere between AUD$150 and AUD$580 on a box of 25 cigars. They’re a premium product, much like champagne, and the expense of maintaining their quality means the price isn’t terribly negotiable.
When it comes to purchasing cigars in Cuba, you essentially have two options – street vendors or official stores. The price of cigars on the street may lure you, and you will no doubt be sold misinformation regarding their authenticity. The truth is it is almost impossible to smuggle cigars from factories in Cuba, so you can be sure that the cigars you’re buying on the street are in fact ‘fakes’ that are manufactured at mini-factories. The quality of these ‘fake’ cigars varies drastically and depends entirely on how they’re made.
On rare occasions, the owner of a mini-factory is an ex-worker from a real factory. In this case, they will go to great lengths to use the high quality tobacco found in the real Habanos cigars, and they will generally rely on the same recipes. The cigars are still counterfeit, but they’re serious counterfeits, and are therefore more expensive than their cheaper fake counterparts. The benefit here is that you can experience the rich and distinctive flavour of a Cuban cigar for less, and you can often bargain with street vendors to ensure you’re getting the best price available.
Having said that, most of the cigars found on the street are made cheaply – simply improvised or copied. The price will be impossible to beat, but the quality will be far from desirable, especially considering you’re in the cigar capital of the world. If you don’t know much about cigars and how they’re made, buying cigars on the street can be a risky business.
If you want to taste an authentic Cuban cigar without the hassle of street side bartering, visit a Casa del Habano –a chain of stores that specialises in Cuban cigars. They can be found across the country and are reliably the best place to source a variety of cigars. Alternatively you can head straight for the source and buy from a factory directly. La Corona Factory and El Corojo (Cigar shop) are both excellent places to find quality cigars.
What to look for
Distinguishing a good cigar from bad one can be quite complex, but here are a few generic tips to get you started:
– A good cigar is kept in a humidor- which means it should be a little moist and pliable. Giving it a gentle squeeze should give you an indication of the cigar’s flexibility and freshness
– Keep your eye out for odd discolorations and cracks – they are indications of poor quality
– The wrapper should be tight and not frayed
– Essentially, if the cigar doesn’t look or smell fresh, it probably isn’t and you shouldn’t buy it
– Buying a Cuban cigar IN Cuba is a rare privilege; in our opinion, it is better to invest a little more money for the pleasure of knowing you are enjoying the real article.
Feature image c/o florathexplorer, Flickr