The best cigars come from Cuba
Welcome to the land where the cigar was born.
Every cigar smoker can agree the very best cigars come from Cuba. Cigars and tobacco are not just a source of income for the island, they are a lifestyle.
Welcome to the epicentre of tobacco production where you can see green fields filled with aromatic plants stretching into the distance.
Viñales can easily be called the gateway to where the best tobacco in the world comes from, the province of Pinar del Rio. Its beating heart lies a little further to the west, Vuelta Abajo. Here, according to most cigar purists, Mother Nature provides the very best tobacco grown anywhere in the world, and Cubans roll the most beautiful cigars from it.
The combination of the words cigar and Cuba is a sign of quality, like Champagne or Jamón Ibérico. It is a guarantee of excellent quality.
But why so?
Anyone who pictures Cuba pictures cigars, which makes sense, as cigars are an essential part of the Cuban economy. If you look at Cuba’s history, you’ll see that the export of sugar and tobacco have built the country.
Sugarcane seeds were imported and planted here later, simply because the climate was brilliantly suited to it. Tobacco, however, was grown here before the Europeans set foot on Cuba. It was also the place where the Old World first encountered the crop.
The Taíno settled in Cuba around the year 300AD. Originally from the Orinoco Delta in present-day Venezuela, they reached Cuba via Florida and introduced agriculture to the island and grew some crops, including tobacco. These were the natives that Columbus encountered when he first set foot in the New World.
The natives had a bunch of leaves in their mouths which they lit so they could inhale the smoke, as Columbus observed. Curiously, he would have nothing to do with tobacco himself, even throwing a gift of tobacco from the natives overboard during his first trip.
The name Cohiba, the most well-known Cuban cigar brand, comes from the Taíno language. That is how they called the smoking bunch of tobacco leaves.
Spanish and other European sailors, however, soon began to bring cigars back with them. In 1520 a small number of cigars were available in Spanish and Portuguese ports. Their use, a sign of wealth, spread to France and Italy via the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot.
If you’re thinking that name looks familiar, then you’d be right. Nicot gave his name to Nicotine, the element that carries the flavour, like alcohol in wine. In 1560, he sent tobacco to Queen Catherine de Medici to help cure her headaches.
Nicotine is not only found in tobacco but also in tomatoes, potatoes and aubergines, all members of the nightshade family.
In Britain, it’s possible that Sir Walter Raleigh was responsible for the introduction of tobacco and the new fashion of smoking. The rest is history.
Tobacco does grow in other places. For years it was grown in the Netherlands, particularly around Amersfoort.
Cuban tobacco is something completely different however, and Cuba’s climate lends itself perfectly to its production. With an average temperature of 25°C and a humidity of 75% the western part of Cuba is the Champagne region for cigars. Add to this the perfect soil quality and voilà: these natural conditions ensure your cigar is of excellent quality and is rich with the best flavours.
What also adds to this quality is that cigar production is under the direct supervision of the Cuban government. Since it wants to protect its stamp of quality, the State ensures every cigar that ends up on the market is an excellent product. Not unusual if you know that last year half a billion Cuban cigars were sold worldwide.