Cuban cigars are often considered amongst the best cigars produced globally. But how was tobacco growing introduced to Cuba, and how did the island nation gain this reputation for excellent premium smokes?
We take a look at how Cuban cigars have evolved into one of the best smoking experiences in the world.
Cigars Were Created by the Mayans
It is believed that cigars originate from the ancient Mayan civilization, around 3,000 – 4,000 years ago. Ancient carvings and illustrations have been found depicting Mayans smoking what appears to be a cigar.
There have also been early examples of cigars found by archaeologists in clay pots labelled ‘sicars’ – which means “to smoke rolled tobacco leaves” – and is also believed to be the origin of the word ‘cigar’ that we use today.
Introduction to Cuba
While there is no specific timeframe that places tobacco in Cuba, the fact that Mayan civilizations in South America were using the leaves to create a smoke indicates that it is likely the tobacco plant was introduced to the island thousands of years ago also.
The first recorded usage of cigars in Cuba comes from 1492, when Christopher Columbus reached the island and noted that the locals smoked rolled up tobacco leaves.
Establishing Cigar Factories
Since Columbus’ “discovery”, tobacco had been introduced to Europe and was particularly enjoyed by the Spanish, who had been integral in exporting the tobacco from Cuba.
Initially, cigar factories had been built in Spain, with the tobacco leaves transported across seas from Cuba before being rolled in Spain.
However, it was discovered that the tobacco survived the journey far better when already turned into a cigar, rather than as leaves. By the 1800s, cigar factories were being built in Cuba to increase the survival rate of these smokes on their trans-Atlantic travels!
By the mid-1800s, over 10,000 tobacco plantations and 1,300 cigar factories had been established in Cuba. Many of the major brands that we know and love still today were founded in Cuba at this time.
Tobacco Growing in Cuba
Western Cuba, particularly Pinar del Rio and the Viñales Valley, is the key areas used for growing tobacco. Here tobacco is the main crop grown, with many farmers in this area relying on the cigar industry for income.
This area is used as it has near-perfect conditions for the tobacco to grow, such as 65% humidity and an average temperature of 23 degrees Celsius.
Nationalisation of Cuban Cigars
The mid-20th century saw significant changes in the Cuban cigar industry. Following his rise to power, Fidel Castro nationalised the factories and cigar brands in Cuba. He also established Cohiba as a national company, and the brand remains the biggest in Cuba to this day.
However, these changes left many factory owners unhappy, and many were forced to leave Cuba to begin factories elsewhere. At this time, many original cigar brands relocated to the Dominican Republic, which is why there are many duplicate brand names found in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Cubatabaco & Habanos S.A.
The Cuban government retains control over the cigar industry to this day, with all brands handled under the Cubatabaco name, and exported and promoted by Habanos S.A.
This has had some positive effects on the Cuban cigar industry, as the government control has ensured that all cigars are made to a high quality, with strict regulations and labelling reducing the ability to produce fakes.
Another major event in Cuba’s cigar history is the trade embargo that was enforced in 1962 between Cuba and the United States. This stopped Americans from being able to buy Cuban cigars and stopped Cuba from selling their tobacco to the States.
This had a damaging effect on the Cuban cigar industry, as it meant rival tobacco businesses in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua were able to thrive.
Cuban Cigar Brands
There are hundreds of different cigars produced in Cuba, but some of the most notable brands include:
- Romeo y Julieta
- H. Upmann
- Ramon Allones
- Hoyo de Monterrey
Do you like Cuban cigars? Let us know what your favourite Cuban cigar brand is by leaving a comment below! While trade limitations are in place between Cuba and the US, you can still buy Cuban cigars in the UK with ease!