Cuban Cigars 101

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Note: I wrote this while in Mexico, but due to an error in the wordpress app – it was stuck on my phone. I just had a chance to  update the application, which seems to have fixed the bug. So, here we go:

We spent several hours Sunday in a small cigar shop that we had wandered into off the main drag in PV. Rogelio (Roger) has owned and operated the ‘Gordo Gato’ since 2002 and we could instantly tell that he loved his work. Later that night, we wandered in and out of the cigar shops on the Malecón. With these simple steps it was easy to spot the inexpensive fakes.

cigarThe following are Rogelio’s steps for finding the real Cubans when in Mexico:

1. Size up the shop

Avoid tequila shops, or markets with a few “cubans” stuffed in the back. A real shop should be climate controlled and focused on it’s product.

2. Talk to the owner/operator

What, you mean the owner is not there? Well it might still be fine as long as the staff person is knowledgeable. Ask them a question like: “Do you have any 6-54’s?” – meaning 6″, 54mm band size. If they stare back, it may be a bad sign.

3. Examine the boxes

This was one of the most important thing we learned. Cigar packaging in Cuba is government regulated and of high quality. Fakes, on the other hand, need to be made cheaply to keep the profit margin high.

However, modern printing has made it easier to fake quality. So you need to know what to look for. Examine the edge of the lid – it should line up exactly with the side of the box. Also, check the stickers and seals. The borders should be uniform on each. Also remember that they can put fakes in real boxes. It is a bad sign if none of the boxes in the store are still sealed.

4. Feel the cigars

Now on to the main event. First look at the end. Confirm that the tobacco is tight and uniform. Then make sure that band fits properly. Fakes will often be mis-sized. Now, lightly pinch the cigar up the sides. We are again looking for a tight, consistent packing. Holes or loose areas – no bueno.

5. Understand the price

Cubans are not cheap, not even in Cuba. A full size cigar could cost $8US in Cuba and with import taxes and markup in Mexico – we are talking $15 minimum. Higher quality will edge you over $30. Smaller cigars will be less, but still proportional in price. There are entire books for these things, but the important thing in to remember that a $5 cigar wouldn’t be a real Cuban, even if you were in Cuba. Anyone telling you different is selling fakes.

Not that smoking a high quality fake is necessarily a bad thing. Just keep these tips in mind. Also note that I did not mention brands or flavor levels. This, I will leave for you to decide.

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