Cuban Cigars
November 23, 2004 8:19 AM   Subscribe

Movies, sitcoms, and people who talk to much all make big todo about Cuban cigars. I figure much of this comes from the US embargo/ taboo against them, but is there anything more to them? I'd don't smoke, so I'll never have any first hand experience, but I've always wondered if they were actually special. Then why?
posted by dirtylittlemonkey to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total)
About: Cigar History and Articles
posted by Jeremy at 8:25 AM on November 23, 2004

well, isn't that link just a bunch of crap...
posted by Jeremy at 8:26 AM on November 23, 2004

As with wine, a good deal of it is about terroir. Having never smoked a Cuban, though, I can't say much more. (Although I do have an upcoming trip to Mexico...)
posted by uncleozzy at 8:27 AM on November 23, 2004

Come to Canada. We have Cuban cigars here!
posted by defcom1 at 8:33 AM on November 23, 2004

Yes, they are that much better. Which is unfortunate, given how difficult/expensive they are to obtain in the US. They are smoother, richer, often more full-bodied. Hard to describe to a non-smoker, but you can liken it to the difference between a moderately priced wine and a good vintage bottle.
posted by bh at 8:55 AM on November 23, 2004

They're really good. I am not a big cigar smoker, but I definitely noticed the difference. There's a darker caramel overtone to the flavor of Cuban cigars as compared to Dominican cigars.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:56 AM on November 23, 2004

In my limited cigar-smoking (or any smoking, for that matter) experience, a high-quality Cuban is smoother, less harsh/chemical-tainted, has a better aroma, and is generally more pleasant a smoke than domestic cigars. Of course, you could probably find a well-made domestic that would offer all of those traits, but it would lack the terroir (word of the day!) and history Cuban cigars intrinsically possess.

There are certain truths in the world that, if violated, cause the most terrible sort of cognitive dissonance. Sushi should never be eaten with a fork. Beer should never be drunk from a coffee mug. You shouldn't rob a bank without a plan. You shouldn't use your tongue to stop a fan. And Cuban cigars are finer than your average smoke.
posted by Danelope at 8:59 AM on November 23, 2004

Oh, if you have the slightest doubt and wish to spare your life from a lot of unnecessary toil and expense, consider yourself lucky not to know the answer to your question, dirtylittlemonkey...!

Cuban cigars are indeed one of the great pleasures of life - but they add nothing to an already well-enjoyed life as any cost/benefit analysis will always end up being negative. Yes, they are delicious - but so is heroin, probably.

For an American, a love of Cuban cigars is much like my own fondness for Beer Nuts: they're not really worth the bother and anguish and, besides, you have to imagine Virginia peanuts will shorten your life and, not only that, make your last living years very unpleasant.

Very good cognacs afford the same kind of pleasure and are far less (well, not "far" but "considerably") less harmful.

Still, if you've decided on cigars, Habanos are really the only ones worth wasting your life on. You'll easily find apologists who'll stress that, as you don't inhale (a great lie - you inevitably do), it makes no difference. It does. It's also a very significant expenditure and will lead you (like me) to settle for lesser pleasures from other countries which you would never have taken up if they were all that was available- a sad state of affairs, combining frustration with malediction of of own's penury.

In short: they're good, but not that good. Be warned though: if you try one, you'll be hooked and become thoroughly pathetic.

If this is a Freudian deathwish thang, you might as well trust Cigar Aficionado, where incorrigible addicts congregate.

Much better - in my humble opinion - that you be able to retain your curiosity as one more question about life and the meaning of it than actually give in and turn into a slave, with no questions or curiosities left.

It's not worth it - not in a million years. I couldn't love Cuban cigars more, but I'd much rather be in your position than mine.

Daiquiris and Mojitos - there's somewhere you can go without the slightest fear!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:13 AM on November 23, 2004

I will inject the obligatory dissenting opinion here. I smoke cigars, and I have smoked Cubans (although to be honest, only a couple of marques). While they were, indeed, superb smokes, and very, very enjoyable, I didn't feel that they were leaps and bounds better than comparable Dominican or what-have-you cigars; they were simply great cigars with their own array of flavors and attributes. I, for one, don't get the mystique. I think a lot of people that go nuts for Cubans simply may not have tried to acquire and smoke some of the other great cigars that are out there as well.

All that said: LIFT THE EMBARGO!
posted by dragstroke at 10:19 AM on November 23, 2004

I enjoy cigars and on two very fortuitous occasions found myself in the possession of Cuban stogies. They rocked, yo.
posted by vito90 at 10:21 AM on November 23, 2004

I remember once reading that the reason Cubans are so much better is that the climate there is particularly well suited to grow the tobbaco that gets used as the outer wrapper of a cigar. Because of this superior wrapping, Cubans (allegedly) burn much slower, which is, uh, better, i guess. Sorry I can't explain it better, I'm not really much of a smoker.
posted by rorycberger at 10:25 AM on November 23, 2004

You can get cigars shipped to you if you know someone outside the country. I've done it a couple times, it was no big deal. They are worth it. I suggest spending $200, getting a nice box of them and keeping them in a humidor. I'm not a big cigar guy, I generally don't like cigars, but I love the aroma of Cubans. Perhaps it's all in my head? Plus if you're into business at all, nothing says pulling in the deal like a Cuban cigar. I swear, if you can get the wining and dining down, top off the evening with a "Would you be interested in these cigars I just got from Cuba?" then you could sell a painting to a blind man.
posted by geoff. at 10:35 AM on November 23, 2004

It has always struck me as one of those audiophile type things. Everyone agrees that the best Cuban cigars are top-notch, but whether they are a transcendent experience depends on the user in question.

My cigar experience was all as a serious cigarette smoker, so though I had some cubans while in Aruba, I think my palate was far too fried to appreciate the supposed superiority, if indeed there was one. Having quit smoking I'll likely never find out.

What I've heard from a multitude of sources is that the growing conditions, and the growing, curing, and rolling expertise in Cuba is what makes for exceptional cigars.

Now the 40,000 dollar question... why is a non-smoker so interested in the subject?
posted by nanojath at 11:33 AM on November 23, 2004

Is there really that much of a difference between good Dominican cigars and Cubans? I'd heard much of the same tobacco plant seeds made their way to the Dominican Republic, and the same families that wanted to sell to the US moved to along with the seeds. I was under the impression that Dominican vs. Cuban cigars was a lot like California wine and French wine -- clearly not the same, but you can get a great bottle in California fairly easily.

And I haven't touched a cigar in five years, but when I did I used to spend about $10 each for Macanudos (which I believe were Dominican).
posted by mathowie at 11:38 AM on November 23, 2004

What nanjath said about growing, curing and rolling expertise (more in a sec) in Cuba.
I worked in a very small tobacco store about 30 years ago, and when business was slow, I would read the owner's 'library' of books about tobacco and cigars. What I recall is that it is very much about the wrapper, and Cuba has long grown the very best wrappers in the world. Back in the day, I think they even used to import some of the filler, but always used Cuban wrappers. Something about them having the best texture, long fibers, better taste, and correct size.
Now, to rolling:
There was a story in one of the books (which I always took to be apocryphal), that claimed the best of the best Cuban cigars were those rolled by young cuban maidens (read: virgins), who would roll them on their firm, inner thighs.
What a vision!
Oh, and Matt - the shop I worked in sold Macanudos for about a buck, and they were among the most expensive.
posted by dbmcd at 12:45 PM on November 23, 2004

Response by poster: Great answers everybody, thanks. I really was just curious if there was something to them or if it was all the allure of the forbidden that brought them up so frequently. I'm now settled that there are many people who extol the virtues of a Cuban cigar beyond that of the embargo driven hype.
posted by dirtylittlemonkey at 12:45 PM on November 23, 2004

Matt, the difference between Dominicans and Cubans is exactly the difference between California and French wine, because the terroir is what gives each their special flavor.

Dominicans are great cigars, but there is something more "finished" about the aroma and taste of Cubans. At every price point (presuming availability), the Cuban is going to be more complex than the Dominican. (Much like French wines v. California wines of the same varietals at the same price points!)
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:27 PM on November 23, 2004

Just to join in, I can also vouch for the wonderfulness of real Cuban Cigars. Last summer, I stayed in Austria and went to a "Cuban night" where I got to sit at the same table as some dude whom I was told is the biggest supplier of Cubans in Austria. I smoke decent cigars over here in the states, but nothing compares to the smoothness of those Cubans. The biggest difference to me is the fullness. When I smoke cheaper stuff, it's like I have to struggle to get some good inhalation action, for lack of better terms. However, the better Cubans just flow without ease into the depths of my lungs (well, OK, not lungs...I don't want to die...yet). And, best of all, they don't leave a horrible stench. Just a mild one =)
posted by jmd82 at 3:55 PM on November 23, 2004

the terroir is what gives each their special flavor.

The soil, is what he means to say.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:19 PM on November 23, 2004

(and climate, topography, yadda)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:20 PM on November 23, 2004

I'm a regular cigar smoker (I'm enjoying a Padron while I type this, actually). I smoked for *years* before I had my first cuban; a dutch friend of mine brought some out when he was visiting. I lit one, started smoking, and was like, "Hmm, this is good. Wait... No... This is fucking amazing! Holy shit!" I'm serious. I'm about the least pretentious smoker there is out there, and honestly I don't give a damn where they're from. But these were hands-down the best stogies I've ever had.

The rolling is of good quality, but you can get that in Dominican cigars as well just fine. I'll agree with what others have said, it's a richness and smoothness to them that's almost impossible to describe. I'm glad I can't get more of these more often, I'd smoke even more than I already do.
posted by wolftrouble at 10:37 PM on November 23, 2004

Remember that there are also cheap Cuban cigars that get sold because they are "Cuban" and not as good of a quality as the better Cuban cigars. Romeo y Julieta cigars and Partagas are probably the most famous of the Cubans.

I've smoked Cuban cigars, and while they are indeed good, I don't think the average Cigar smoker could tell the difference between a good Dominican that are generally labelled as "Cuban Seed" tobacco (made from the same plant lines as the Cubans as Matt correctly points out), and a good Cuban.

I think that there is a placebo effect that makes people want to believe they taste better/smoother because they are Cuban, and thus it becomes true in the smoker's mind.

The Cubans also tend to burn better because they have strict factory controls, and a strong tradition of rolling which means they don't burn on one side quicker than the other, which is usually an indication of poor rolling or dryness. However, the cigar rolling techniques perfected by the Cubans have propagated throughout the Caribbean (into the Dominican Republic, Honduras, etc.), and it's often a question of the individual rolling the cigar.

For a treat, find a local shop that gets their tobacco freshly cured from the Dominican or Honduras, and have them roll the cigars. If you find a good place, these cigars can be very good.
posted by stovenator at 11:00 PM on November 23, 2004

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