Havana Custom Rolled Cigars

Havana Custom Rolled Cigars

As the title suggests, the topic I'm going to start to delve into today is about Custom Roll Cigars of Havana. That is to say, cigars rolled by the hands of people who have been recognized as being masters in their field and given a post at one of the several cigar shops scattered across the city of Havana, Cuba.

What is the criteria used when choosing who will get one of these positions and exactly who is the one doing the choosing? That is something I don't know and probably never will. I can tell you that once they have this position of privilege they keep it until they retire. It affords them an opportunity to earn some extra money in the form of gratuities, since they sell their cigars directly to the buyers and at one time they were sent around the world to roll in Cigar Shops as ambassadors for Cuban Cigars. The latter of the two privileges was recently stopped by the new direction, it was a way to see the world at the cigar shop's expense and once again it gave them an opportunity to earn some extra money.

Custom Rolled Cigars

Besides the extra money and traveling, working conditions are also a plus: compare a hot factory with a comfy air-conditioned cigar shop. Finally, as long as they continued to put out a good product, the pressure of having to roll so many cigars in one day was no longer hanging over their heads. In a cigar factory each roller has a certain quota he or she has to meet each day depending on the cigar that's being rolled. In the case of the rollers in the cigar shops, they just need to top-up the selection they have in their humidors or fill orders for the regular customers (such as myself) who come to visit a few times a year… but that still gives them plenty of time to produce what is needed at any given time.

It took me a long time to appreciate a Custom Rolled Cigar but once I started getting into them I fell in love. In my opinion they are some of the best rolled cigars in the country. That's not saying that Cuba doesn't have some exceptional rollers in their factories as well but you don't get to choose the roller when you buy a box of cigars at the store. So who is the best? That is a matter of personal opinion or tastes. They're all good but each one brings something special to the table or may have the personality that makes you come back to him or her, there are a few to choose from.

The world renowned ones are all in Havana, even though you will find some in other parts of the country, the rollers everyone talks about work in the big city that's always been the center of the cigar trade. Below is a list of the rollers in question and the shops they work out of:

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Arias: Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop at 3ra Ave. & Calle 84, Playa. Read more about Alejandro Gonzalez Arias in this article.
  • Leopoldina Gutierrez aka 'La China': Partagas LCDH at Calle Industria #520, Centro Habana
  • Yolanda Medina: Hotel Melia Habana LCDH at 3ra Ave. between Calle 76 & 80, Playa
  • Maria: Quinta y 16 LCDH at 5ta Ave. and Calle 16, Miramar
  • Jorge Lopez: Club Havana LCDH at 5ta Ave. between Calle 188-192, Playa
  • Reynaldo Gonzalez & Jorge: Conde de Villanueva LCDH at Mercaderes #202 corner of Lamparilla, Habana Vieja
  • Juanita Ramos Guerra: Hotel Melia Cohiba LCDH, at Paseo Ave. between Calle 1 & 3, Vedado
  • Milagro Morales: Hotel Nacional LCDH at Calle 21 & O, Vedado
  • Arnaldo Alfonso Ibanez: Hotel Palco LCDH at 146 Ave. between Calle 11 & 13, Playa
  • Update Jose (Cueto) Castelar: Parque Morro-Cabana Cigar Shop, Havana.

I'm going to talk about one of these rollers, the one I'm more familiar with and who commands a great deal of attention outside the island. I've known Reynaldo Gonzalez at the Conde de Villanueva LCDH for more than ten years. He is the reason that people come to this shop and is one of the best known rollers in Havana. His shop is a hard to find if you don't know where to look, it's located within the courtyard of a 9-room boutique hotel in Old Havana with no indication of its existence at the front of the building. You have to know the shop is there in order to find it… it adds to the exclusivity.

Reynaldo Gonzalez

Reynaldo has been rolling here since 1999 and although he gets help from his friend Jorge (another expert roller), he still manages to roll a few cigars himself since demand for product from this store is high. What makes their cigars more special than the next guy's? The shop itself is an attraction, it's unlike any other but the cigars themselves are sought after because of their diversity in vitolas and liga.

Reynaldo's cigars have never been for the weak, they've always been known to put you on your butt. While some places roll cigars for the masses, this shop always rolled for the experienced Aficionado. Throughout my years of listening to people's experiences with cigars from this shop, I came to the conclusion that they appealed to the more seasoned aficionado. I, for one, could never get past the halfway point on one of these cigars but it never stopped me from trying. Alas, times are a changin', recently they introduced a couple of vitolas with a milder profile that I can attest to being a wonderful smoke. This past November the milder vitolas available were a Torpedo and a Robusto but their signature blends still outnumbered the new ones. What also outnumbered these new cigars were the different shapes available in the stronger blends, shapes that always leaned towards the bigger. With names like 'Elefante' (elephant) given to one of these creations… well, you get the picture. The jawbreakers and pointing sticks that have been proudly carried out the shop's doors have been the pride of many a cigar smoker's collection.

Reynaldo Gonzalez in his cigar shop

Reynaldo started his carrier in the tobacco industry 29 years ago, when he was 23. He was once one of the youngest people to hold this position and still is relatively young at 52. He started at the "Jose Luis Piedra" factory in Marianao, Havana and in 1990 went to work at the Partagas factory. He left Partagas in 1999, after 9 years, to begin working at the Conde LCDH and is still there today. Many members of his family, including his departed mother, have been in the cigar industry and Reynaldo claims to have been influenced by all of them. He is a most gracious host and knows how to treat his regular customers. The shop almost feels like a cave and sometimes it can get quite smoky but it has a wonderful atmosphere, a decently stocked bar with espresso and a pretty good selection of banded cigars. If you claim to be a Cigar Aficionado and are planning a trip to Havana, Cuba, you must make a point of visiting this shop, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. Tell them Matteo says hello.

Matteo says hello!

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25 Comments on “Havana Custom Rolled Cigars”

  1. Are there any rollers of note in the U.S? Just wondering.

  2. Hello John, the article is about Cuban rollers in Cuba but since you ask….an exceptional roller (some say the best in the world, that’s a bit much but safe to say he’s very good) by the name of Hamlet Jaime Paredes has moved to the US from Cuba and is now working with Rocky Patel producing a cigar called ‘TABAQUERO’ by Hamlet. As far as American rollers born in the US goes, I’m sorry, my knowledge on the topic only goes as far as within Cuba.

  3. Great stuff Matteo! Monsdales used to be some of my favorite customs…

  4. Matteo Speranza says:

    Even though Mons died a few years ago, Jorge is still rolling those Monsdales….you’re not alone Charlie.

  5. Luc Valade says:

    Thanks so much for this article. While reading this I was so excited you brought up the Conde LCDH. I am heading to Cuba in April and was planning to visit this shop. From reading this I just might buy a box of his hand rolled. You mentionned they are strong, what can they be compared to?

  6. Matteo Speranza says:

    Hello Luc,
    You asked what Conde’s custom rolls can be compared too…the answer is Bolivar on Steroids.

  7. Hello Matteo says:

    I had a kick at your response while sipping on a special Havana Club. Will be there tomorrow. Looking forward to sending you my notes. Bolivar is always on my list.
    Cheers!

  8. Matteo Speranza says:

    Have a great time and say hello to Reynaldo at Conde for me. Thanks

  9. Great construction with these cigars, always. I have had many bundles of the canonazo size, which are the only ones I get, and would have to say that they are not super strong for me. I actually love these cigars fresh. They have power, yes, but they also have that young grittiness that I love (which I also love in fresh PSD4’s). I have found that they are starting to remind me of Robaina farmies now that the one’s I have get some age. I have had enough Robaina farmies, and more than enough of the Reynaldo canonazos to find a similar vein of flavoring.
    I have never had any of the giant-sized cigars they roll, as I am there more for cigars to smoke for myself, but have found that they do not particularly roll anything smaller than a corona gorda. I phoned and asked for lanceros to be rolled prior to going down, and was told they do not do lanceros, which I know they have done for others I have seen. I would love to know what that blend would be like in a smaller ring.
    The shop is very cool to visit. The hotel is actually pretty special to stay in as well. I would recommend staying a night if they have an open room. It was like a movie. Sitting in the room, open balcony doors, smoking a cigar and watching the night-life on a warm Havana night.
    This shop has a great selection, but I think they have figured out in the last couple years to keep their more rare cigars out of the open, easily accessible cabinets as I had found some cool stuff the first time I went, but nothing special the last couple times.

    :Zedman05

  10. Anyone know the recent prices for the custom rolls ?

  11. Hi matteo,

    I’m off to Cuba next month, with the main goal of picking up custom rolls!

    Reynaldo is first on my list as well as Alex at the comodoro.

    What’s the approximate prices for custom rolls?
    I’m interested in Reynaldos canonazos and elephantes, even churchills and double coronas.

    My Spanish is very basic and limited, how’s their English?

    Thanks for your help

  12. Hi Matt,
    Those are two good shops, I pickup cigars from both when I’m there (more from Alex because he’s around the corner from me). Alex has fewer Vitolas in his humidor ranging from $2.60cuc – (approx)$5.00. For special orders, I haven’t paid more than $5cuc. Conde is different, more experience, better known, loyal clientele…they make the big stuff you know and like and those prices vary, over $5cuc but under $10 (from my experience). I hope that helped.
    Saludos
    Matteo

  13. Hi Matteo,

    Thanks for that. We’re staying near Old Havana so only about a 15 minute walk to Conde. like i said, it’s th hige custom rolls i’m going for. my collection at home is sizeable enough for London Living, i can take back 100 sticks to the UK, so i’m only buying custom rolls to take home.

    Also, wondering if you could help with some advice, i want to do a day trip to Pinar del Rio as well. Any advice on that? india cave? plantation factory? etc

  14. Hi Matt,
    Be aware that you can only leave Cuba with 20 un-banded (or with no receipts) cigars. That doesn’t mean everyone follows that rule but make sure you separate them in your luggage so it doesn’t draw attention when going through the x-ray machine (between your carry-on and checked bags).

    As far as day trips into Pinar del Rio, don’t go to the factory. The rollers are behind glass and you can’t take pictures…that’s always been a deterrent for me. The India Cave is no big deal, the view of the Vinales Valley is the better thing to do in my opinion in that area and then in Pinar del Rio visiting a couple of good farms. I can give you the number to a driver I use and you can make arrangements with him if you like. It’s about $120-140 for the day (car and driver), not person…total cost, maximum 3 people can fit in his car plus the driver. Let me know if that interests you.

  15. That’s interesting to note.

    Shame really as that is the main reason to go. For the custom rolls.

    Does Reynaldo and Alejandro box them up for shipping back home? And probably a silly question, but receipts for purchasing?

    What’s your experience been with Cuban customs?

  16. And yes please. If you can email me. Would be great

  17. Hi Matteo,
    I’m a great fan of Reynaldo’s cigars and a loyal costumer for long years. A good friend of mine from Havana told me that Reynaldo is no longer in Condes de Villanueva (it seems neither the shop…). Have you heard about it? Is there a new location? Any news about Reynaldo? Thanks.

  18. Robert Wieder says:

    Hello Matteo,

    Great article and I really enjoy your thoroughness in writing it.

    Hoping you might steer me in the right direction with your Cuban roller contacts.

    My great great grandfather, great grandfather, and grandfather were all born in Havana, Cuba. Originally from Basque, Spain. They then migrated to New York.

    Jose Xiques, his son Ramon, and
    Ramon’s son,Julian XIQUES were their names. Family name XIQUES.

    They were all Cuban cigar rollers in Havana.

    Jose settled on Staten Island and sold property he owned to NYC for $5000 in 1903. Ancestry.com helped me track that info. The property is one of only 2 libraries on Staten Island.
    Jose was a “ring leader” as he would be the contact name other Cuban rollers entering New York would seek.

    Ramon Xiques opened up a bar, billiards, and cigar store in Chinatown, New York.

    Julian, my middle name, and my mother’s father opened JULIAN’S BILLIARD ACADEMY where The Color of Money starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise was filmed.

    I’ve been to Havana twice this year and have not had any luck finding anyone that possibly knows the XIQUES name. I’m reaching out to you for any possible help for my next visit.

    Thanks in advance.
    Happy smoking,
    Bob W.

  19. Hello Bob W.,

    Your family was not from the Basque region, they were in fact from Cataluña after going back a few generations in Cuba. While not a completely unfamiliar name your family left Cuba too long ago for anyone alive to remember (circa 1880)

  20. Howard Horwitz says:

    As of early February 2017, Reynaldo was still at this shop at the same location. However, the name of the hotel may have changed.

  21. There’s some contention with Reynaldo, some rather interesting allegations about taking seeds from cuba to Dominican Rep, and even using nicaraguan tobacco in his rolls.

    Last i hear, he was in a self imposed exile to avoid prosecution by the cuban military.

    There’s also a economical power struggle at the Villanueva with the manager of the hotel and the LCDH.

    Alas, i think we’ve seen the last of reynaldo’s cubans

  22. Robert Wieder says:

    I was under that same impression Esteban that the Xiques family was from Barcelona as I visited Barcelona years ago and many locals said Xiques was a Cataluñian family name.
    I have an elder cousin that always insisted the family originated in Basque which swayed my research as you duly corrected and I sincerely thank you for your response.
    My grandfather, JULIAN XIQUES, came to the USA around 1925 or so.
    He opened JULIAN’S BILLIARD ACADEMY on 14th street in Manhattan which is where Paul Newman and Tom Cruise filmed THE COLOR OF MONEY movie.
    I plan on going back to Havana to visit with these great cigar hand rolling masters and perhaps find someone who may just have any remembrance of Julian Xiques who was the last to come to N.Y. as mentioned.
    My email is bobbydelray@hotmail.com
    Perhaps we can chat further that way Esteban as I’d like to keep our conversation alive without interfering with others on this thread by MATTEO.
    Lastly, I wonder if Matteo might know anything about the La Habana Cuban cigar rolling family name of XIQUES that eventually left Cuba for NYC.
    I appreciate any responses from you gentlemen and my email has been included for your reference.
    Saludos,
    Bob

  23. Robert Wieder says:

    Thank you Esteban for your info on my families origin of departure from Spain into Cuba.
    I actually concur with you as I was told the same information from many people in Barcelona when I visited there years ago.
    The XIQUES is of Cataluñian origin and not a Basque name but my eldest male cousin has always insisted on Basque,Spain as their city of departure and then into Havana.
    I appreciate your knowledge and follow up.
    Note: My mother’s father was JULIAN XUQUES and he opened up Julian’s Billiard Academy on 14th street in NYC.
    He arrived in New York around 1925 or thereabouts so possibly I can find someone who might know of him or the family name upon my next visit to Havana.

  24. Jason Smith says:

    Good day sir.

    Thank you for this amazing article. I am a US citizen who is taking a cruse this coming January. We are doing a one day stop in Cuba as part of this trip. As you know for the foreseeable future this maybe my only chance to visit Cuba. As this is my birthday trip my wife as told me I should bring back as many cuban cigars as I can. What advise would you give me to accomplish this goal with less then one day on the island. We get off the ship at 8am and have to be back on by 10pm. I am looking to spend about $1000.00 US dollars which I will exchange for Euros prior to leave the US. My plan is then to exchange the Euros for CUC’s once I am in Cuba. So with that budget in mind whats my best route to obtain as many cigars as I can to last me as long as possible.

    Thank you again,
    Jason.

  25. matteo speranza says:

    Hello Jason, your ship will dock in Old Havana, near Plaza San Francisco. From there you are minutes from 2 of my favourite cigar shops where between the two of them, you’ll find more than what you’re looking for. The Conde de Villanueva LCDH on Calle Mercaderes and the Partagas LCDH behind the Capitolio building on Calle Industria. You can look them up on my blog and easily find them on map-quest or something equivalent. Have a wonderful time

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