Date: February 2019
Author: Inspector Z

When it comes to Cuban cigars, we don’t know if we should praise them or criticize them. There is plenty of things to complain about, but on the other hand, Habanos has shown some sheer brilliance.

Quality control

Let’s start with the criticism. First of all, there’s a lack of quality control. Some factories in other countries test hundred percent of their production with a drawmaster machine to ensure each and every single cigar has a perfect draw. Yet on Cuba, an average of four percent of the total production is being tested. And on the whole island, there are less Drawmaster machines than in a factory like Joya de Nicaragua.

draw master machine

Now some people claim that it’s part of the charm of a Cuban cigar. But we think that’s a weird charm, and ridiculous for a premium product. Habanos considers them to be the Rolls Royce of the cigar industry, and who would accept it when you buy a Rolls Royce, put the car in the ignition and it won’t start. Would you call that “the charm of a Rolls Royce”? We don’t. And we don’t call it the charm of Cuban cigars either. Rocky Patel once said to us, that he thinks about the occasional cigar smoker when it comes to quality control, not the cigar geeks with plenty of cigars in stock. The last group will toss a cigar with a bad draw, get another one and no harm done. He said “Imagine, you only smoke once in a while, you go out golfing with your friends and on the way to the golf course you stop at a cigar shop and buy a cigar. On the 9th hole, you decide to light the cigar, and it has no draw. As a manufacturer, you just ruined that guy’s day. My name is on my cigars, I want them all to be perfect.”

Aging of the finished product

Another thing is aging. Where most non-Cuban manufacturers take the time to age the cigars in huge aging rooms after they are rolled, sometimes up to a few years but a minimum of six months, Habanos is throwing them on the market as soon as possible. After rolling, cigars enter a sick period where they sweat out ammonia. And cigars in their sick period are not very tasty. And yeah, you can defend that by saying that there is a high demand, but putting an unfinished product on the market? That’s disrespecting your customers, your hard-working employees, and your own brand. Let’s go back to the Rolls Royce, if you buy one, you want to ride it right? Not store it in your garage for a few years before you can enjoy the open roads.

aging room at the Fuente factory (photo credit:

Fermentation and aging of the raw tobacco

When we go deeper into the matter, there’s more to criticize. The tobacco is rushed through the fermentation process and that’s something that can’t be fixed afterward. Not even with aging the cigars in your personal humidor for decades. Underfermented tobacco will never taste as good as properly fermented tobacco. That’s because the process from turning raw, fresh leaf to good tasting tobacco hasn’t been completed and can’t be completed afterward. There is just no way.

fermeting tobacco in pilones (photo: Joya de Nicaragua)

After fermentation, tobacco should be aged to reach its full potential. And Cuba doesn’t age the tobacco. Five-year-old tobacco is already special in Cuba and used for Gran Reserva cigars, three-year-old tobacco is rare and used for Reserva cigars. While in other countries, five-year-old, or even older, tobacco is used in your regular, day to day, cigar. But we will get back to this point later.

wrapped up tobacco aging

Monoculture and fertilizing

The issue that will be hardest to tackle, however, is the depleted soil. For years, the Cuban farmers, have practiced monoculture. That means, growing tobacco on the same plots of land, year after year after year after year. And everybody with a little bit of agricultural knowledge knows that its bad practice. Every few years, the soil should get the chance to replenish by leaving it unused or by planting other crops on it, which uses other nutrients. And there’s also a lack of fertilizer. By the time the fertilizer gets to the farmers, it has been diluted already due to corruption. And then the farmers dilute it even more, as they want to use part of the fertilizer to grow produce which they can feed their family. Those practices led to depleted soil, and depleted soil can never grow the best product.

worker on Cuban tobacco farm (photo credit: US slave)

Now after reading this, you might think we wrote this to trash Cuban cigars. But actually, we wish we didn’t have to write this and we didn’t have to come to this conclusion. Cuba has a unique soil, and if you taste old Cuban cigars, from the time when the soil was still rich, the tobacco was still fermented and aged properly and before the quality control went down the drain, then you realize what we are talking about. We are sad about the current state of the Cuban cigars, as they have so much potential, they can be so much better as they are now and it hurts to see that they are underachieving on every single level, from crop to finished product and everything in between.

The only thing that is top level at Habanos is marketing. Which of course is ironic, since Cuba is a socialist country and marketing is a capitalist instrument. But the marketing people of Habanos are geniuses.

Reserva & Gran Reserva

Now we are coming back to the lack of aged tobacco. You have to be a genius, and have a crowd of followers that eat every word you say without thinking critically if you can spin using young tobacco in your regular production into a high-profit opportunity. Yet Habanos did that. Grab three-year-old tobacco, which is considered young tobacco anywhere in the world, create a limited edition, put them in beautiful glossy black boxes, slap an extra ring around it and call it a Reserva. Don’t even change the vitola and charge three to four times the regular price. And heck, why not top that with a Gran Reserva with five-year-old tobacco, which is still not vintage or rare, but pretty common in other countries. If you can get away with that, then we can only take off our hats.

Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva Cosecha 2009

Limited and Regional editions

Creating a limited edition, just for the sake of a limited edition, not because of a lack of tobacco and in that way drive the demand is was a mastermind set of Habanos. It worked brilliantly in every single way. People went, and are still, going crazy. And the Cuban limited editions aren’t even unique blends, they are just the same regular blends, just in a different vitola. And not even a crazy vitola, just a vitola from the Habanos portfolio but not used for the specific brand that is chosen as a limited edition. Marketing level genius.

Cohiba Talisman Edicion Limitada 2017

And if you can even expand that whole limited edition scheme tenfold, then you deserve your weight in marketing gold. That’s what Habanos did with regional editions. Same story as the limited editions. Not even unique tobacco or a different blend, just the same blend, different size, limited amount of boxes and released in just one specific region. Sit back, relax and watch the Cuban cigar aficionados go on a crazy hunt to collect them. And those hunts put the Pokemon Go hype from a few years back to shame. We have to admit, in the first few years of the Habanos Edicion Regional craze, we joined the hunts too, so we fell for the marketing too.

Quai D’Orsay Exclusivo Francia Belicoso Royal

Medio Tiempo and the effect on Cohiba

But the one that we like best is the marketing behind the Behike. Partly based on truth, part marketing, and nobody realizes the consequence of the story. Medio Tiempo leaves exist, that part is true. And that leaf is rare, that part is also true. But it’s not a new leaf, it has always existed. And it has always been used, used in the regular production Cohiba. Suddenly, a marketing executive comes up with a brilliant idea to make that medio tiempo leaf something super special, and create a new line of cigars with it for an ultra-premium price. That is brilliance, and when the cigars are successful, create a shortage, add to the hype and drive the price up even more. Sheer brilliance from a marketing point of view. And Habanos gets away with it, nobody even thinks about the consequence of removing the medio tiempo leaf from the regular production Cohiba. Think of it this way, if the medio tiempo leaf is that special, and it was always used in the regular Cohiba, then the Cohiba blend has gone down in quality after the introduction of the Behike right? Because that super special tobacco is no longer used in the Cohiba. Yet, have you heard anybody talking about this? No, and that’s because the Habanos marketing is so strong and brilliant it outsmarts every other cigar producer in the world.

Final thoughts

We have lots to complain about the quality of Cuban cigars, for a number of reasons. And then we didn’t even tackle all of them. But those are all issues that can be resolved if the right people stand up. If Cubatobacco secures enough fertilizer and cultivates more land in the Vuelta Abajo so that current farms can replenish the soil, then the problem of the depleted soil can be solved.

When it comes to fermenting and aging the tobacco and the finished product, that is possible but will have an effect on the numbers of cigars produced. Of course, if Habanos thinks long term, then it’s worth taking a hit for a couple of years (although the hit will only be in numbers, not in turnover, with high demand and low supply, the price will go up, making up for the lower volume). But in the long run, they will have a better product to satisfy customers.

As for quality control, that’s easily solved. Stop paying torcedors per cigar, start paying them per quality control passed cigar and test all cigars. Get a few draw master machines in every factory, hire a few people to test cigars all day and you’re done.

If Cuba tobacco and Habanos tackle these problems, then the cigars will be on par with their marketing again. The potential of the Cuban cigar is enormous, with a unique soil, the perfect climate and a tremendous history, it’s a damn shame that the current quality is so low. We can only hope that the problems will be solved, it would be good for everyone. Good for Habanos, good for the industry as a whole but most of all good for us, the cigar aficionados all around the globe.

37 thoughts on “The current state of Cuban cigars

  1. I bought some Davinos one was good but the other two, one just would not smoke and the other was just so sour. They both went in the bin. I have found nice and better priced cigars from other countries. A bad smoke in the UK cost a lot of money.

  2. I smoked 2 limited edition Trinidad that were horrible and loosely rolled. I then smoked an LE Ramon and and a reserve Hoyo which were excellent. 50% of the cigars were good. 100% of the cigars were expensive. Never know what I am going to get. DONE! The quality is all over the map. Am I missing something?

  3. I think everyone here is correct. Great write up. The truth always stirs up emotions in all of us! There are contradictory views, yet both opions ring truth. A superb cigar is a beautiful thing and creates a wonderful experience, period. We need to keep our minds open to be able to enjoy this to the fullest. Spending big money on un smokeable habanos sucks. But, we have all also smoked many many entire boxes of perfect super partagas, rass, or even cheaper h upmann majestics. Does that devalue or change my opinions of my 5 year old opus x ? Never, it’s a completely diff product, that performs differently. I smoke those when i am craving that profile. Yes, these manufacturers like fuente, davidoff, padron etc can use better grown, more aged and properly fermented leaf. For sure! With the money they have put back into their products, how could you not admire these cigars. That would be crazy. But it would be just as crazy to state that cuban cigars are declining to the point where you can’t purchase and enjoy them. Any connoisseur of cc’s understands the quality control issues involved…Lol. That sucks, and is definitely sad. However, i agree with many people…The great one’s are worth the risk. We will continue to support the island (all politics aside please) that started this wonderful thing we now call cigars. That mouthwatering hazelnut punch i get from a ramone allones is so unique. I can’t replace that profile with other countries tobacco. I also can’t replace my super smooth smoke on the windy beach dominican fuente with antything in the habanos portfolio (yes i’m exaggerating). To sum it up, don’t be too judgemental with manufacturing countries. Buy and smoke em all. The marketing wolves are working hard on both cc’s and nc’s. Everyone wants to sell their products after all, except it! Age the ones that need age. Smoke the ones that are ready. Do your research and decide for yourself. Most of all, enjoy your smokes.

  4. My major beef is with the tight draw in far too many Cubans. The construction clearly is lacking when compared to the majority of NCs. Perfec Draw can only go so far. I’d also say that the quality of tobacco is diminishing over the last years. As a consequence, the percentage of NCs in my limited stock, is growing.

  5. Your article is an eye-opener and confirmed what I have experienced and suspected! I’ve been trying Cubans (different brands including top names) and finding they are largely disappointing, and now I understand why: For all your reasons. Completely agree finding Nicaraguans and Dominicans truly excellent.

  6. very interesting points you have remarked, thankyou for putting up.

  7. “The day that other countries can replicate the Cuban taste is the day we stop selling cigars”

    Enrique Mons

    1. All the sins that Cuba commits, we have also seen in Mexico and mainly the Dominican Republic, with only one difference: the manufacture of the cigar has not declined. Regarding raw materials, they went to other markets to seek them, such as Honduras, Nicaragua, Cameroon, Indonesia, Brazil. Cuba does not have this hypothesis. If we consumers do not demand quality instead of quantity and price, Nicaragua and Honduras will also, in a few years’ time, have mediocre cigars, although with some history and much more beautiful than Cubans 🙂

  8. I find articles like yours to be very biased. If you smoked non-cuban cigars before the cigar boom you would find that non cuban factories have suffered even more. During and after the cigar boom the expansion of brands, factories and cigar lines exploded. Altadis USA capitalized and licensed most cuban name brands. They used marketing to drive demand with “cuban seed” & hiring cuban rollers to attract new cigar smokers. The crops suffered greatly with this resurgence. The great blends disappeared. Altadis was more interested with producing numbers of cigars rather than great cigars. Fuentes was consumed by the renewal of cigar smoking. He created a different cigar almost monthly to capture as much of the market he could…others followed this strategy depleteing the production of crops. In order to recover they tried to cross a cuban seed with a connecticut shade for wrapper production. It was and continues to be used today. It’s a terrible wrapper that leaves a sour musty flavor. Overproduction is a problem that will continue to plague non cuban producers. It’s an issue that Cuba suffers from too. The entire cigar industry suffers from overproduction, not just Cuba. Disparaging cuban cigars without the same criticism of domestic cigars isn’t fair. Having smoked some of the best non cubans before the cigar boom leaves me thinking Cuba will be just fine in the future.

    1. Very well written. Its good to see the opinions of fellow cigar smokers. I visited Cuba on two occasions and I have my own story on the Cubans as well as the cigars tht I smoked back in the US.

    2. Very well written. Its good to see the opinions of fellow cigar smokers. I visited Cuba on two occasions and I have my own story on the Cubans as well as the cigars tht I smoked back in the US.

      1. We are very curious to hear about those stories

    3. And about Altadis, just like General Cigars, I have a low opinion on them. That might be a nice new article. Those companies don’t have pride anymore, they are run by bookkeepers and you can taste that in the blends.

      But that doesn’t change the fact that Cuba has some huge problems with the crops, the fermenting, the aging of tobacco, the rolling and aging of cigars. There is nothing bias about mentioning facts. And if you read the article, you should notice that I wrote that I seriously hope that they can fix all those problems so there’s more for all of us to enjoy. It would be good for everybody, including the competition.

    4. The quality of non Cuban cigars have improved over the years, after the boom huge leaps forward have been made. The bias here is not mine my friend.

      I agree that Connecticut shade wrapper is horrible, I avoid that specific wrapper as the plague

      1. Great service,all true and well know by real passionarte connoisseurs,as emphasized by the great expert Nino Munoz.To true that already 20 years ago the M° Gianfranco Plenizio italian musician and great cuban cigar lover Wrote in his 2 books “Habanos” and “Habanos nel corazon” ed.Mursia.Disagreeing is from incompetent or cuban habanos S.A. burocrates,as well as too young smokers to know what cuban cigars were 30 or 40 years ago.

  9. Definitively on spot article, we have all fall in the marketing spiral and started aging our fresh cigars (LE/RE/RESERVA) but we are in love with Cuba and when you are in love you always forgive. We must look to the future with optimism and hope that Habanos, but above all Cubatobaco, bring greater benefits to production and to farmers.

  10. Well written and spot on!

    My frustration with the draw issues and inconsistent tobacco quality led me to explore other cigar options and I have discovered many amazing sticks from Nicaragua, etc. despite the marketing magnificence of Habanos S.A.

    While I still travel to Cuba and enjoy the sticks that I can smoke with pleasure, my budget has been shared with other countries and to any business, that’s gotta hurt.

    Let’s pray that they can return to their glory days, but don’t hold your breath.

    1. Never lose hope. I wish that some day I can smoke a great quality Cuban again, like the Punch Black Prince from the late 90’s. Perfect construction, fantastic flavor.

  11. Thank you for the interesting information. I’ve been a cigar smoker for 10-12 yrs. 99% all non-Cuban. I was considering breaking into the Cuban drive this year, & after this article, I believe I will continue to hold!

    1. It can’t hurt to try a few. I occasionally smoke a Cuban cigar too, and once in a while I smoke one that makes me go “ah, this is a good one”, most of the times not though.

  12. I atleast have a draw machine in my factory. I tell people Habanos when to shit, sadly dont bother to buy anything or collect anything after 2010

    Buy your self farm rolls instead.

  13. A very good read. Thanks!

  14. Excellent and accurate article on the current state of the Cuban cigar production.

    After 15 years of visiting Cuba and 50 years smoking cigars I fully agree with your assesment.

    Sadly, I see no positive changes in the near future.

    1. Yet we can’t live without Cuban cigars, can we? Haven’t seen you in a while with a Tatuaje :p

      1. Javier thanks for a good laugh !!

        No. I cannot live without a good Habano but if I had to smoke NCs Tatuaje or anything by Pepin Garcia or the Nicarao line would be a good substutute.

        Otras madres tambien tienen hijas guapas …. 🙂

    2. Thank you. Your compliments mean a lot, you’re a well respected man in the world of Cuban cigars.

      I still have hope. Competition will force Habanos to change

      1. Thank YOU for the kinds words – but I’m just a cigar smoker who happens to have a blog and a passion for Cuba and its cigars.

        My experiences there last 10 years have been very similar to yours regarding production and quality based on my insights and the private information I gather.

        I also have hope but the changes required are very complex and will require a huge transformation on many levels.

        Pretty pictures and sleek marketing at a yearly Festival will not be enough …

    1. Just bought a bunch of limited edition Cubans. The quality is all over the place. When they are good they are the best. Too often they are bad. Given the cost, I am done! I thought I was hallucinating until I read your article. Thanks!

  15. The truth always comes out in the end. Time and money will tell. I know what horse I’m betting on 😉

  16. This article is spot on. In the many years I have smoked Cuban and non-Cuban cigars, I have experienced plugged and underfermented CCs at an ever increasing rate. I have also fallen victim to the marketing blitz and purchased some limited edition Cohibas that tasted green and sour. Now many years later, they still taste awful. On a recent trip to Cuba, I learned some disturbing things about the Cuban cigar industry. To protect my sources, I can’t mention specifics, but suffice it to say that I have little hope that the once great cigar industry of Cuba will ever return to its former glory.

    1. Once the regime changes, things will change.

  17. Habanos are more like a Rolex divers watch than a Rolls Royce…..everyone needs a watch and wants a Rolex, but not just any Rolex. They want the Rolex that you can go deep sea diving with because that’s the coolest….not that they’ll ever go deep sea diving with it…but it shows other people with watches that they can afford a really expensive watch.

    And it’s this very point that drives all other cigar producing countries mad….they will never have become synonymous with cigars in the way Cuba has and continues to be because Cuba has what Rolex has…..HISTORY and years of experience!

    1. I partialy agree, partially disagree. If the current Rolex was made with cheap components from China, then the comparison would be spot on.

      As for your second comment, time will give other countries history too, you can’t say Fuente doesn’t have history. Padron too, no history? . And don’t forget, all the experience fled Cuba after the revolution. All that experience now works in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic.

      I compare Cuban cigars with French wine in the 1980s and 1990s. People who didn’t know wines, or people that were snobs, said “if a wine isn’t from France, it’s inferior” and twenty years later wines from Italy, California, Australia and South America are just as praised as French wines. And that without the quality of the French wines dropping, the way Cuban quality did.

      1. Arturo Fuente never made cigars in Cuba they’ve been a family based in Ybor city WAY before the Revolution, they simply used Cuban tobacco in their product up until the announcement of the Embargo.

      2. But there‘s a lack in your comparison.

        Everybody knows, that it is necessary, to age a good wine in your own cellar – the less winegrowers do that for you.

        But on the other hand it‘s ridiculous, to age a habano? Really?

        1. It’s not necessary, why isn’t it necessary when you buy cigars from other countries?

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