Cuban cigars, or “puros” are considered by experts in the field as the best in the world. This reputation has been around since the 1600s because of the perfect combination of geography, skills, craftsmanship, and high-quality marketing. The world knows Cuba for the production of the perfect type of cigar and, internationally, such a cigar is impossible to replicate and reproduce, making the product unique. With the trade embargo that the United States placed on Cuban goods, many Caribbean and Central American nations, such as the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, tried to create a similar product, but the quality was never the same. So, what is it about Cuba that makes its cigar so unique?
Cuba is a Caribbean island, just 90 miles from the southernmost part of the United States, Key West. Strategically, the island is in the perfect environment for the cultivation of tobacco. According to Alan Dye, economics professor at Columbia University, the island’s soil allows plants to produce a high-quality leaf. These leaves are the critical component for rolling the cigar because these are used as wrappers. The climate is also perfect for tobacco plantations. For example, the humidity of the country is ideal for cultivation and for drying the plant. Technique, however, also plays an important role. Along with perfect soil and excellent climatological conditions, Cubans have a vast history of experience in which centuries have produced highly refined cultivation techniques.
Mythology also plays a role in the uniqueness of the Cuban cigar. The myth dictates that these cigars are rolled on the thighs of young virgin women tasked with wrapping the cigars. This story originated in the 1940s and came from reports of a journalist who traveled to the island and observed young women during the rolling process. The piece reported a few details that used artistic liberties but was enough to spark one of the best known pieces of folktale in the cigar industry. The fact is that cigars cannot be successfully rolled on anyone’s thighs. However, the idea generated a great marketing tool for promoting uniqueness and is a fun legend that people in the cigar industry and those interested in cigars talk and ask about.
Another unique aspect of the puros was the effect created by the Cuban embargo, where Cuban products were not allowed to enter the United States. The intent of the embargo was to sanction Fidel Castro’s communist government. Many Americans, including then-President John F. Kennedy, tried to exempt cigars from the embargo, but pressure from Tampa manufacturers made it impossible. The prohibition on the item sparked interest given that foreigners wanted to smoke something hard-to-get and prohibited. Furthermore, the embargo raised the price of this forbidden item. As a result, the production of cigars from other areas, including the Dominican Republic, increased; however, the quality differed. With the easing tensions between the countries, parts of the embargo have been lifted, thus allowing cigars to enter the United States in special cases.
In 1492, during Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the New World, explorers experienced how Indians rolled a mysterious leaf call cohiba, beginning the everlasting interest in cigars. This sparked the commencement of more than 500 years of evolution that would make the Cuban cigar a world standard and created an industry for tobacco products. Today, aficionados can purchase everything from top-notch cigars to pipe tobacco online. However, even with the new approaches of sourcing and obtaining product, the mythology, intrigue, culture, and passion for cigars continues to evolve and continues to promote the urban legends, myths, and stories that make the cigar a phenomenon and something to talk about.