Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cuban Cigars

Tobacco leaves are harvested and aged using a process that combines use of heat and shade to reduce sugar and water content without causing the large leaves to rot. This first part of the process, called curing, takes between 25 and 45 days and varies substantially based upon climatic conditions as well as the construction of sheds or barns used to store harvested tobacco.

The curing process is manipulated based upon the type of tobacco, and the desired color of the leaf. The second part of the process, called fermentation, is carried out under conditions designed to help the leaf die slowly. Temperature and humidity are controlled to ensure that the leaf continues to ferment, without rotting or disintegrating. This is where the flavor, burning, and aroma characteristics are primarily brought out in the leaf.

Once the leaves have aged properly, they are sorted for use as filler or wrapper based upon their appearance and overall quality. During this process, the leaves are continually moistened and handled carefully to ensure each leaf is best used according to its individual qualities. The leaf will continue to be baled, inspected, un-baled, re-inspected, and baled again repeatedly as it continues its aging cycle. When the leaf has matured according to the manufacturer's specifications, it will be used in the production of a cigar.

Quality cigars are still hand-made. An experienced cigar-roller can produce hundreds of very good, nearly identical, cigars per day. The rollers keep the tobacco moist — especially the wrapper — and use specially designed crescent-shaped knives, called chavetas, to form the filler and wrapper leaves quickly and accurately.

Once rolled, the cigars are stored in wooden forms as they dry, in which their uncapped ends are cut to a uniform size. From this stage, the cigar is a complete product that can be "laid down" and aged for decades if kept as close to 21°C (70°F), and 70% relative humidity, as the environment will allow.

Once cigars have been purchased, proper storage is usually accomplished by keeping the cigars in a specialized wooden box, or humidor, where conditions can be carefully controlled for long periods of time. Even if a cigar becomes dry, it can be successfully re-humidified so long as it has not been handled carelessly and done so gradually. The loss of original tobacco oils, however, will greatly affect the taste.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cuban Cigars

Cuban Cigars JFK Loved May End ‘Forbidden Fruit’ Status in U.S.
By Mark Drajem

Cohibas, Partagas and Montecristos from Cuba. For U.S. cigar aficionados, the names spark thoughts of civil disobedience.

As President Barack Obama moves to ease restrictions on trade with Cuba, cigar lovers are savoring the prospect of legally lighting up a smoke that has long required a black- market connection and a willingness to flout the law

“There’s a mystique about a Cuban,” said John Anderson, owner of W. Curtis Draper,m Tobacconist, a cigar shop in Washington. “Cuban tobacco has become the forbidden fruit.”
The possible end to the 47-year-old embargo on Cuba trade has intensified a legal and lobbying fight between cigar makers Swedish Match AB of Stockholm and Imperial Tobacco Group Plc of Bristol, England. Each wants exclusive rights to sell Cuban-made brands in the U.S., the world’s largest market for premium cigars.

Swedish Match sells cigars in the U.S. made in Honduras and the Dominican Republic under Cuban brand names. It bought the brands from families that fled Cuba after Fidel Castro seized their cigar companies in the 1960s. Imperial distributes Cuban- made cigars under many of the same names to the rest of the world through an agreement with the Cuban government monopoly, Cubatabaco.

“Before serious commerce resumes, this is going to have to be resolved,” said Robert Muse, a Washington lawyer who advises clients on Cuba-related issues.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cuban Cigars

Nobody knows for sure when the tobacco plant was first cultivated, but there is little doubt about where. The native people of the American continent were undoubtedly the first not only to grow, but to smoke the plant, which probably first came from the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. It was certainly used by the Maya of Central America, and when the Maya civilization was broken up, the scattered tribes carried tobacco both southward into South America, and to North America, where it was probably first used in the rites of the Mississipi Indians. It didn't come to the attention of the rest of the world until Cristopher Columbus's momentous voyage of 1492.

Columbus himself was not particularly impressed by the custom, but soon Spanish and other European sailors fell for the habit, follwed by the conquistadores and colonist. In due course the returning conquistadores introduced tobacco smoking to Spain and Portugal. The habit, a sign of wealth, then spread to France, through the French ambassador to Portugal, Jean Nicot (who eventually gave his name to nicotine, and Nicotiana tabacum, the Latin name for tobacco).

The word tobacco, some say, was a corruption of Tobago, the name of a Carribbean island. Others claim it comes from the Tabasco province of Mexico. Cohiba, a word used by the Taino Indians of Cuba was thought to mean tobacco, but now is considered to have reffered to cigars. The word cigar originated from sikar, the Mayan word for smoking.

Although the first tobacco plantation were set up in Virginia in 1612, and Maryland in 1631, tobacco was smoked only in pipes in the American colonies. The cigar itself is thought not to have arrived until after 1762, when Israel Putnam, an American general in the Revolutionary War, returned from cuba, where he had been an officer in the British army. He came back to his home in Connecticut with a selection of Havana cigars, and large amounts of Cuban tobacco. Before long, cigar factories were set up in the Hartford area. Production of the leaves started in the 1820s, and Connecticut tobacco today provides among the best wrapper leaves to be found outside Cuba. By the early 19th century, not only were Cuban cigars being imported into the United States, but domestic production was also taking off.

The habit of smoking cigars spread out to the rest of Europe from Spain, where cigars using Cuban tobacco were made in Seville from 1717 onwards. By 1790 cigar manufacture had spread north of the Pyreness, with small factories being setup in France and Germany. But cigar smoking didn't really takeoff in France and Britain until after the Penninsula War (1806-12) against Napoleon, when returning British and French veterans spread the habit they had learned while serving in Spain. By this time the pipe had been replaced by snuff as the main way of taking tobacco, and cigars now became the fashionable way of smoking it. Production of segars, as they were known, began in Britain in 1820.

Soon there was a demand of higher quality cigars in Europe, and the Sevillas, as spanish cigars were called, were superseded by those from cuba (then a spanish colony), not least as the result of a decree by King Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1821. Cigar smoking became such a widespread custom in Britain and France that smoking cars became a feature of European trains, and the smoking room was introduced in clubs and hotels. The habit even influenced clothing--with the introduction of the smoking jacket. In France, tuxedos are still referred to as le smoking.

It is widely believed that Christopher Columbus' crew discovered cigars while exploring Cuba. The Cuban natives smoked a crude form of the modern day cigar during religious ceremonies. The cigar was wrapped with maize and filled with tobacco leaves. Columbus' crew quickly became accustomed to smoking the cigar and brought back samples of the "Golden Leaf" to Spain. Initially, the smoking of cigars was considered a pagan ritual punished by imprisonment. In fact, one of Columbus' crew members was imprisoned for smoking. However, after a few years, cigar smoking became widely accepted. Eventually, Spain would build an entire industry around the cigar. Seville, Spain was at the center of this and is recognized as being the birthplace of the modern cigar.
At first, Spain imported the raw materials from Cuba and assembled the cigars themselves. However, in 1821 Spain allowed Cuba to manufacture Cigars and hence the Cuban cigar was born. In appreciation for Spain's kind gesture, the Cubans would deliver a box of their best cigars to the Spanish king every year. These cigars were the fabled Trinidad's.

Cigars become popular in the United States during the Lincoln years. Factories began to open in New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The term stogie is actually named after Conestoga, Pennsylvania where one of the first cigar factories were built.
The cigar industry did well up until the 1960's when smoking became more of a health concern amongst Americans. At the same time, the United States imposed an embargo against Cuba making it illegal for US citizens to import goods from Cuba. Today Cigars are back and are becoming extremely popular amongst men and women.