Cuba (officially the Republic of Cuba) is the largest island in the Caribbean; located south of the USA and west of Mexico. It has an area of 109,884 square kilometres, and a population of 11.2 million. The language spoken is Spanish. The Tobacco Industry is Cuba's third largest export sector.
The island is divided into the following providences.
The Pinar del Rio province is the most important growing area in Cuba. It is located at the western end of Cuba and contains the Vuelta Abajo and the Semi Vuelta regions.
Arguably nowhere in the world grows tobacco better than Cuba. But even here, only a few selected farms are judged good enough to grow the tobacco for Habanos.
Vuelta Abajo is the main region of tobacco for Habanos, and the only region that grows all types of leaf, but less than a quarter of the tobacco-growing land enjoys the Vegas Finas de Primera status that is required for the growing of tobacco for Habanos. San Luis: Small town at the epicentre of Cuban tobacco culture, known above all for the cultivation of wrapper leaves.
Second most important region region in the western heartland of Cuban tobacco cultivation, and another location for the cultivation of Habano wrapper leaves. The area employed is very small, however, barely one per cent of Semi Vuelta's total tobacco-producing land. Most of Semi Vuelta's tobacco is grown for other purposes.
The Vuelta Arriba region contains the Remedios tobacco-growing areas, which is the source of all types of leaf for José L Piedra. The soil and climate have their own distinctive character, but methods of cultivation used here are the same as in other regions.
Another area specialising in the cultivation of wrapper leaves.
The Tobacco Plant
In 1907 Cuban botanists, researching the indigenous Cuban black tobacco (Tabaco Negro Cubano), developed a seed variety Habanensis , which had the characteristic Cuban taste but was more disease resistant.
Around 1940, an improved seed variety Criollo was developed, and later a sub-variety Corojo was developed for wrappers. In 1992, Habana 2000 was introduced. This was followed in 1998 by Criollo 98.
In 2006 more resistant hybrids were developed, being Habano 2006 (from Habana 2000 & Criollo 1998) which are being used for the 2006/07 crop. These new hybrids are more disease resistant, have extra leaves, and do not flower.
The growing condition of the plants and the leaf location determines its final use. Plants are either sun grown or shade grown.
Sun Grown Tobacco
The lower leaf (Volado) is used for lighter flavoured fillers and for binders. It is especially valued for its combustibility, and is classified as Fortaleza 1 (Strength 1).
The middle leaf (Seco) is used for medium flavoured fillers. This is the most important leaf for aroma, and is classified as Fortaleza 2 (Strength 2).
The upper leaf (Ligero) is used for full flavoured fillers. This is a slower burning leaf and is used to add strength to the cigar. It is classified as Fortaleza 3 (Strength 3).
Medio Tiempo Leaf
The very small top leaf (Medio Tiempo) is used in limited edition cigars to give them a unique taste versus regular production cigars. Medio Tiempo requires special fermentation methods and has a unique taste. It is classified as Fortaleza 4 (Strength 4).
Three types of leaf are normally blended to form the filler (tripa), the main source of the flavour and aroma of the cigar. These are the Volado, Seco, and Ligero. Medio Tiempo leaf is only used in special high value cigars such as the new Cohiba Behike range.
The binder (capote), is the special leaf that wraps around the leaves of the filler, to hold and define the cigar shape.
The wrapper (capa) is the thin supple leaf that forms the outer surface of the cigar. The wrapper is for visual effect and is said to be responsible for around 10% of the cigars flavour.
The Growing Cycle
Tobacco for premium Habanos cigars is a single yearly crop. From soil preparation to the end of harvesting is around nine months. The soil and plants requires extensive irrigation and care.
Reports of second (or third) crops does not apply to Habanos cigar tobacco.
Selection of the Seed
Selection of the tobacco seed is the responsibility of Cuba's Tobacco Research Station. They distribute the seed free-of-charge to the growers (Vegueros).
Growing the Seed
The tradition method of growing the seeds was in externally located open seed beds.
This is now being replaced by a system comprising soil-filled plastic trays, floating on a "hydroponic like" water and fertiliser system. These growing areas are located externally but are enclosed with a plastic tent-like structure.
After 45 to 50 days, the seedlings are ready to plant-out.
Preparation of the Soil
Preparation of the soil traditionally starts on the 15th September each year.
The premium tobacco areas continue to use the tradition method of oxen and plough, however agricultural machinery is slowing being introduced. The soil is fertilised with organic matter.
Planting the Seedlings
The seedlings are planted into the prepared soil by hand.
Around 30,000 seedlings are planted per hectare. The fields are progressively planted to spread out the farmers burden.
Tending the Crop
Tending the crop is extremely intensive.
Around 3 to 4 weeks after planting out, the soil is banked up around the base of the plant to promote a strong root system.
As each plant reached its desired height the top bud is manually removed to promote leaf growth. This de-budding also causes undesirable side root growth, which must be manually removed from the plants every few days. During this time, careful and constant irrigation must be carried out.
For the areas destined for wrapper leaf, the fields must be enclosed under canopies of muslin cloth with 10 to 20 days after planting out.
The filler and binder leaf are grown fully in the open.
Around 40 days after planting out, the 30 day harvesting cycle begins.
Picking starts from the bottom of the plant, picking the 2 or 3 lowest small leafs. This first picking leaf is normally destine to small machine made cigars.
After 7 days the main picking occurs, on a 3 day cycle.
For shade-grown plants the lower leaves (for lighter coloured wrapper) are picked. Subsequent pickings progress upwards to the darker coloured wrapper leaf at the top of the plant.
For sun-grown plants, the second picking is for the Volado for lighter-flavoured filler and for binders. Next is the Seco leaf suitable for medium-flavoured filler leaf. Next is the Ligero, the full-flavoured filler leaf. Finally, some plants produce the prized Medio Tiempo filler leaf, used only in some super premium or special release cigars.
Curing is another labour intensive and complex process.
Wrapper leaf is air-dried in special curing barns for around 50 days.
Filler leaf is also air-dried but is exposed to a 5 to 7 day external sun-drying period both before and after the barn curing.
Sorting, Stripping, & Fermentation
For wrapper leaf, the leaves are moistened before classifying and sorting each leaf by size . The classified wrappers are wrapper in jute cloth and allowed to rest for for 10 to 15 days, before grouping, bundling, and finally bailing the wrapper leaf, ready to ship to the factories.
For filler and binder leaf the initial sorting process is similar to the wrapper leaf. The leaf is then stacked into piles and undergoes a 30 to 50 day fermentation process. During this period the "pile" temperatures is carefully monitored and controlled.
After fermentation, the filler leaf is stripped of its centre vain, packed and bailed and sent to storage rooms for aging. The fermentation process reduces acidity, tar, and nicotine and smoothes the flavour of the filler leaf and evens out the colour of the wrapper leaf.
Storage & Aging
In the warehouse, the leaf is stored to age. From 2006, Habanos has increased the minimum aging time as follows:
Production methods and processes are as follows:
Unpacking involves carefully unpacking and moistening of the leaf to avoid damage, especially to the wrapper leaf. This is done in special airing rooms.
Blending is done to a specific standard set for each brand and individual vitola. The details of these blends are only known to Tabacuba (who own the fields, processing houses, and factories).
The Master Blender selects from the available leaf to achieve the required blend for each vitola to be produced. The correct amount of leaf is then supplied to each roller in batches, to be incorporated into complete cigars.
Small gauge cigars with a ring size of less than 36, do not contain any Ligero leaf.
Handmade Cigars - Totalmente a Mano Tripa Larga (long filler)
For fully handmade cigars, the roller (Torcedora) first lays out the binder leaf.
The full size (Tripa Larga) filler leaves are then gathered, folded, and aligned (to ensure a clear passage) . The leaves are arranged with the lighter flavoured tips at the foot of the cigar. The stronger flavoured slower burning Ligero leaf is placed along the centre of the cigar.
Next the bunch is formed by rolling the filler onto the laid-out binder leaf, starting at the foot. The head of the bunch is guillotined and the bunch is pressed into a timber mould to form the shape.
After this stage, the bunches are subject to a suction draw test. This testing commenced circa 2002; initially only random cigars were suction tested for minimum draw pressure. Now every cigar undergoes a suction test to satisfy both minimum and maximum draw pressures.
The wrapper is then prepared, smooth side out. After trimming the exposed edge, the formed bunch is laid on the wrapper and rolled, starting at the cigar's foot. The cap is then fitted and the cigar guillotined to length.
Handmade Short-Filler Cigars - Totalmente a Mano Tripa Corta
Handmade Short Filler cigars have a filler composed of leaf trimmings from the bunches of long filler cigars combined with other selected chopped tobacco, but full size binders and wrappers are used.
Some short-filler cigars are still produced by Habanos SA.
Machine-made Cigars - Mecanizado
Machine-made cigars were produced from the 1950s and were made with either long or short filler tobacco. They could be produced in large quantities and were significantly cheaper than hand-made cigars.
Almost all machine-made cigars were once produced in both fully machine-made and hand-finished versions.
There was a significant phasing out of machine-made cigars between 2002 and 2005. By 2006, no machine made cigars remained in the Habanos SA range.
Machine-bunched hand-finished cigar had the filler and binder bunched by machine but the wrapper was applied by hand.
Hand finishing of machine bunched cigars (by the hand application of the wrapper) was reduced in the 1990s and was fully phased out by circa 2002.
No longer produced by Habanos SA.
Small cigars are classified as machine-made cigars that weigh less than 3 grams and use short filler tobacco. They are available in some Cuban cigar brand names. This range includes the Mini, Club, and Puritos.
Before circa 2001, they were produced outside Cuba using 100% Cuban Tobacco. Since then they have been produced in Cuba and therefore can be legally called Cuban cigars.
In circa 2005 mini cigars were taken out of the Habanos range, and are now produced by Internacional Cubana de Tabacos, S.A.
Cigarettes made from Cuban tobacco are available in some Cuban cigar brand names.
Cigarettes are not listed in this website.
Fumigation & Conditioning
Before packing, the cigars are fumigated with Phosphine (Phosphorus Hydride) to control the tobacco beetle Serricorne, and then conditioned in bundles in cedar lined cabinets, to reduce and stabilise their moisture. These cabinets are maintained between 16°C - 18°C and 65% - 70% RH.
Quality control is provided by testing and supervision during the rolling, and later by both non-destructive and destructive testing.
The supervisors are expert rollers, who are mainly involved in checking technique, construction and physical cigar sizes at the rolling tables. Each cigar must pass a suction draw test before the wrapper is applied.
After leaving the roller, the cigars go to the quality control section, where each cigar is checked for weight, length, ring size, consistency, construction and appearance.
Samples are also opened up to check internal filler construction, arrangement, and blending of the leaf.
Finally, a sample of the cigars are test-smoked to ensure that they are consistent with the required character of the vitola. They are graded for draw, burn, aroma, flavour, strength, and overall quality.
General consensus is that there has been a substantially overall improvement in Cuban cigars (due to improved and additional quality control and the older aged filler leaf now being used). This improvement has been especially apparent since 2006 and these cigars now smoke better and earlier.
In addition to fumigation, freezing of the finished cigars is used to kill the tobacco beetle Lasioderma serricorne.
Freezing of cigars commenced around early 2005. It is carried out in the Habanos main temperature and humidity controlled storage and distribution building. This, combined with fumigation, is intended to kill all eggs, insects, and lava within the tobacco.
Some regional distributors had their own freezing facilities, predating the Habanos plant.
Wrappers have a basic colour classification as shown.
There are many shades within each basis colour. As far as possible, cigars of the same shade are allocated to a single box.
When there is a slight difference, the shades are arranged to run from darker to lighter, from left to right across the box.
In 2002 Tabacuba began consolidating the production of their various brands into key factories, a step that is viewed as a major improvement.
Under the old system, the production of most brands was spread out among various factories, but maintaining consistent blends and quality proved inefficient and difficult.
The following is only the briefest summary of some of the more important or current factories. For a full treatise on this subject, the publication The Great Habanos Factories by Adriano Martinez Rius is recommended.
Cabanas Factory - Closed
The Cabanas factory was established in 1810 specifically for the (now discontinued) Cabanas brand. This factory closed in 1903 when production was transferred to the old La Corona factory.
The Cienfuegos factory, established circa 1925, still produces the Quintero brand.
El Laguito Factory
El Laguito, established in 1966, is Cuba's most exclusive cigar factory producing the premium Cohiba brand. Up until circa 1998 it also produced the Trinidad diplomatic range.
El Rey del Mundo Factory
The old El Rey del Mundo factory was established in its present location some time after the 1930s. It produced the El Rey del Mundo brand and the (now discontinued) machine-made Status de Luxe, Troya, and Gispert brands.
In 2005 the El Rey del Mundo brand was transferred to the Romeo y Julieta factory and the factory was converted to produce the Special Replica Antique Humidor Series.
Since 2010, with the closure of cigar production at the Partagás factory, it now also produces Partagás, Bolivar, Ramon Allones, and La Gloria Cubana brands.
H. Upmann Factory
The H. Upmann factory was commissioned in 1844 specifically for the H. Upmann brand. Later the Montecristo and Diplomaticos brands were also produced. In circa 2002, H. Upmann moved to new (renovated) premises.
Jose L. Piedra Factory
The Jose L. Piedra factory moved to its current location circa 1955, and is still producing the Jose L. Piedra brand.
La Corona Factory
The old La Corona factory was built in 1904 specifically for the (now discontinued) La Corona brand.
The new La Corona factory was commissioned in 2005, replacing the original factory. The new factory can produce 12 million cigars annually, producing Hoyo de Monterrey, La Flor de Cano, Por Larrañaga, Punch, San Cristobel, and other brands when contracted by other factories.
La Eminencia Factory - Closed
The La Eminencia factory was established circa 1848 and had several premises until the 1920s, when its only remaining brand, Ramon Allones, was transferred to the Partagas factory.
La Escepcion Factory - Closed
The La Escepcion factory was established circa 1865 specifically for the (now discontinued) La Escepcion brand. The factory moved location in 1882, and later introduced the Hoyo de Monterrey brand. In 1960, the factory was taken over by the State and the brands transferred to the old La Corona factory.
La Habana Factory
The La Habana factory makes Fonseca, Sancho Panza, and Juan Lopez.
Partagás Factory - Closed
The Partagás factory was established circa 1840 and moved to its present location circa 1920s. It previously made Partagás, Bolivar, Ramon Allones, and La Gloria Cubana cigars; but these were transferred to the El Rey del Mundo factory in 2010.
The LCDH store at this location i s still open.
It is proposed to open a Museum of Tobacco by 2015.
Pinar del Rio Factory
The Pinar del Rio factory makes the Trinidad, Vegas Robaina, and Vegueros brands.
Por Larrañaga Factory - Closed
The Por Larrañaga factory was established in 1834 specifically for the Por Larrañaga brand. The factory closed in 2005 when production was transferred to the new La Corona factory.
Romeo y Julieta Factory - Closed
The Romeo y Julieta factory made Romeo y Julieta, Cuaba, Quai d'Orsay, El Rey del Mundo, and Saint Luis Rey brands. The factory closed in 2011 and will be re-established in a new factory currently under construction outside Habana.
Cuban Tobacco Industry Factory (ICT)
The Internacional Cubana de Tabacos, S.A. (ICT) was formed in 2001 and is now the only manufacturer of fully machine-made Cuban cigars.
They produce the Belinda, Guantanamera, and Troya brands plus some Cuban brand-name small cigars (cigars less than 3 grams) comprising the Mini, Club, and Puritos sizes.