Cuban Cigars Made Old-Fashioned Way
By The Associated Press
HAVANA (AP) --
The passion for Cuba's high-quality cigars has fired
up in recent years. American politicians, actors, businessmen -- and a
growing number of women -- are indulging in what, for many people,
remains a politically incorrect habit.
The current trend
may be new, but the story of Cuba's world famous
cigars is an old one, stretching back to the conquest of the New World,
when Christopher Columbus arrived on the island to find the native
shaman smoking strange brown leaves out of a wood pipe.
Later, the Spaniards
picked up the habit. Then they began rolling the
leaves into long sticks that could be smoked without a pipe, and the cigar
was born. By the late 1500s, tobacco was grown commercially in Cuba
for export to the Old World.
The process for
making Cuban cigars today remains much the same as it
was more than four centuries ago. Now, as then, the best tobacco is
grown in broad fields in the island's west, where farmers lovingly tend the
tobacco plants' thick green leaves.
Rather than use
damaging pesticides, nets are sometimes placed over the
plants to keep out insects. In some cases, cheesecloth is draped over the
leaves to keep out the burning rays of the sun.
Once the plants
reach maturity, a process that takes two to four months,
leaves of up to a foot long and almost as wide are picked by hand in the
primary growing region of western Pinar del Rio province.
through the leaves, selecting the best ones. They will later
be used to make the Cohibas, the Partagas, and the Romeo y Julieta
cigars favored by tobacco connoisseurs the world over.
Finally, the leaves are hung to dry in special curing warehouses.
Once dried to
a brown, crinkly texture, the leaves are packed in bales
and trucked to the numerous cigar factories of Havana. There, workers
unpack the leaves, sort them again, flatten them and deliver them to the
Cigars are rolled
by hand by workers sitting along rows of tables. The
roller saves a higher quality leaf for the outer, final layer of the cigar or
project that Cuba's 25,000 tobacco workers, involved
in everything from cultivation to final packaging, will produce 200 million
cigars for export this year. That's 25 percent more than last year.
Cuba's biggest export market for cigars, receiving about
42 million annually. France is second, followed by the tourists who buy
boxes of cigars when they visit Cuba.
Britain and the countries of Asia also big markets for Cuba's
The most important
potential market is only 90 miles away, but out of
bounds: the United States. Officials of Cuba's state-run tobacco
companies estimate they could sell 50 million to 60 million cigars to the
United States annually if the three-decade-old U.S. trade embargo
against the communist island were lifted.