I’m not much of a cigar smoker, but I’m fascinated with the history, manufacturing process, and graphic design of Cuban cigars. I was fortunate enough to visit Vinales, the Valley where tobacco leaves are grown and the Partagas cigar factory, where the cigars are made.
Cuban cigars arerolled from tobacco leaves found throughout the country of Cuba. The filler, binder, and wrapper may come from different portions of the island. All cigar
production in Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government, and each brand
may be rolled in several different factories in Cuba.
Cuban cigar rollers or “torcedores” are claimed by cigar experts to be the most skilled rollers in the world. Torcedores are highly respected in Cuban society and culture and travel worldwide displaying their art of hand rolling cigars.
Habanos SA and Cubatabaco between them do all the work relating to Cuban cigars, including manufacture, quality control, promotion and distribution, and export. Cuba produces both handmade and machine made cigars. All boxes and labels are marked Hecho en Cuba (made in Cuba). Machine-bunched cigars finished by hand add Hecho a mano, while fully hand-made cigars say Totalmente a mano in script text, though not all Cuban cigars will include this statement. Because of the perceived status of Cuban cigars, counterfeits are somewhat commonplace.
CUBAN CIGAR BRANDS
Partagás is among the oldest extant brands of cigars, established in Havana in 1845. The name is used today by two independent and competing entities, one produced on the island of Cuba for Habanos SA, the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in the Dominican Republic for the General Cigar Company, which is today a subsidiary of Swedish Match.
Cohiba is a brand for two kinds of premium cigar, one produced in Cuba for Habanos S.A., the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in the Dominican Republic. The name cohíba derives from the Taíno word for “tobacco.” The Cuban brand is filled with tobacco which, unique to Cohiba, has undergone an extra fermentation process; as such, it is a type as well as a brand.
Montecristo is the name of two brands of premium cigars, one produced in Cuba for Habanos SA, the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in La Romana, Dominican Republic for the Franco-Spanish tobacco monopoly Altadis SA.
Romeo y Julieta is the name of two brands of premium cigar, one produced on the island of Cuba for Habanos SA, the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in La Romana, Dominican Republic for Altadis SA.
Hoyo de Monterrey
In 1831, Don José Gener y Batet emigrated to Cuba from Spain at the age of thirteen, where he worked on his uncle’s plantation in Vuelta Abajo. Twenty years later, he would open his own cigar factory in Havana and begin producing his own cigar line, La Escepción. In 1865, after using his factory’s profits to acquire one of the best tobacco farms in Vuelta Abajo, he registered a cigar line named for it: Hoyo de Monterrey.
H. Upmann is a brand name of premium cigar, made in two versions: one produced on the island of Cuba for Habanos SA, the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in La Romana, Dominican Republic for the Franco-Spanish tobacco monopoly Altadis SA. Established in 1844, the H. Upmann brand is among the oldest in the cigar industry.
H. Upmann is among the oldest cigar brands in existence, dating back to the 1840s. Around 1840, banker Herman Upmann opened a branch office in Havana, which provided ample opportunity to send cigars home to Europe. The possibilities of a commercial endeavor became clear to Upmann and in 1844 he invested in a cigar factory and the H. Upmann brand was launched.
The Punch brand was first registered in 1840 by German named Stockmann and named for the European puppet show character, Mr. Punch (not the magazine, which was created a year later). The brand quickly became a success, especially in Great Britain. The first change of ownership came in 1874, when the brand was bought by a Luis Corujo, and again in 1884, when the brand was purchased by Manuel López Fernández and its bands and boxes still bear his name to this day. Retiring in 1924 and dying shortly after, López gave ownership of the brand to Esperanza Valle Comas, who only held it for a few years before the Stock Market Crash of 1929.
Like most other businesses around the world, the Cuban cigar industry faced financial hardships. In 1930, the firm of Fernández, Palicio y Cía bought up the brand, where it became one of the company’s headlining cigar marques, along with Belinda, La Escepción, and Hoyo de Monterrey, and maintained its popularity with British cigar smokers.
Bolívar is the name of two brands of premium cigar, one produced on the island of Cuba for Habanos SA, the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in the Dominican Republic from Dominican and Nicaraguan tobacco for General Cigar Company, which is today a subsidiary of Swedish Match. Both are named for the South American revolutionary, Simón Bolívar.
The Cuban-produced Bolívar cigars are very full-bodied and said to be some of the strongest produced in Cuba.
The brand was founded (possibly in Great Britain) by José F. Rocha around 1901 or 1902, though the brand was not registered in Havana (Cuba) until 1921, under the ownership of Rocha’s firm, J.F. Rocha y Cia.
During this time, the Bolívar brand produced the world’s smallest cigar, the Delgado, measuring a mere 1 7/8 inches with a 20 ring gauge, and even had the honor of having a miniature box of its cigars featured in the royal nursery’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle.
The brand was bought in 1954 by Cifuentes y Cia after Rocha’s death and production was moved to the famous Partágas Factory in Havana (today known as the Francisco Pérez Germán factory), where many of its sizes are still produced today. During this time, under Cifuente’s direction, Bolívar gained popularity in the world market and became a major export brand.