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Cuban Cigars

What is Cuban-Seed Tobacco?

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

Straight up, cigars that are promoted with the phrase “Cuban-seed tobacco,” are not cigars that are grown in or made in Cuba. Cuban cigars are made from tobacco grown with Cuban seeds, but so are some cigars using tobacco grown outside of Cuba.

SO, WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

The term Cuban-seed tobacco usually refers to plants that are grown outside of Cuba with seeds that originated in Cuba, meaning seeds that came from tobacco plants grown in Cuba.

Not only is the first plant grown outside of Cuba with Cuban seed considered to be grown from Cuban seed, but all subsequent plants using the seed from the plant grown outside of Cuba also claim the title.

THE POST-REVOLUTIONARY EXODUS

The exodus of Cuban seed began in earnest with the exodus of Cuban cigar-makers after the Castro revolution nationalized the island’s cigar industry. The cigar makers took their prized tobacco seeds with them to countries like Honduras and, later, the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua, among others. In fact, some prescient Cuban cigar-makers had begun experimenting with planting Cuban seeds in Central America as early as 1956. Frank Llaneza, the father of Honduran Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars took those early, cured tobacco leaves back to Cuba in 1957 to test them in cigars. Daniel Rodriguez, one of pre-Castro Cuba’s most successful growers, grew tobacco in Nicaragua shortly after fleeing Cuba in 1960. The Oliva tobacco-growing family, wary of Fidel Castro, planted a tobacco farm in 1960 in La Plata, Honduras.

“We had a jump on producing tobacco outside of Cuba,” John Oliva, Sr., told Cigar Aficionado.

Those liberated Cuban seeds laid the foundation for the non-Cuban cigar industry we know and love today.

SO, WHY AREN’T CUBAN-SEED CIGARS THE SAME AS CUBAN CIGARS?

First, remember that the origin of cigars is determined by the nation in which the cigars are manufactured. More importantly, there are many factors that go into creating the flavor and other characteristics of a cigar. The seed from which the tobacco is grown is significant, but not necessarily most important. A seed planted in Cuban soil will not yield a tobacco leaf that tastes the same as that same seed varietal planted in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, or Nicaragua, though many Cuban cigar-makers have favorably compared Nicaraguan soil to Cuban soil. Ultimately, non-Cuban cigars, because of the capacity to blend tobaccos from anywhere in the world, can be much more complex than Cuban cigars.

HOW DO THE SEEDS GET OUT OF CUBA TODAY?

Simply, they are taken out by human beings. In 1998, I was sitting having espresso with a well-known tobacco grower in Estelí, Nicaragua. This man had fled Cuba in the early 1960s. Moments after we lit up our second cigars, a man, just in from Havana, approached with a small white envelope. He opened it and showed the grower some tiny seeds. These were among the first seeds from the Habano varietal that had been developed in Cuba. Over the next couple of years, Habano and Habano 2000 was being widely grown in Nicaragua.

Tobacco seeds are each about the size of a poppy seed. They’re not hard to hide and put in your pocket as you fly from Havana to, say, Managua. The practice of smuggling out Cuban seeds was of enough concern that in 2007 the Cubans started growing a hybrid varietal called Capero Uno that produced no flowers and, therefore, no seeds. The idea was to maintain control of the tobacco plant genetics and where the tobacco was grown. Unfortunately, for the Cubans, the leaves produced by this mix of Habanos 2000, Corojo ’99 and Criollo ’98 didn’t fare well during fermentation. Oh well.

CUBAN-SEED CIGARS YOU CAN BUY TODAY

The cigars you buy these days that promote “Cuban-seed tobacco” could be made almost anywhere in the world. And who knows the actual lineage of the original Cuban seed? The Garcia family, makers of My Father, rely on Cuban-seed tobaccos throughout the brands they roll at their factory in Estelí, Nicaragua. You’ll notice several blends with an Ecuador Habano wrapper leaf – a Cuban-seed wrapper grown in Ecuador.

Those non-Cuban Punch and Hoyo de Monterrey cigars made in Honduras contain Cuban seed, or, shall we say, have that ancestry. Punch promotes its core line by informing that, “The blend features Cuban-seed tobaccos covered in an Ecuador Natural wrapper that are sure to impress.” Macanudo and Kristoff, among others, tout their Cuban-seed wrappers.

The Punch Deluxe line is an excellent example of how good a blended cigar can be. The filler is Honduran Cuban seed tobacco, with Ecuador Sumatra and Connecticut Broadleaf wrappers. The Royal Corona, for example, 5 x 44, about $7.00, is a great full-bodied representation of the values of mixing different tobaccos.

The Kristoff Criollo boasts an oily Cuban-seed wrapper grown in Nicaragua. I like the chubby Robusto here, 5.5 x 54 and about $8.00. It’s medium to full-bodied, complex, and spicy from the Nicaraguan and Dominican fillers.

Macanudo has long used Cuban-seed filler. The Prince Phillip in the Macanudo Cafe line is a Churchill, 7.5 x 49, in the $9.00 range, that is classically mild with a Connecticut Shade wrapper.

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