Let Us Tell You A Story…
IT WAS THE EARLY 1960s: the world watched as the USSR, the United States, and Cuba were locked in a deadly Cold War. Many of Cuba’s profitable industries and valuable resources had long been controlled by large American corporations. The leaders of Cuba’s Revolution, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, wanted to take back control of their nation’s resources so as to return the profits to the local people. Castro began nationalizing all industries to thwart imperialist control. In retaliation the U.S. implemented heavy sanctions, limiting crucial trade between Cuba and the outside world. In the midst of the uprising and upheaval of a whole sociopolitical system, the Cuban economy declined as Castro’s ideologies began to isolate Cuba from international support.
If Castro was the face of the Cuban Revolution, his cigar would be its emblem.
One evening a bodyguard of Fidel’s shared some of his private supply of cigars with the leader. Castro himself recalls the tale like this:
“I used to see the man smoking a very aromatic, very nice cigar, and I asked him what brand he was smoking. He told me that it was a special blend, but that it came from a friend who makes cigars and he gave them to him. I said, let’s find this man.”
The man’s name was Eduardo Ribera, and the cigars pleased him so much that Castro sought out the cigar maker. Ribera told him what blend he used, which tobacco leaves he used and from which plantations, until they had enough information of their own to assemble a team of cigar makers, set up their own factory and begin production in 1966. It was a special blend, at the time unbranded. It was produced under conditions of tight security, as Castro was increasingly paranoid of sabotage (In fact, the technical services department of the American Intelligence Agency is now known to have worked on the development of exploding cigars as a means of assassination from the early 1960s.)
Fidel appointed Guevara as Minister of Industries, and had him oversee his cigar house, named El Laguito Factory. He was tasked to create this new super-premium blend that differed from all previously existing Cuban cigars: one that could be a dignified symbol of Cuban pride and prosperity.
But what were they going to call this cigar?
“What’s in a name?”
When the Spanish expedition, commanded by Christopher Columbus, arrived in Cuba in 1492 they saw tobacco for the first time in the New World. The Taino natives of the region, the first original inhabitants of Cuba, rolled and burned mysterious leaves which they called “Cohiba”, in an unknown ceremony for these newcomers. The word derived from the bunches of tobacco leaves rolled and smoked by the natives. It was the earliest known form of the Habano—or, Havana cigar.
From that, Fidel Castro’s revolutionary cigar took its name!
The Brand Takes Off—Cohiba’s Evolving Collection
The Cohiba brand was formally launched in 1968 by the Cuban State Tobacco Marketing Bureau. During the first few years only a few thousand boxes were produced annually, reserved for high-ranking government officials. The premium cigar was only seen outside Cuba as gifts for heads of state and visiting foreign diplomats. It was finally launched into international markets—excluding the U.S.—in 1982 in conjunction with the World Cup, held that year in Spain. By then, it had already secured its reputation as a coveted cigar with an elusive past; a proud national heritage, and birthed as a defiant symbol of the Cuban Revolution.
At the time of its first public launch, the cigar line consisted of three vitolas (sizes): Panetela (considered cigarettes), Corona Especial, and Lancero. In 1989 three more vitolas were added: the Robusto, the Exquisito, and Espléndido. These first six are now collectively known as the company’s Línea Clásica (classic line). Then in 1992 came the Línea 1492 to commemorate the 500th Anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in Cuba— Siglo I, II, II, III, IV, V to represent the five centuries since Columbus first discovered tobacco in the New World. They offer a slightly lighter flavour than the Línea Clásica. Ideal as a gift in their strikingly modern “Cohiba” tubes is the final addition to the line, the Siglo VI, released in 2002. An outstanding cigar in a brilliantly designed package. Arguably the best cigar to emerge from Cuba in the past decade!
The Maduro 5, the Cuban maduro (dark wrapper) cigar line was added in 2007. The Maduro 5 is heir to the best tradition of Cuban dark wrapper cigars (capa madura), which uses the upper leaves of the plant and obtains its characteristic range of dark colours and texture through a long, complex process of fully natural fermentation. This wrapper, enhanced by 5 years of aging, is used in Cohiba’s Maduro 5 line.
More recently, the Línea Behike, whose three sizes (52, 54, and 56 in reference to ring gauge) made their debut in 2010, was added as the most exclusive line of all. In its filler blend it uses a rare leaf found only amongst some of the top two leaves of sun-grown tobacco plants and brings an exceptional richness to the taste of the cigar.
The tobacco used for the manufacturing of these lines is very special. The Cohiba is not a large production, considering it is a particular Habano. It is very limited due to the quality of the harvest. The tobacco for Cohiba is selected from the finest Vegas Finas de Primera (first-class tobacco fields) in the San Luis and San Juan y Martinez zones of the Vuelta Abajo region of Pinar del Río Province. In 1992 just 10 carefully selected fields totaling about 700 acres were used for production of the Cohiba brand, their exact location a carefully guarded trade secret. The product of these fields is further selected for quality, with the output of just five of these fields used in Cohiba production in an average year.
The tobacco used to fill the cigars is unique among Cuban brands owing to a special third fermentation in wooden barrels at the El Laguito factory, aimed at producing a smoother flavour than other cigars. Originally all Cohibas were made at the El Laguito factory, a mansion located on the outskirts of Havana converted into a cigar-rolling school for women in 1961. Production of some Cohiba vitolas was later expanded to the Partagas factory in Havana, which manufactures its Cohiba product from pre-blended tobacco received from El Laguito.
Línea Clásica – Medium to Full
Línea 1492 – Medium
Línea Maduro 5 – Medium to Full
Línea Behike – Full
Characterized by the additional third year of fermentation, the tobacco imparts a smooth and distinctive taste which can be found in either the original and robust Línea Clásica or milder, more recent Línea 1492.
Through such constant innovation, Cohiba has held its position at the leading edge of the cigar world.