United States and Cuba to Re-Open Embassies

United States and Cuba to Re-Open Embassies

The long wait is over.

The governments of the United States and Cuba have announced that they will re-open embassies in each country, ending a 54-year rupture in diplomatic relations between the two nations.

In remarks at the White House today, President Barack Obama said, “I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and reopen embassies in our respective countries. This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.”

In Havana, Cuban president Raul Castro’s letter to President Obama was read on national television. “We want to develop a friendship between our two nations that is based on the equality of rights and the people’s free will,” Castro said in the letter. The Cuban government announced the embassies would re-open on July 20.

According to news reports Vice President Joe Biden will travel to Havana to raise the American flag over the embassy, which has housed the U.S. Interests Section, the only formal U.S. presence inside Cuba, for more than 50 years.

But Castro’s letter also highlighted the hurdles that remained to a full restoration of all economic ties between the two countries. “There could be no normal relations between Cuba and the United States as long as the economic, commercial and financial blockade continues to be fully implemented, causing damage and scarcities to the Cuban people. The blockade is the main obstacle to the development of our economy; it is a violation of international law and affects the interests of all countries, including those of the United States.”

President Obama noted that the U.S. policy of isolating Cuba had failed for more than 50 years, and it was time to try “something new.” He also suggested that there was support among the American people, who recognize that re-establishing diplomatic relations is the “right thing to do.” He acknowledged that the two governments would continue to “have their differences,” but that he and President Castro can “continue to take steps forward that advance our mutual interests.” He added that the efforts included diplomatic relations, opening embassies in Havana and Washington and encouraging contacts between the two countries.

The two countries broke off ties in 1961 at a moment when the Cold War with the Soviet Union was ramping up, and Fidel Castro aligned Cuba with the Soviet Bloc. In the years after the diplomatic break, the two nations had virtually no official contact. Communications were limited to two offices, known as Interests Sections in Havana and Washington, which operated under the auspices of Swiss embassies in both countries. In December 2014, President Obama announced that he would begin the process to normalize relations with Cuba; he and President Castro met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, the first time leaders from both countries had met privately face to face since the 1960s. Since then, the U.S. State Department has removed Cuba from the list of nations accused of state-sponsored terrorism. The embassy re-opening is another tangible step toward full relations between the two countries.

Vintage Cubans Auction

Online Cigar Auction Features Vintage Cubans

London cigar retailer C.Gars Ltd. will hold its second vintage cigar auction of this year on June 15. The auction, to be held at The Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, has more than 300 lots up for sale, which are available online for pre-auction bidding. Buyers who cannot attend the auction will also be able to place bids live online when the sale begins at 2 p.m., London time.

Some of the more unusual and eclectic highlights include pre-embargo Cubans, such as a cabinet of 50 H. Upmann Perfectos originally made for The Chicago Club with a pre-sale estimate of £6,000 to £8,000 ($9,216 to $12,289); a 50-count cabinet of Hoyo de Monterrey Nacionales estimated to bring in £5,000 to £6,000 ($7,681 to $9,216); a cabinet of 100 Ramon Allones Coronas de Lujo estimated at £12,000 to £14,000 ($18,485 to $21,508); and a cabinet of 100 Romeo y Julieta Coronations de Luxe with a pre-sale estimate of £10,000 to £12,000 ($15,365 to $18,485).

Mitchell Orchant, managing director of C.Gars Ltd, said that interest in the auction is already extremely high. Since the last auction in February, Orchant said he has been receiving calls from collectors for the date of the next auction.

“I can only tell you that we were achieving excellent prices in the February 2015 online auction so I would expect this auction will see similar results,” he said. Orchant added that there’s a strong lineup of Cuban Davidoff cigars in the auction, including lots of château series and Davidoffs No. 1 and No. 2.

At 19 scheduled lots, there will be no shortage of Cuban Davidoff cigars. One of the priciest Davidoffs going on the block is a box of 10 Davidoff 80th Aniversarios that will probably sell for £3,000 to £3,500 ($4,608 to $5,376).

Danny DeVito portrait.

Although there are 19 lots listed under the catalog’s Dunhill section, they consist mostly of third-party Dunhill Selección cigars, like Dunhill Selección H. Upmanns and Dunhill Selección Montecristos, rather than cigars under the Dunhill proper brand. There is, however, a box of 25 Dunhill proper Tubos, circa 1980s, estimated to command between £2,000 to £2,500 ($3,000 to $3,839).

Other featured lots include a box of 25 Cohiba Lanceros, circa 1980, for £4000 to £5000 ($6,145 to $7,681), and a diplomatic box of 25 Cohiba Corona Especiales, each affixed with a King Juan Carlos of Spain band. The box is estimated to close at £3,000 to £4,000 ($4,608 to $6,145).

There are also plenty of more recently produced cigars from the 1990s, and regional and limited-edition cigars rolled in the last 15 years. There are a few bottles of older rums, as well as box of Macanudo Petit Coronas from the 1970s.

Cigar Humidor

Talking Humidors With Daniel Marshall

Daniel Marshall has been making quality humidors for more than three decades. His humidors, which are built in the United States, have been rated at the top of Cigar Aficionado tests on a consistent basis, and he has built a reputation for quality. He also sells cigars under his name. In April, Marshall sat down with executive editor David Savona for a conversation about humidors.

SAVONA: How long have you been making humidors?

MARSHALL: 32 years. 1982 was my first year, and what a pleasure it has been. What an adventure and a journey.

Q: A humidor is, of course, much more than a box. Looking at one from the outside they are gorgeous, but there’s a lot of function that has to go into it. What are some of the things that a humidor has to do? And what’s difficult about making a proper humidor?

A: There is function, and there is beauty. And my goal, since day one, was to be able to do both. And there was a third element that was important, too, because I come from a lower middle-class family—it has to be affordable. My dream was to make affordable luxury. It wasn’t a super high-expensive thing, diamond encrusted that no one could afford except for kings, princes and billionaires. I wanted to make something that people could aspire to collect and afford and that’s what’s happening.

Daniel Marshall Sterling Silver Humidor

Daniel Marshall Sterling Silver Humidor

First of all, you have the materials. You have to be absolutely neurotic about getting the most perfect Spanish cedar that is harvested in the forest at exactly the right window of the year. If you harvest it in the wrong time it will create sap that will never go away.

Q: So it has to be done at a certain time of year?

A: If you harvest at the wrong time, no matter how much you sand it, the sap just keeps coming out. There’s no way to kiln-dry it—it’s all about when you cut it down. Our cedar is from Brazil. That’s critical.

Q: Did you learn that through trial and error?

A: We did grab some from other people and we had that problem. During that, we were so puzzled, we found out why. Of course you want a humidor that never moves. You want it as stable as possible.

Q: You’re referring to the joints?

A: You don’t want the seams to spread.

Q: That must be difficult with any box, but especially so with a humidor. It’s 70 percent humidity inside the box, and perhaps 40 percent outside. There’s a war going on.

A: Yes, an atmospheric war. Our goal is, of course, to replicate the climate of Nicaragua, Cuba, Dominican Republic. That’s the idea. I’m a big believer that the aging of cigars should be between 65 percent and 70 percent humidity.

Q: So you’re a believer in 65?

Danny Marshall limited-edition Scarface humidor.

Danny Marshall limited-edition Scarface humidor

A: I like 65 not only for aging, but for smoking. There’s nothing like taking a well-made cigar that has that perfect resistance, and you don’t even draw on it—it just flows into your mouth. It’s lighter than even your breath. I’ve smoked our cigars, where we’ve achieved that, Padrón cigars, Fuentes, some great Cubans. That’s one of my goals. It’s also a function of humidity—if it’s more humid, it will be a tighter draw.

Hardware—you want a box that will stand the test of time. This humidor is an item that will be passed on generation to generation. In one way it’s counter productive to build a business model on something that’s going to be passed on forever, but I don’t care. If it’s not top quality, I’m not interested.

All gold plated, with many layers of gold, using mahogany that’s kiln dried, so it can go from humid environments to non-humid environments. Our humidors are in every corner of the world.

Q: Are there some areas that are harder than others?

A: Arizona. Las Vegas. Singapore sometimes doesn’t have air conditioning and it gets very humid.

Q: So it works both ways—if it’s above 70 percent humidity?

A: You want to keep the humidity out. When Marlon Brando, my hero, he called us. My assistant said Marlon Brando is on the phone, he wants to buy a humidor. We talked on the phone. I said what do you need? He said, ‘Your biggest.’ I said, ‘I’m a huge fan. Can I ask you why you are buying these humidors? I never knew you were a cigar smoker.’ He said ‘I’m not a cigar smoker. I’m going to take these to Tahiti, put my scripts in there, and it will keep the humidity out.’

Q: That’s fantastic. Where are your humidors made?

A: In the United States, in Santa Ana, California.

Q: I know you build humidors for a very good price, such as your Ambiente, but you have also made special humidors at the top of the spectrum, such as the one done in sterling silver. Can you talk about some of your more ornate projects?

A: There’s nothing like a challenge. If you have clients—and there are people out there who want you to do something wild and crazy—it’s fun to do. Like the one I did for Bijan, maybe 18 years ago. He said, ‘My best client is a Davidoff Cuban cigar smoker, and he wants a humidor that looks like the inside of his jet.’ I had to lacquer it, all in pieces, put it together, and trays of macassar ebony all built to fit each size of the Cuban Davidoffs. There were drawers, and on the outside it was covered in alligator.

Q: What else to know about humidors?

A: The construction is important—you want it to never warp, the humidification system has to be right. It has to be very consistent. I’m fanatical about aging cigars. I think cigars become something more than a cigar with age. That’s why we age our Red Label cigars for one year. I don’t let them out. At events I do a comparison of an aged Daniel Marshall cigar vs. an unaged Daniel Marshall cigar. It doesn’t matter that we use five-year-old tobacco—the age knocks off the rough edges.

Q: What percentage of cigar smokers, do you think, own a humidor?

A: Humidor—what is considered a humidor. Just a box? A humidor made in China? Or a quality humidor that will stand the test of time? Something that provides some element of shelter, I would guess 80 percent or less. I think many people don’t realize how important a humidor is, and how important aging is.

The Right Retailer?

I usually don’t buy cigars but I’d like to give them away as gifts. How do I make sure I am buying cigars from the right place?

There are some key signs that a cigar retailer has his act together.

First, note what questions a retailer asks you. Like any retail business, the salesperson should try to cater to a customer’s specific needs. All those cigars on the shelves are different and some will be better suited to certain palates and level of smoker.

Also, if you are shown into a walk-in humidor, pay attention to the atmosphere inside. If moist air caresses your face, and the temperature is right around 70 degrees, you know you’re in the right place. This sort of environment takes time, trouble and expense to maintain, pointing to a conscientious tobacconist.

If you still doubt the conditions, however, pick up a cigar and very gently roll it between your fingers. If it is supple, oily and has just a small amount of give when you lightly squeeze, you can pretty much rest assured that the cigars are in good shape.

Be wary of cigars kept in glass display cases that look as if they have been there forever. Sometimes the humidification units in these types of cases are not efficient. Check the cigars themselves in the same way mentioned above. If you are not allowed, be suspicious.

Diplomaticos Bushido Asia Pacific Region

Diplomaticos Bushido Comes To Asia
Pacific Region

Bushido. It’s the samurai code of honorable conduct. It’s the way of the warrior. But it’s also the name of the new Cuban Regional Edition Diplomaticos launching this week through Pacific Cigar Ltd., the distributor of Cuban cigars for the Asia Pacific territory that includes Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Known as a No. 109 in Cuban cigar factories, the Diplomaticos Bushido measures 7 1/4 inches by 50. But what makes the size distinct is its tapered, blunted belicoso head. A long discontinued vitola in the regular-production Cuban portfolio, the 109 is rarely seen and only released intermittently by Habanos S.A. for special projects such as this one.

But the Bushido is also a commemorative cigar of sorts. Pacific Cigar told Cigar Insider that it was created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the very first Japanese citizen to visit Cuba. During the Keicho mission, samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga stopped in Cuba (then part of New Spain) on his way to the Vatican in Rome. (The Diplomaticos Bushido was originally intended for a 2014 release.)

Pacific Cigar celebrates the spirit of diplomacy and the code of the samurai with these Diplomaticos Bushidos, which come packaged in a decorative black outer shell designed with an eye-catching samurai motif. But they won’t come cheap.

Cuba Unveils Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva

Cuba is continuing its trend of releasing ultra-pricey, limited-edition cigars at the Habanos Festival, the annual gathering of cigar distributors, retailers and lovers of fine Cuban cigars.

The Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva Cosecha 2009, a plump cigar adorned with three bands, was previewed to those who attended the opening night party in Havana on Monday, February 23. Like other Gran Reserva cigars, the tobaccos used in the Wide Churchill come from a vintage crop, in this case the 2009 harvest.

The Gran Reserva Wide Churchill measures 5 1/8 inches long by 55 ring gauge and comes in boxes of 15. Only 5,000 boxes, each individually numbered and painted with a piano-black finish, have been created.

The cigar is unlikely to go on sale until the end of the year, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for its release to be pushed back to 2016. (The Partagás Lusitania Gran Reserva, which was previewed at the 2013 Festival, didn’t go on sale until nearly a year later.

A sample of the cigar, which was made with an unblemished, tawny brown wrapper, was smoked during the Festival. The draw was spot on, requiring just the right amount of effort. The burn was slightly uneven; the ash was blackish grey, typical for Cuban cigars. The flavor was impressive, with a honeyed peanut note and a sweet, unctuous quality reminiscent of a Sauternes dessert wine.

Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill Gran Reserva Cosecha 2009.

Preview cigars aren’t always the same as the end product that appears on shelves months later, so how the final cigar smokes remains to be seen.

Topping Tobacco Cuban Cigar Online

Cigar Aficionado

A tobacco plant is driven to reproduce, so it concentrates most of its energy on making a big, beautiful flower, which contains thousands of tiny tobacco seeds. The flower grows at the very top of the plant. Tobacco farmers need some seeds, but sometimes they want to grow tobacco with a little more kick, so that means removing the flower.

Taking off the flower is known as topping. When a tobacco plant is topped, especially when it’s done very early when the flower is but a bud, the tobacco plant concentrates its efforts on the leaves, which are later rolled into cigars. More energy to the leaves means more power, and stronger tobacco.

Connoisseur Corner

Connoisseur’s Corner: A Perfect Punch

Perfect smokes are very rare, and they take time to find. Cigar Aficionado has never given 100 points to a new cigar, only to ones that have aged gently, with the hands of father time smoothing the edges of superb cigars and slowly transforming them into something new. When all goes well, when everything is done properly, you just might end up with a flawless cigar. Such was the case with a Punch Double Corona from 1989. The late 1980s were superb years for Cuban cigars, and this large Punch has only gotten better after 25 years of aging. The rich smoke had a beautiful array of sweet spices and every element—the draw, burn and flavor—was ideal. Several other aged cigars impressed us, including a rare taste of a first release Fuente Fuente OpusX from the Dominican Republic.


Punch Monarca Tubo (1998)


Punch Monarca Tubo (1998)

Time has mellowed this Churchill, which spent a decade and a half in a silver tube. It has an array of of tea notes, ranging from oolong to green tea, before the cigar takes on a toast-and-honey character at its boldest. Still refined, but very light.

Davidoff No. 1 (1989)


Davidoff No. 1 (1989)

This is beginning to be a pattern. Whether these Cuban versions of the Davidoff are past their peak, or just in a dumb phase, it’s not clear. But the coffee and cocoa flavors are muted, and almost dominated by a dustiness. One of my favorite cigars that didn’t live up to my expectations. Still delicious, but not the delight it used to be.

Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfecxion No. 2 (1995)


Fuente Fuente OpusX Perfecxion No. 2 (1995)

This comes from an original batch of the famed brand from the Dominican Republic. It has mellowed considerably since its early, full-flavored profile, but it has plenty of power and aging potential left. Solid cedar notes frame a core of peppery flavors. Long finish, with a distinct earthiness.

Cohiba Siglo IV (1994)


Cohiba Siglo IV (1994)

This good-looking smoke eagerly swallows the flame when the lighter approaches. The smoke has a light dusting of truffle and is considerably rich, with an earthy quality and bold notes of coffee bean and roasted nuts, and an earthy finish. It’s delicious—not a powerhouse, but a cigar with balance, complexity and a long-lasting finish.


Hoyo de Monterrey Exclusivo (1995)


Hoyo de Monterrey Exclusivo (1995)

Another powerhouse double corona with a host of core Cuban tobacco flavors. The taste is rich, and backed up with a sweet spiciness that verges on cinnamon. It has a perfect draw.

— Marvin R. Shanken

Punch Double Corona (1989)


Punch Double Corona (1989)

A perfect cigar. The dark, luscious wrapper leads to a delicious combination of nutmeg, cinnamon and chocolate flavors on the palate. There is a deep richness to this cigar, and it performs perfectly—perfect draw, perfect burn, with an all-around smoothness. A home run.


Weekly Tip – Cracked Wrapper?

Cigar Aficionado

I was smoking a cigar when the wrapper began to crack and come undone. Ultimately, the whole wrapper came off. It had been in my humidor for several weeks, and I was very disappointed. Was this a manufacturing defect or was it something else?

The reason for the unfortunate unraveling is possibly not a defect.

While we can’t pinpoint the exact reason without knowing the full details, we can offer a few likely culprits.

The first, and our best guess, is your cigar was too dry. Either your humidor or the tobacconist’s humidor was not humidified correctly, which is somewhere between 68 percent and 72 percent. Since it had been stored in your humidor for several weeks, most likely the cigar dried out during this time.

To keep your cigars from drying out, first check your hygrometer to make sure it is properly calibrated (click here to read how). Next, ensure your humidor closes tightly so that the internal humidity level can be maintained.

Our second guess, you may have inadvertently cut too much of the cap off your smoke. The cap on a premium, handmade cigar is designed to secure the wrapper. When a cigarmaker finishes the head of a cigar, he or she applies a bit of vegetable based adhesive, or gomma, which secures the wrapper in place. Cut too much off and you will remove the part with the gomma, and the wrapper will begin to unwind from the cigar, ruining your smoke.

The third scenario, however, is that the manufacturer could very well have not applied enough gomma to the cap atop the head of the cigar. In this case, even a proper cut can cause the wrapper to peel off.

Although a poorly capped cigar can’t be avoided, user error can.

It might also be a good idea to get in the habit of testing the cigar before you fire it up. Many cigar enthusiasts will gently roll their cigar in their fingertips and listen for a crackle. That crackle sound, which is akin to dry leaves in the fall, signifies that cigar is too dry and could use some more time in the humidor.

2013–14 Cuban Tobacco Harvest May Be Worst in 20 Years

There have been persistent rumors about severe tobacco shortages in the Cuban cigar industry, especially wrappers. Speculation swirled around an extended shutdown of factories at the end of 2014—a normal, annual holiday practice—but in early 2015 it lasted several weeks longer than usual.

Sources in the Cuban cigar industry, who asked not be identified, confirmed this week that due to two poor harvests—the 2012–13 and the 2013–14 cycles—the country was suffering a temporary shortfall in tobacco inventories. The poor harvests had initially been confirmed by a grower in the Vuelta Abajo, who said that the 2013–14 harvest was the worst in 20 years in the prime growing region, and that some farmers did not get a single leaf into their drying barns last year.

The industry source said that the tobacco shortages explained, in part, the delays in some of Habano S.A.’s more prestigious high-end releases, such as the Edición Limitada and Regional Editions programs. But he assured that the situation was getting better as more and more tobacco had completed its aging process and was again available for use in the factories.

The poor harvests also are a probable explanation for the current shortage of Cohiba Behikes in the Havana cigar shops. But the source explained the lack of inventory was largely the result of an extensive reorganization at the El Laguito factory, where all Behikes are currently rolled. The source said that the situation at the factory had led to discussions about moving Behike production to factories in Villa Clara, an area outside of Havana where some of the 46 premium hand-rolled factories in the country are located. But he said that in the end no decision had been made; other sources said that Behike production would remain in Havana.

The source declined to provide more details about what was going on at El Laguito, one of the smaller, but highest-profile factories in Cuba.