Think of Cuba and you see the spray crashing onto the seawall of the Malécon, the pastel-coloured Cadillacs with tail fins, the time-worn patrician houses in the Spanish Baroque style, the colourful washing fluttering in the wind, salsa and son – and, of course, cigars.
Cuba and the cigar are inextricably linked; indeed, Havana, the capital, has become a synonym for cigars. The Habano (Havana) is one of the best, igniting (not only proverbially) the fire and passion of any aficionado. The country’s unique tobacco and the roughly 300 steps required to make a Havana cigar account for its unrivalled quality.
Not until three years after they have been harvested does the moment come for tobacco leaves to be made into a Havana. In the so-called galera, the heart of the cigar factory, torcedores und torcedoras (cigar rollers) make Havanas entirely by hand – totalmente a mano.
Even for the largest and most demanding cigars, the torcedor requires only a few simple tools: a wooden board (tabla), a knife (chaveta), a disc-cutter (casquillo), vegetable gum (goma) and a guillotine. With great dexterity and the skill borne of years of practice, the torcedor makes between 60 and 120 cigars a day, depending on their size and shape.
To reach the peak of this traditional craft, and hence to be able to make the larger and more complicated Habanos, a roller must also have natural talent. Nowadays, it is mainly women who roll cigars, but otherwise the work of the roller has not changed in more than a hundred years.
Alongside flawless work by the torcedores, a cigar can only be classified as a Habano after meeting the most stringent quality standards. As cigar rollers with years of experience, the supervisores know their trade inside out and are highly skilled. They continuously monitor the work of their torcedores subordinates in the galera, checking the techniques used, the quality of production and the dimensional accuracy. In a second step, the cigars are passed on to the experts in the quality control department, who check the weight, the length, the diameter, the firmness and the production quality. They are particularly fussy about the cigars’ external appearance: the wrapper must exhibit an even tension and the head of the cigar must be exactly the right shape. Cigars that fall short of the mark will never be classified as Habanos.
Every factory also has a number of employees with other peculiar professions: take the tasters (catadores), for example, whom one might call professional smokers. They try several cigars a day and grade them according to fixed criteria: aroma, taste, strength, draw, uniformity of burn and overall quality. They sample between three and five different cigar formats (vitolas) at each sitting. If the cigars deviate from the character of the brand or the format, the taster recommends adjustments. Once Habanos have passed quality control, they are placed in a cedar-lined conditioning room (escaparate), which is often also referred to as the “treasury” of the cigar factory.
Every Cuban cigar manufacturer carefully and conscientiously ensures that this exemplary natural product fulfils the highest expectations of connoisseurs and aficionados the world over. Their very first impression is the harmony of colour presented by the cigars in the box: all the cigars are exactly the same colour, but in evenly graded shades, starting with the darkest on the far left and gradually becoming lighter towards the right.