Cuba vs. the World: Who Reigns as the Cigar King?

The age-old debate of Cuban cigars versus their global counterparts continues to smolder among seasoned cigar enthusiasts. Each camp has its passionate arguments, and the discourse often unfolds predictably. On one side, proponents of Cuban cigars extol them as the originals, lauding their superior flavor, while dismissing non-Cuban brands as mere imitations. They contend that despite a perceived dip in consistency and quality in recent years, Cuba still reigns supreme in the cigar world. Conversely, the opposing faction laments the decline of Cuban tobacco, attributing it to compromised agricultural practices, fermentation methods, and post-roll aging, resulting in consistently underwhelming and disappointing experiences.

This article aims to delve into the fervent loyalty some smokers maintain for Cuban cigars and the growing trend of exploring non-Cuban alternatives.

Drawing a comparison between Cuban and non-Cuban cigars isn’t as simple as categorizing them as subtle versus bold. It’s a nuanced discussion. Consider the wine industry: French wines once dominated, with a select few Italian and German varieties gaining recognition. However, the emergence of exceptional California wines disrupted the status quo, leading to a global expansion of winemaking. Now, a plethora of wine experiences exists that didn’t even exist five decades ago. French wines, like Cuban cigars, represent tradition and heritage, but they’ve welcomed fresh voices into the fold, enriching the industry and culture.

The preference for old-world cigars often aligns with drink pairings such as single malt Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac, aged rum, espresso, and brandy. Conversely, those favoring non-Cuban cigars often opt for bourbon, beer, and simpler coffees. This distinction mirrors the strength versus finesse comparison. Cuban tobacco offers a delicate, unique flavor, characterized by the elusive “Cuban mustiness” rarely found elsewhere. Similarly, Scotch’s peaty notes, the phantom fruit and floral hints in fine brandy, and the vanilla sweetness of aged rum each offer a distinctive experience. These pleasures, however, often come with a significant price tag, making them impractical for many.

Demographics play a role too. Americans, known for their love of variety, novelty, boldness, and pioneering spirit, have propelled the bourbon and craft beer phenomenon. This aligns with their less rigid approach to tradition, exclusivity, and legacy. The American market’s demand for diverse flavors naturally extended to cigars, exploring tobaccos from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Indonesia, and beyond. The early 1960s embargo further fueled this exploration. Nevertheless, even without the embargo, the American spirit would likely have driven the industry toward greater diversity.

My perspective on Cuban cigars is one of appreciation. I cherish them not just as the foundation of the craft but for their unique character and flavor profile. It’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy a multitude of origins and styles. I celebrate the cigar world’s dynamism, which mirrors the art of crafting cigars itself. I firmly reject the notion that one country’s cigars are unequivocally superior to all others. How can they be when so many untapped potential gems await discovery? This is the beauty of the cigar world—ever-evolving and filled with possibilities. Don’t deprive yourself of the wealth of experiences this remarkable world has to offer.