February 13
Dateline: Casa del Habano

If Cuba has a national product, it is the cigar. Cuban cigars are valued all over the world. In fact, some aficionados insist that if you are not smoking a Cuban, you are not really smoking a cigar. So a visit to a Cuban cigar factory while in Havana is a must.

We were greeted at the door of the stately Casa del Habano by Mario, who described himself with a laugh as a cigar magician. Of course, for atmosphere he was wearing a tuxedo smoking jacket and he rolled an unlit cigar through the fingers of his right hand as he talked.

Once inside, we saw fancy, glass-encased shelves housing all of Cuba’s storied brands. Cohibas. Romeo y Juliets. Partagas. San Christobels de la Habana. The walls were lined with pictures of Cubans of all ages and sexes enjoying cigars. Of course, there were some of Fidel.

While part of the group enjoyed a free Mojito or a Cuba Libre (these are offered at every tourist stop and dining place in Havana), the rest were treated to an exhibition of cigar rolling. The roller, almost always female, begins with 3 leaves. After deftly rolling the leaves, she places the cigar in a special box for tightening. The process takes about 7 minutes.

Mario led us to a plush smoking room where he introduced us to Carlos Robana, the son of firm founder Alexander, who died at 91 in 2010 after 80 years of cigar smoking. Of course, Robana, added with a smile, his father didn’t inhale. “You mean like President Clinton,” one of our party chimed in. “Well, Senor Clinton had many uses for cigars,” Robana responded.

The cigar executive explained that there are 27 brands of cigars in Cuba. Those come in 200 different sizes. The most representative of all the brands is the Cohiba. 

Cigar enthusiasts believe there are substantial differences in cigars. Robano agrees. “I can determine a fine cigar by looking at it before I taste it,” he said. Robano explained that certain kinds of cigars are ideal for certain kinds of rums. Some members of our party tested that contention. Robano passed on the advice his father had given him. “A cigar is like a woman. You have to touch it, admire it,” he said.

As we were getting ready to leave, Mario offered each of us a cigar. But isn’t it illegal to bring Cuban cigars back into America? “Don’t worry, my friends,” Robano said. “It is a gift from us to you. Put it in your suitcase. You will be fine.”

To follow our Cuban trip in chronological order