Hiking Deep Into Cuban Cigar Country With Edrey

The farms in Viñales Valley supposedly produce some of the best cigars in the world. We’re not really cigar smokers, so the experience was probably wasted on us. But when in Cuba…

This story starts like most stories in Cuba: we asked a super-friendly local (the owner of our favorite breakfast restaurant in Viñales) if he knew of a tobacco tour guide. He made a few calls, and about an hour later we met up with Edrey.

Rompiendo Rutina (Breaking Routine) was ironically our go-to for breakfast nearly every morning. They had excellent cheese, ham, and sausage pressed sandwiches and fresh juices for around 25 cents USD. We would order an extra sandwich or two to go and stuff it in our packs for a picnic lunch later in the day. The owner even wrapped it in cellophane with a napkin for us. That’s quality service!

 

Edrey was a fascinating guy. He explained to us the system of casa ownership fees, (owners pay a fixed amount per month), the difficulty of obtaining a Cuban passport (it’s nearly impossible and he has tried twice and been denied), and that most people are very over-educated for their current roles, (the tobacco farmer we were about to meet used to be a university professor). He also has a girlfriend in Long Beach, about 20 minutes from our place, which was a pretty funny coincidence! When asked what his favorite food is, he said chicken. Any particular type of chicken? No. Just chicken. He had friends in all of the locations we visited, so he mostly walked us to the sites, made his introductions, and then let us explore.

 

First stop, walk with me inside a tobacco drying house:

The owner of this farm was an English professor in a past life who quit his job to be a farmer. He makes far more money selling tobacco to tourists than he ever did teaching and he’s concerned about the future of education in Cuba because many people like him are abandoning their posts.

Consider that he sells hand-rolled cigars for $40 for a pack of 10. He may make $120 in a single afternoon! A university professor salary would be closer to $40/month.

Here he gives a demonstration on how cigars are rolled. I had a minor mind blow when I realized that cigars are not just wrapped in brown paper, but an actual tobacco leaf. (Yes. I really did think that.)

 

We smoked cigars dipped in honey to be like Che.

 

Farmers tithe 90% of their tobacco crop to the Cuban Government, and the rest they sell as “Puros”, or unregulated, unlabeled, traditional-style cigars.

This is what a fancy schmancy cigar shop looks like in the Artesan district, near old Havana.

 

90% of each farmer’s tobacco crop will go to the factory to be processed, cured, and eventually labeled, like these Montecristos.

 

The remaining 10% will be home-cured, usually with a family recipe including honey and other secret ingredients the farmer couldn’t tell us. They are unlabeled and wrapped in banana leaves for storage in the traditional style. These are “puros.”

 

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