2016-12-30 / Travel

My Visit to Cuba

Part 4: Smoke, smoke, smoke dat Cuban cigar
By Warner M. Montgomery


This worker was enjoying a cigar right off the line. This worker was enjoying a cigar right off the line. (Note: This series is an edited compilation of past stories I have written about my 2001 trip to Cuba. These stories honor the passing of the Castro Era.) Cuban Cigars! has a ring heard ’round the world. Cohiba cigars were created after the Cuban Revolution and were Castro’s favorite until emphysema made him quit smoking. Other famous Cuban brands were Montecristo, venerable and old; Romeo y Julieta preferred by the Mafia; and time-honored brands like Lusitania and Churchill. Cigars brought fame and fortune to Cuba. 100 million cigars were exported every year and brought in over $50 million in much–needed hard currency to Castro’s regime.

The tobacco for Cuban cigars was hand– planted, hand– picked, and hand–rolled with love and affection. Most tobacco farms were small holdings broken out of large foreign– owned plantations after the revolution. The most prized tobacco came from the western province of Pinar del Río where the choicest leaves were grown under cheesecloth to protect them from direct sunlight.


The Partagás Cigar Factory in Havana was founded in 1845, is the largest in Cuba, employs over 400 workers, and produces over five million cigars annually. The Partagás Cigar Factory in Havana was founded in 1845, is the largest in Cuba, employs over 400 workers, and produces over five million cigars annually. Linda and I visited Partagás Real Fabrica De Tabacos (cigar factory) in Havana which was founded in 1845 and was the largest in Cuba. It employed over 400 workers and produced over five million cigars a year.

We paid our $10 admission fee and joined an English–speaking guide. German, French, Spanish, and Japanese were our other language choices. For 90 minutes we walked up and down three flights of creaking wooden stairs and through rooms full of hard–working torcedores (cigar rollers).

The guide took us through the complete process, allowing us to touch, test, and converse as we liked. It was very pleasant and most educational for a non-smoker.


These Partagás cigars were packed and taken to waiting trucks for shipment around the world. These Partagás cigars were packed and taken to waiting trucks for shipment around the world. The tobacco came from the fields in burlap bales which were stacked neatly then opened and gently separated. Workers examined and sorted each leaf according to color, taste, and aroma. The tastiest leaves were rolled into the center of the cigar; the most aromatic next, and the strongest on the outside.

Another set of workers cut the stems and imperfections out of the leaves, dropped them on the floor where they would be picked up later and sent to the cigarette factory. Cigarettes were considered an inferior smoke.

The rollers sized each type of cigar by a wooden mold: short fat ones, long fat ones, short stubby ones, short thin ones, long thin ones, and huge ones.


Worker s wi th the best production were rewarded with extra pay over the government annual salary of 200 pesos (about $20). Worker s wi th the best production were rewarded with extra pay over the government annual salary of 200 pesos (about $20). Each cigar consisted of three leaves carefully rolled and pasted tight, but not too tight. The angle at which the leaves crossed each other had to be just right. The cigars had a closed end and a blunt end which was cut by a tiny guillotine. Each cigar had an exact length and width.

When the worker finished a bundle of cigars, they were bound with a string and measured, sniffed, and felt. Those not meeting the standards were discarded on the floor and condemned to life as a cigarette.

The bundles of cigars were sorted according to color—lightest to darkest. The range was very slight to my eye, especially in the dimly lit smoky room. ( The workers smoked while they worked!)

At least eight color variations of each type were restrung and sent to the next set of workers. Paper bands were lovingly glued to each cigar. The creation was baptized and named. The groups of similar named cigars were sealed in cellophane or paper and packed in cardboard or wooden boxes.

Finally, the boxes were crated, wrapped, and taken to waiting trucks for shipment around the world… except for the USA where they were forbidden.

Continued next week

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