With Cuba and the United States in discussions to reestablish diplomatic relations, American cigar lovers may soon have the opportunity to travel to Cuba and legally bring back Cuban cigars. Many of these cigar lovers will run the risk of being taken advantage of and being sold cigars of poor quality of things that are not even cigars at all. With that in mind, I thought I would put together a short Cuban cigar buying guide for my American cousins.
The first and most important rule is that if someone is selling Montecristos or Cohibas on the street, or anywhere other than an official, government owned store, they are fake. Fake can mean that they are not really authentic Montecristos or Cohibas, but some low quality, cheap cigars with a fake label. Fake can even mean that what you are buying is not cigars at all but are actually dried up leaves of some other plant like banana leaves. The reason why Montecristos and Cohibas are most likely to be fake is that they are the most recognizable to the casual cigar smoker. It would make no sense to counterfeit a cigar that most tourists have never heard of.
During your visit to Cuba, some hotel staff member or store worker will tell you that they have a relative who works at a cigar factory and can hook you up with some cheap authentic cigars. All of these people are lying. Everyone who sells fake cigars uses some variation of the same story, so do not be swayed no matter how earnest or trustworthy the person appears to be.
Even if you are able to buy authentic cigars off the street, the lack of proper storage may have lead them to be infected with cigar beetles. These are extremely common and you may find that your new collection of Cuban cigars suddenly are filled with holes. Then the other cigars in your humidor are filled with holes. And then you have to throw away your entire cigar collection. If you can afford to go on a vacation to Cuba, you should be able to afford a second, small humidor so that you can quarantine cigars you buy on vacation for several months to ensure they are clean before putting them with the rest of your collection.
My suggestion would be to buy a bunch of different cigars in the official stores while you are there and then buy a box of the one you like best. If you are buying them for someone else who wants one of the iconic Cuban cigars, you could buy Montecristos or H. Uppmanns. Don’t buy Cohibas for anyone other than yourself; they taste fantastic but they are too expensive. Nobody with any sense will ever complain about being given some genuine Uppmanns or Montecristos. One the other end of the spectrum, do not buy Guantanameras unless you are only buying them for some in-law you don’t really like or someone who usually smokes cigars that have wine flavoured plastic tips. If you really want to impress a friend while keeping on a budget then you should pick up a box of Fonsecas. Fonseca is a mild cigar that comes in an impressive looking wrapper but are relatively inexpensive. They are also mild cigars, which are the best choice for an occasional cigar smokers. Most casual smokers would likely enjoy them much more than the stronger tasting Cohibas.