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Cuban Cigar Origins
16 November 2021

While there is no set date that tobacco growing in Cuba can be pinpointed to, it is believed that the tobacco plant arrived in the country from South America between the period of 2,000 and 3,000 B.C. In Cuba, this new plant was named ‘cohiba’; a name that remains significant today with the Cohiba brand. When tobacco first arrived in Cuba, it was primarily used for medicinal purposes, as well as being incorporated into religious ceremonies or social gatherings. It was later planted as an agricultural crop for more widespread use.

 

The Spanish Influence on Cuban Cigars

While the introduction of tobacco to Europe is credited to Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the Americas, it was his ventures to Cuba that led to the specific introduction of cigars. Although tobacco was grown in other South American countries, including the Dominican Republic, the 1492 journey discovered early examples of cigars being smoked in Cuba. Dried and twisted tobacco leaves were rolled up inside palm leaves to act as a cigar. From there it didn’t take long for the rest of the world to get a taste for this new pastime; Spain quickly became the leading country of tobacco smokers before it spread across Europe, Persia, Russia, Turkey and Japan!

The Spanish were the most involved with the development of tobacco. Spanish colonies in South America began cultivating tobacco crops in 1531, and by 1542 they had established the first cigar factory in Cuba. As tobacco and smoking grew in popularity across the world, a number of prohibitions and bans fell into place. One of the most renowned moves was the royal monopoly which was put into place by King Phillip V of Spain in 1717. Known as the Tobacco Monopoly, restrictions were put on trading tobacco, with all tobacco products sent through Spanish ports. This was only lifted 100 years later, and free trade between Cuba and the rest of the world was finally allowed.

Before this, tobacco leaves grown in Cuba would be sent over to Spain. Cigar factories constructed in Spain would then be responsible for rolling the leaves into cigars. However, around the 1800s it was discovered that rolling the cigars before they are shipped across the world massively increased their longevity, and thus increased the number of cigars able to be sold. In response to this, factories started to be built in Cuba. By 1859, over 10,000 tobacco plantations could be found in Cuba, with 1,300 factories in the capital.

The 1800s was the booming, golden age for Cuban cigars, with many of the main brands, who still produce cigars today, establishing their businesses during this time. In this period, big names in the cigar industry such as Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, H. Upmann and Punch cigars all opened their doors.

Unlike many other crop harvesting jobs at this time, tobacco plantations did not use slaves, as the tobacco plant leaves were considered too fragile. Plantation owners believed that only a free man would be able to take enough pride in the position to handle the leaves with the gentle touch they require. Instead, immigrants from the Canary Islands were brought in to work the fields.

 

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