The tobacco plant originally came from South America. Even though it is impossible to state exactly when it was brought to the largest island in the Antilles, it can be said that that happened between 3000 and 2000 B.C.
The aborigines considered tobacco a miraculous medicine and an essential element in their religious, political and social ceremonies. It was a part of their agriculture and an inseparable adjunct of life.
Europeans were introduced to this planta source of great physical and spiritual pleasure when they first reached the Americas. It didn’t take long for the Old Continent to develop a veritable passion for it. As was only to be expected, Spain had the most smokers who were also the first to be subjected to terrible punishments for smoking.
The habit later spread to Persia, Japan, Turkey and Russia, where the cruelest punishments were established. Curiously, as bans on smoking gained ground, tobacco was increasingly used for medicinal purposes.
On April 11, 1717, King Philip V established a royal monopoly on tobacco-growing in Cuba a decision which has gone down in history as the Estanco del Tabaco. Tobacco-growers who opposed the onerous law lost their lives.
The monopoly remained in effect until June 23, 1817, when a royal decree did away with the monopoly, permitting free trade between Cuba and the rest of the known world as long as it was through Spanish ports.
No slaves were used in tobacco-growing. Sugarcane wasn't such a delicate crop, and slaves could be used in its cultivation and harvesting, but, as José Martí said, tobacco plants had to be handled as carefully as if they were fine ladies. Immigrants from the Canary Islands worked in the tobacco fields, laying the foundations for a very special breed: Cuban farmers.
The 19th century provided the final reaffirmation of Cuba's tobacco production. Suffice it to say that, in 1859, there were nearly 10,000 tobacco plantations and around 1300 cigar factories in the capital. Cuba entered the 20th century in very precarious conditions, for its devastating wars of independence had just ended.
The Cuban archipelago is very close to the Tropic of Cancer. Its western region—where the best tobacco in the world is grown—has a relative humidity of 79 percent, an average annual temperature of 25 C. (77 F.) and a particularly favorable amount of rainfall.
In addition to these special climatic features, the chemical composition and agricultural properties of the soil in Cuba's tobacco-growing areas couldn't be bettered. Add to all this the experience and care that Cuba's tobacco workers put into each of the many steps that go into making an Habano. They, too, are absolutely necessary to maintain the product's top quality.
The cultivation process begins in the seed bed, an area in which the seeds are planted under the best conditions for their germination and later development and where the seedlings remain for 40 days, until they are ready to be transplanted to the fields. The seedlings are planted in stages, beginning in October.
The leaves are picked between 45 and 80 days after planting. Later, the leaves are taken to the curing barns, where they are dried and fermented. In the sorting houses—which are of great economic and social importance-skilled workers (the vast majority of whom are women) gently and delicately select, classify and sort the leaves.
In the factory, the leaves that will be used as wrappers are separated and sprinkled with water to restore the humidity they lost during processing and reduce their fragility. Later, sorters classify them by size and color.
With damp fingers, they rub, pull, smooth out and examine each leaf. Then they select between 18 and 20 kinds of tobacco leaves, which will become the Habanos wrappers. The most demanding job is that of the cigar maker. He places half a leaf of binder on his table, then picks up an assortment of different kinds of leaves and shapes them into a bundle. To cover the cigar, he smoothes the wrapper, trims the edges with his knife and wraps it around the bundle.
The nearly completed Habano is caressed by delicate hands. The flat of the knife is pressed along it to attain perfect finishing, and the end of the cigar that will go in the smoker's mouth is shaped.
Then the cigar is placed in a tiny horizontal guillotine, and the tip is clipped to make the cigar the desired length.
Once their shape and size have been checked and approved, the Habanos are gently tied with a ribbon in groups of 50. Then they are sent to a vacuum fumigating chamber, where they are immunized against plagues.
After this, they are placed in special closets, where they remain for three weeks, to remove excess humidity. Then they go to the classification and packing department, also known as the selection department. Lastly, a cigar band is placed around each one. al anillado.
The quality control group takes samples of each cigar maker’s work, to check the cigars size, shape, appearance, texture and thickness. If they fail to meet the exacting standards, they are rejected a serious matter for the cigar maker, who is paid by piecework.
Habanos, Denomination Of Origin
The Habano Denomination of Origin may be applied to all cigars in which 100 per cent of the tobacco used has been grown in Cuba. Likewise, it is an essential requirement that all cigars manufactured in Cuba are subjected to numerous quality control checks, both during the agricultural and curing process, as well as during all stages of manufacturing in the factory. The same rigorous procedures are applied to the selection of the appropriate leaves, quality control, of draw, of the true flavor of each of the brand names and, finally, the quality of the cigar's appearance and presentation. The quality of the Habano Cuban cigar is the result of the mystical union of four elements: soil, varieties of Cuban black tobacco, climate and the wisdom of our agricultural workers and cigar makers. Numerous attempts to achieve the standards of an authentic Cuban cigar in other areas of the world with seeds of Cuban origin have failed to attain its unequalled quality. These same elements: the harmonious combination of the sun, the average temperature, atmospheric humidity, soil and subsoil composition are those which make "the quality of the Cuban cigar, both in terms of agriculture and manufacturing, unique to Cuba". Therefore, the Habano Cuban cigar trademark printed on the boxes of brand names is the guarantee that these cigars are backed by the Habano. Denomination of Origin Protection. This is a guarantee of quality and origin that is awarded to only the best cigars manufactured in Cuba under the strictest quality control measures, with the best leaves selected from the island's tobacco regions.
Cuba & Tobacco, numbers
Tobacco has been a crop associated with this island, ranking second in importance in the island's agriculture and an important source of income. Cuba has occupied an important place as an exporter not in terms of volume but for the quality of the tobacco produced. In 1997, 700,000 hundredweight of tobacco leaves were harvested to produce 250 million cigars. 102 million of these were exported which meant an increase in production of 29.6%.
The production of tobacco for export had reached an estimated value of 179 million dollars by the end of 1997. This includes both cigars and cigarettes and was far superior to the previous record of 115 million dollars obtained in 1991, when this important industry went into decline.
Exports of cigars grew by 40% and cigarettes by 10% while income increased by 70%.
In 1998, tobacco production grew by 59%, with gross income from exports rising to an estimated 240 million dollars from the sale of 160 million cigars abroad.
These increases must be guaranteed by an increase in output. In the 1997 campaign 3,855 caballerias were sown and in 1998 this increased to 4,300.
Cuba plans to export 200 million cigars in the year 2000. The most famous Cuban cigar brands in the world are Cohiba, Cuaba, Vegas Robaina and Trinidad.
Historians assure us that the first great tobacco plantations in Cuba were created during the 17th century in the east of the island and they extended progressively towards the west. The apex of this crop coincided with the emigration of thousands of people from the Canary Islands, Spain, at the end of the 19th century. These people settled in the following areas, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and also Pinar del Rio.
Cuba exports black and golden tobacco. After the triumph of the revolution, the production of tobacco experienced an apex, reaching its highest historical levels.
In 1957, production was 50,500 tons; in the harvest of 1975/76, it grew to 51,500 tons. But distinct factors caused a deterioration in the harvest yields. Among them was the tobacco mildew disease that started to invade the plantations after 1978. The harvest deteriorated to the point that in 1979/80 they only collected 6,700 tons, the lowest collection of tobacco in history.
The first four harvests after the revolution were the highest and most stables in the history of Cuban tobacco with annual yields reaching over 50,000 tons. This was possibly the highest output obtained surpassing 600kg/hectare. The harvests between 1966-1968 were above 45,000 tons, later descending to only 24,757 tons in 1971.
At that stage, measures were taken to achieve a recovery in production and it was possible to obtain a recovery in production and there was a progressive increase that in 1976 reached 50,669 tons, the best harvest for 15 years.
These increases were not stable and produced a new decrease that reached a critical point in 1980 with a harvest of only 7,636 tons, the lowest harvest in the whole of this century caused by the devastating effects of tobacco mildew, 80% of the production was lost. The highest yield in this period was obtained in the harvest of 1965-1966 with 876kg/hectare.
At the end of the decade of the seventies, the government put into operation a process of cooperativization in farming areas that gave a significant boost to the activity.
Most of the country's production is concentrated in the province of Pinar del Rio. On a lesser scale, there are plantations extended throughout the national territory that are extending and increasing. But the principal and most widely known ones besides that mentioned are in the provinces of Santi Spiritu, Villa Clara, Las Tunas, Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Cienfuegos, Holguin and Granma.
The handing over of plots of land that had remained idle to families for their use, with the aim of having them exploited as part of the current reforms, opened up the cultivation of tobacco. Some 14,000 hectares had been handed over for the cultivation of tobacco to 7,000 families and this raises the number of new people involved in the production of tobacco to 26,000. 75% of total production is in the hands of the private sector.
The largest per cent of the area under cultivation is dedicated to black tobacco and as a result this type of tobacco is the most widely obtained. The favorable tendency with respect to output is veering towards golden tobacco. In the case of black tobacco, irrigation limitations obtain that have impeded its stabilization and growth in output. There are also difficulties present in the mechanization of its cultivation and collection, which is very dependent on climatic conditions and needs a specialized work force.
In 1981, there was a record yield in the tobacco harvest with 53,635 tons. After 1990, production reduced noticeably due to the general shortage of supplies and fuel. As a result, the production figures have been below 30,000 annually.