Around the Globe in 6 Weeks - Part 5: Central America
Welcome to part 5 of our 6-week journey of the cigar tobacco growing regions of the world - we are now in Central America. Although Central America is part of continental North America, it is actually considered a subcontinent, and is comprised of seven countries: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. We will only focus on the countries from which their tobacco products have contributed to the premium cigar industry: Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
The tobacco industry of Honduras has grown steadily over the years - the epicenter within the city of Danli in the Jamastran Valley, in the southeastern region of Honduras, north of the Nicaraguan border. This is the country's primary growing region for the best premium cigar tobacco. The climate and soil conditions makes Honduras one of the world’s best regions for cigar cultivation. Tobacco has been grown in Honduras since the 16th century, and the Santa de Lopan cigar factory started production around 1785 - so the country has a long-standing history of tobacco growing. However, the Honduran cigar industry did not start increase in popularity and grow until after the 1960s, during which time exiled Cuban tobacco growers moved to the country and shared their traditions and expertise with local growers. Angel Oliva, patriarch of the renowned Oliva tobacco-growing family who moved to Honduras in the early 1960s, was one of the trailblazers of the Honduran cigar industry.
Since the 1960s, the Jamastran Valley has been likened to the Pinar del Rio province in Cuba, in terms of the climate and conditions, as well as the similarities of the full-bodied tobacco that is grown. Honduras lies roughly within the same latitude as Cuba, and has a predictable and consistent rainfall. Copaneco is the wild type of tobacco that is indigenous to the region; however, a shade-grown Connecticut seed and Cuban seed (corojo) tobaccos of excellent quality are grown extensively and successfully in throughout the region. These tobaccos are full-bodied with spicy flavor and bold aromas. In addition to wrapper leaves, Honduras produces a great deal of sun-grown Cuban seed filler tobacco, which is contained in many brands today.
Notable brands in the current marketplace that are produced with Honduran wrapper and/or filler are too numerous to list; however, some of the brands that are manufactured in Honduras include:
Alec Bradley (the entire portfolio except the American Classic Blend)
Casa Magna Oscuro
CLE (CLE Cuarenta and CLE Corojo are Honduran puros)
Emilio Serie H
Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur
In terms of quality and quantity of cigars produced, no nation has come farther than Nicaragua. It is estimated that the country's cigar production and exports are estimated to be second in the world, just behind the Dominican Republic. The growth in Nicaraguan cigars over the past several years remains the greatest success story in the premium cigar business, with shipments more than doubling in volume over the past six years (see Smokeasy Noteworthy News - Nicaragua's Cigar Boom).
Since the 1960s, political challenges have disrupted and inhibited cigar tobacco production. The Nicaraguan (Sandinista) Revolution during the 1970s and 1980s brought about significant changes in the country's economy, which apparently has benefited the industry. However, Nicaragua has proven to be capable of producing some of the most rich, spicy, aromatic and complex tobacco in the world. Situated entirely within the earth's tropical zone, Nicaragua has fertile lowland plains with soil highly enriched by volcanic ash from the highlands - very similar conditions to Cuba. There are three primary tobacco growing regions of Cuban seed within the country:
Esteli - The third largest city in the nation and situated as a "mecca" for cigar tobacco cultivation. The city is located in the northwest, not far from the Honduran border. Esteli’s black soil produces a heavy, full-flavored dark leaf that is rich with full aromas, body and flavor.
Condega - A municipality of Esteli, Condega is known for tobacco that is typically sun-grown and used primarily for binder and filler. The rocky soil produces tobacco with middle-range, sweeter flavor.
Jalapa Valley - This region lies northeast of Esteli and Condega, and happens to be remote and difficult to get to. However, its remoteness is mitigated by its fertility the extraordinary tobacco it produces. The red clay soil produces smooth, elegant and silky rich wrapper tobaccos with an earthy-sweet flavor.
Interestingly, there is another region within the country that offers very fertile tobacco growing options - the island of Ometepe. The island is formed by two volcanoes (Concepcion and Maderas) that sits within the vast freshwater Lake Nicaragua. The two volcanoes are joined by an isthmus to form the island in the shape of an hourglass. The volcanic soil is extraordinarily rich (requiring much less fertilization) and the surrounding freshwater adds an abundance of humidity. The tobacco plants here are grown from Cuban criollo seed, which produces leaves with a mild- to medium-bodied sweet, earthy taste. General Cigar Company have taken a huge interest in Ometepe, and has purchased tobacco from the island to use in filler blends for their brands, particularly Bolivar, Partagas Limited Reserve Decadas, Macanudo 1968, and Punch Upper Cut. Perdomo has also used the Ometepe tobacco in some blends as well.
Some notable brands manufactured in Nicaragua include:
Brick House (puro)
Casa Magna puros (Colorado; Domus Magnus)
Don Pepin Garcia
Drew Estate portfolio (ACID; La Vieja Habana; Liga Privada; My UZI Weighs A Ton; Undercrown)
Emilio (AF1; AF2; La Musa Mousa/Melete; Los Regalos Quetzal)
J. Fuego 777
Joya de Nicaragua portfolio (including CyB)
Nestor Miranda Collection
Tatuaje (Havana VI; Serie P)
Costa Rica, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the east and south, is more famous for its coffee; however, there is a longstanding history of tobacco cultivation in this nation. Tobacco, from a mixture of Cuban and Costa Rican seeds, is grown within the fertile mountainous region of Santiago de Puriscal. Not many cigar manufacturers have operations here, as taxes have made Costa Rica the most expensive country to operate a business, which is why their cigar industry has been limited. But the nation's climate, volcanoes, and tropical forests permit an environment to grow premium filler and binder tobacco, as well as oily maduro wrapper leaves that may be used as alternatives for dark Brazilian, Mexican, Ecuadorian, and broadleaf varietals.
Although there are a small number of manufacturers who produce Costa Rican puros, some of the most notable premium brands in the marketplace that use Costa Rican tobacco in their blends include:
Emilio Serie H (Maduro; Sumatra)
Graycliff (Chateau Gran Cru; Espresso; G2)
Gurkha Beast Special Edition
Rocky Patel (Olde World Reserve; The Edge)
Next week, we will conclude our global journey in South America, and cover Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Until then, stay smokey!