Throughout the vast continent of Africa, cigar tobacco production is pretty limited to the countries of the Republic of Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Although these tobaccos are commonly referred to as Cameroon, it should more accurately be referred to as Central African. The Central African tobacco varietals are very well known for their rich flavors and aromas; however, they are originally descended from tobacco seeds imported from Sumatra, Indonesia (these tobaccos will be covered in Around the Globe in 6 Weeks, Part 2: Asia). This region of Africa has very hearty soil, which combined with the consistent climate and persistent cloud coverage yields direct sun-grown tobacco cultivation - shade cloth is unnecessary.
The region produces some of the best wrappers in the world, but no cigar production. Central African tobacco traditionally produces smaller leaves; however, today the leaves produced are much larger. Their supple texture and resilient strength, as well as their rich, deep dark brown color with a reddish tint, makes for a high-quality wrapper leaf. They are fuller flavored and have a characteristic grainy or "toothy" texture (the tooth appears as tiny, fine bumps, which are actually pockets of oils that exude from the leaf). The flavors generally contain notes of woodiness, slight spiciness, with subtle sweetness. The leaves are quite versatile and are perfect for blending in a milder or stronger smoke.
Tobacco cultivation in Cameroon dates back as far as the 1800s. After World War II, it was the French who established a tobacco monopoly, imported Sumatra seeds, built plantations, and developed the tobacco crops that flourished through the 1960s. Due to bad business practices by the French monopoly, the quality and quantity of tobacco production declined during the 1980s and 1990s. It was the tobacco magnate Richard Meerapfel and his family who entered the region and invested in the infrastructure and human resources necessary to pioneer the development of premium Central African tobacco, saving the tobacco industry from outright failure. With cigar tobacco growing being isolated within rainforests and mountainous areas, entire villages were built and labor forces relocated in efforts to produce premium tobacco. Although oil production has replaced agriculture as the primary source of economic growth and foreign exchange in the Central African region, interestingly, the most important cash crops are cocoa, cotton, bananas, cotton, rubber, palm oil, and peanuts. Most agriculture in Cameroon and Central African Republic is at the subsistence level (self-sufficient farming in which the farmers focus on growing enough to sustain themselves and their families). Tobacco is grown in relatively small amounts; however, the cigar wrapper industry continues to thrive despite political corruption, misdirected macroeconomic policies, and other problems that generally plague underdeveloped countries.
The following are some well-known Central African (Cameroon)-wrapped premium cigars on the market:
Arturo Fuente (8-5-8 Flor Fina; Hemingway; Sun Grown Chateau/Double Chateau)
CAO (Cameroon; Cx2)
Carlos Torano Cameroon 1916
La Aurora (Traditional; Preferidos Cameroon; Principes)
La Flor Dominicana 2000
Oliva Serie G
Partagas (#1, #2, #4, #10, Alrimante)
Rocky Patel Vintage 2003
These are all fantastic cigars that I have enjoyed over the years (I would not mention anything here that I do not like). As you shop, just remember that the descriptions Cameroon, African, and Central African are all interchangeable in terms of this prized wrapper leaf type. Enjoy them all!