Did you ever have to take a field trip to a local factory when you were at school? Hey kids, want to see how a plastic bag is made? No? We don’t blame you. No matter if you’ve seen factories that produce cardboard boxes or chocolate covered beer, it’s not usually so interesting to watch. Factories tend to be sterile places filled with machines working in repetitive motions all day long, with bored looking workers in white coats watching and unloading everything at the end. There’s one type of factory where the manufacturing process is fascinating to watch; where something is being mass-produced and is yet still an artform. If you should be lucky enough to find yourself in the glorious island nation of Cuba, visiting a Cuban cigar factory really should be on your list of things to do.
The Elegance of Cigars
In most countries of the world, smoking in bars is very much a thing of the past, and frankly, good riddance. Few people used to relish spending hours in a smoke filled bar or club, coming home with clothes and hair that smelled like a packet of cigarettes. The staff who work at these places were probably also happy to have clean lungs. But even people who loathe the smell of cigarettes might have a soft spot for the smell of cigars. Cigars have a deep, rich scent that is almost like incense. Cigars also have an esteemed place in society, frequently seen in the hands of world leaders and dignitaries, or rich moguls. Cigars give the impression of wealth and refinement, whereas cigarettes could be smoked by anyone! Other nations might disagree, but it can be argued that the finest cigars in the world come from Cuba, and so the Cuban cigar factory, as well as those who work in them, hold an elevated position in the country.
Cigars: A Long and Rich History
It’s believed that tobacco has been growing in Cuba for around 4000 years, and Christopher Columbus reported encountering indigenous people who were walking “with half-burned wood in their hands and certain herbs to take their smokes” when he first visited the island in 1492. Of course, tobacco was one of the discoveries of the new world that quickly gained popularity back in Europe, and it’s impressive to think that Cuban cigar factories practise a craft that stretches back for thousands of years. In addition to their historical significance, cigars are an integral part of the Cuban economy, bringing in around $200 million per year. Despite the country’s close association with tobacco, smoking in bars, restaurants, hotels and offices has been banned since 2005, although the ban is reportedly not strongly enforced.
A Perfect Climate
Cuba’s geographic position and relatively high humidity (around 80%) makes it the perfect place to grow succulent tobacco that results in perfect cigars. The soil is also well suited for the crop, and the amount of rainfall and sunshine couldn’t be better for tobacco. Cuba grows the second highest amount of tobacco of any country on earth, which is not bad, considering its relatively small size. Tobacco seedlings are generally planted in a sheltered or indoor area, and are then transferred to the field after around 40 days. They’re then transferred to the fields, where they grow outdoors for anywhere between 45 and 80 days, after which time they’re ready for the loving touch of the Cuban cigar factory.
Going Inside a Cuban Cigar Factory
A Cuban cigar factory tour is a remarkable experience. Instead of gleaming machines going through the motions, you’ll find a room full of skilled workers rolling everything by hand in what feels like an almost community atmosphere. Sure, there’s a production schedule and each worker needs to make a daily quota, but the whole process feels laid back and unhurried. The rich smell of tobacco permeates the air and can be quite confronting to visitors, although in a perfectly pleasant way. Of course, the workers have been there long enough that they probably don’t notice it anymore. While cigars are a valuable export item for the country, the production process has become an attraction in itself, and guided tours of factories are easy to source and book. Naturally, if you take the time to explore the inner workings of a Cuban cigar factory, you will probably want to take a box (or two) home. Be sure to check the customs regulations for your end destination, but unless you’re traveling to the US, you can probably take a certain amount with you. It varies greatly from country to country, so it’s important to look up how many you’re allowed to take with you – you would hate for those lovely cigars to be confiscated!