Article Updated and Revisited on 10/10/2019
Every aficionado knows that Cohiba is known as the most famous Cuban cigar brand in the world! So, you can imagine our faces when we found out that we had behind the scenes access to El Laguito - the home of Cohiba cigars. We went behind the private doors of the iconic factory to explore the opulence, production and rooms, which saw the birth of some of the greatest cigars in the world!
"OUR AWAITED WISH HAD BEEN GRANTED"
We know you've all dreamt of the place. Gripped a Cohiba cigar between your fingers and wondered if you'd ever come close enough to peer at the mansion of its conception. On a warm, sea-blue day in Havana, sunshine for breakfast in the middle of November, our awaited wish had been granted. EGM Cigars stepped inside the yellow walls quilted in swaying palm-trees and stepped inside the renowned El Laguito factory.
The factory was named after the nearby lake and features a smaller building on the premises where the fermentation takes place.
"TOO BEAUTIFUL TO BE CALLED A FACTORY"
THE LOCATION - Situated in the Miramar section of Havana, where trees beckon upon roads of stately residence - the El Laguito mansion overlooks a small, beautiful lake (named Laguito) and endless greenery. The iconic Cohiba logo emblazes the colonial mansion’s perimeters, which was built by British citizen Alberto Casimiro Fowler Jimemnez. Though technically a Cuban cigar factory as hidden as Willy Wonka’s, the area seems too beautiful to be called a factory.
EXTRAVAGANCE - A sense of grand beauty seeped through our minds and fed our veins at each room and turning. Waltzing around rooms which held the shoes of Castro and the biggest government officials, we couldn't help being transported to a long-gone era. Cohiba was founded in 1966 as a special production for Fidel Castro himself, government officials and visiting Heads of State. The brand opened to the public only in 1982. Greeting us on our tour, was the welcoming and experienced cigar-roller (and tour guide) Mamita. Starting at the back of the mansion, we were shown the fermenting room.
"DELECTABLY SMOOTH SWEETNESS"
THIRD FERMENTATION – Out of all the Cuban cigar brands, Cohiba is special - as it's cigars undergo an additional third (sometimes even a fourth) fermentation of its tobacco leaves. This takes place in custom-built wooden barrels, where leaves are packed and stacked on top of each other. These barrels are made out of an indigenous wood from Pinar del Rio, the region where the best tobacco in the world is grown. This innovation was introduced by Avelino Lara in 1966, the original factory director. In addition to removing tannic and astringent notes from the leaves, the extra fermentation lowers the overall level of nicotine, creating delectably smooth sweetness.
MEDIO TIEMPO – All Cuban Cigars comprise of five different types of tobacco leaves – Volado, Seco, Ligero, Capote and Capa. For Cohiba Behike Cigars, a sixth leaf is added, the famous Medio Tiempo. Due to the set timing of harvest and the fact that each plant grows at slightly different speeds, not all plants develop Medio Tiempo leaves when harvest comes. This makes them very limited and sometimes exceedingly small compared to other leaves. In essence, Medio Tiempo is a Ligero leaf which harnesses a strong concentration of oils - bringing extra strength, taste and aromatic flavour. We would like to confirm that, contrary to popular belief, Medio Tiempo is not what is holding back Behike production.
The sorting room at El Laguito. Wrapper leaves are classified, sectioned and arranged in piles ready to be passed on to the torcedores.
"HOUSES ONLY THE BEST TORCEDORES IN CUBA"
THE VILLA – Once marvelling through the ground floors and taking in the lingering scent of beautifully cured tobacco, we headed upstairs and were greeted with tour guide Mamita, to the room where wrapper leaves were prepared and classified by quality grade. A diligent task, tobacco leaves at this stage have their central veins removed and are split in half. In essence, each wrapper leaf, once halved and deveined, will be used for two cigars. The central vein of a tobacco leaf accounts for about 90% of its nicotine content and, once set aside, these woody stalks are re-used as fertiliser.
LA GALERA - There was an air of silence – no lectors reading. Some rollers were listening to music. Determined as lions on the cusps of conquering their prey, the cigar rollers barely stopped to notice our arrival. We admiringly gazed at their focus and pride. El Laguito houses only the best torcedores in Cuba, an equal mix of men and women, who have spent years training to reach their artisanal peak. The cigars are first rolled with filler and binder leaves and then pressed inside their respective cigar moulds. Once this process is finished, the cigar wrappers are skillfully applied. For the most trained and expertise cigar roller, approximately 100 cigars are made per day.
La Galera - where the magic happens.
"MADE EXACTLY AS THEY WERE CENTURIES AGO"
COHIBA RESERVA & BEHIKE – We are very pleased to see that the Cohiba Robusto Reserva Cosecha 2014 was being produced! The cigar wrapper looks remarkable, and we cannot wait to add to our selection. If that wasn’t enough, plenty of the Cohiba Behike 52 Cigar were in production, as well as Cohiba Majestuosos, Cohiba Siglo VI, Cohiba Lanceros as well as many others.
QUALITY CONTROL – Our final stop on our tour of this spectacular mansion, landed us at the quality control room. One by one, cigars are weighed and inspected – perfect colours, shapes and sizes. Extraordinarily, the process and technology have not changed since the nineteenth century. Your Cohiba cigars are made exactly as they were centuries ago. All except one suction machine which checks the draw of cigars.
Left: Vladimir smiles at the camera inside the QC room. Right: a Freshly rolled pile of the Cohiba Robusto Reserva.
"REQUIRES THE VERY FINEST ROLLERS"
SURPRISING REVEAL - El Laguito, on occasion, makes Cuban Cigars from other Habanos brands. For instance, during our visit, the much-awaited El Rey del Mundo La Reina Ex. Reño Unido cigar was being crafted. Due to its slender ring gauge and long size, the cigar requires the very finest rollers at El Laguito. We can share that this elegant cigar is made without Ligero leaves to take away nicotine strength, making it ideal as a sweet morning smoke.
Left: Quality Control room at El Laguito. Right: Pedro, the factory director, chats with us over Cuban coffee and cigars
COFFEE WITH PEDRO - After taking in the vibrant blue walls of the rolling floor, we had the pleasure of sitting with El Laguito’s director Pedro, to drink traditional Cuban coffee with a touch of sugar. Here we discoursed about all things cigar, for a fleeting moment that we wished would have lasted many moments longer. Like Cinderella not ready to leave the ball at the stroke of midnight, in our minds we had just arrived. The grandeur and privilege – so much to marvel, take in and inhale, how can anyone feel they’ve had enough?
With heritage and mystery, El Laguito forever holds a sense of fairy-tale myth and riddle, no matter how much you gaze. At the end of our tour, waving goodbye to the lovely Mamita and those we met, we realised we wouldn’t have Cohiba any other way. It’s part of the poetic romance associated with Cuban Cigars, and what makes all our Cuban Cigars online – particularly Cohiba, that much more special.