Cigars from Cuba are a byword for luxury. Although residents of the USA have been deprived of the treat of smoking Cuban Cigars since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the embargo, smoking them has continued in other parts of the world.
Like many luxuries, like fine wine, there is a romance and mystique about cigars that transcends the product even itself. Tales abound and anecdotes are created which may or may not be true
Famous cigars are associated with Winston Churchill. It is rare that he was photographed without one. On one occasion, however, the incredibly talented photographer Karsh took a famous shot without the trademark cigar. He had an opportunity to take just one photograph during a visit to the Canadian Parliament in 1941. Karsh had decided not to have Churchill smoking. The studio was set. Karsh bravely gave the great man an ashtray and then took the photograph that some have claimed is the most reproduced in the world. Perhaps that trademark scowl came as a result.
Cigars do not just have stories named after them, they are named after stories as well. Many of the famous brands known today derive from the fact that the workers in the factories in Havana appointed one from amongst them to read to them to relieve the tedium of the rolling. And so the factory whose favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo ended up creating the brand, Monte Cristo. It is not hard to guess which story the workers at Romeo y Julietta factory liked!
England has always had loyal followers of cigar smoking. Although Cuba may have exported more to Spain and Switzerland, the English market was in some ways more difficult as they demanded the best quality. Even today, exports to the UK are marked with the label "EMS" which stands for English Market Selection, an indication of quality. And however much politicians and doctors dictate the rules about smoking there are still loyal followers in special open-air cigar bars and sampling rooms of the merchants in the West End of London and elsewhere.
Like many other luxuries, there is a language that belongs to cigars alone. For example, the diameter is called the "ring gauge". A ring gauge of 50 is the size of a robusto. A corona will have a smaller ring gauge. The length will usually be measured in inches.
In Cuba itself, the finest tobacco in the world is grown in the far west of the country, an area known as Vuelta Abajo. Here both the leaves which are in the body and the wrapper of the cigar are grown, harvested, and cured before they make their way to the factories of Havana and then all over the world to the discerning smoker.