Before we begin, let’s start with this:
You can’t legally buy Cuban cigars in the US. You can’t legally go to Canada and bring them into the US. You can’t legally order them online. You can’t legally buy them from a sketchy dude in an even sketchier alley in downtown Pittsburgh either.
What you can do is travel to Cuba and bring back $100 worth of tobacco product. That said, don’t go planning your family vacation quite yet.
The biggest change that took place with Obama’s recent ruling has been the ease of getting to Cuba. Travel restrictions were set via executive order back in 1996 and it’s been less than easy to set foot in Cuba. Under the current rules, there are now 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba. Some categories that might be of interest to you include family visits, official government business, journalism, education, religious activity, athletic competition, support of Cuban people, and humanitarian reasons. You’ll note that your honeymoon is not on that list.
So there you go. Now you know how to get them. The cigar world is seemingly pissing in its collective pants with excitement with this small step, but let’s look at what it really means. It means that a nation that can’t keep up with production right now is going to get a market bigger than anything they deal with added to the mix. Have you smoked Cubans recently? Seriously. Like more than that one “Cuban” Uncle Bob picked up from his buddy for $5. Saying that quality control is a bit of an issue might be the understatement of the year. That doesn’t mean everyone making cigars in Cuba is doing it poorly. Don’t get me wrong. Does Cuba produce some of the best cigars in the world? Absolutely they do. Does Cuba produce some of the worst cigars in the world? Absolutely they do. Can the same be said for Nicaragua, Honduras, or the Dominican Republic? Yep.
So what does it mean? It means that right now, most of us aren’t getting our hands on Cubans. If you do, you run the risk of getting ripped off. You also run the risk of spending $30 on a cigar that wants to fall apart on you. It means that we generally are going to see Cubans in the hands of self-important cigar smokers looking to flex their dollars in your face. The truth is, there are plenty of options out there that are half of the cost and are just as good coming from Nicaragua/DR.
Here’s what I’m looking forward to when this embargo inevitably ends… I’m looking forward to a few years down the line when Cuba has had a chance to normalize and get over the shock of dealing with the American market. I’m especially looking forward to other master blenders having access to Cuban leaf. Imagine a chef that has spent years cooking without spices. He masters his craft and creates some amazing dishes, but when you show up with a spice rack… he can take it to the next level.
Right now, we are seeing more amazing options in the industry than we’ve ever had. A few years after the embargo ends, it’s only going to get better. Until then, sit tight and enjoy the great smokes we have in our back yard.