In spite of recent news that relations with Cuba are once again being restricted by the US government, travelers (who can get there) will still be able to bring back Cuban cigars from the island. Many Americans are salivating at the prospect – but are they worthwhile? What can you expect from them? Read on…

Remember Pavlov’s famous test? Try this ping-pong test with your friends. If you say “Car”, some will answer German, some American, some British and some Italian, for instance. Say “Wine” and the responses will also be spread, with French and American as the main probable reactions. But say “Cigar,” and I’ll bet that most, if not all your friends, will react with a “Cuban”.

The Cuban Embargo

What is it that makes Cuban cigars almost unanimous in the minds of fine tobacco lovers around the world? Before I try to produce an answer, an anecdote about President Kennedy may help us understand the question.

Fidel Castro Rolex GMT Master

If you remember your 20th-century history, Fidel Castro became the Communist dictator of Cuba in 1959. The Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 was the disastrous Kennedy administration’s attempt to overthrow their government, and in retaliation, on February 3, 1962 the President signed the decree that banned Cuban products from the U.S. – including cigars.

JFK smoking in Black Tie

Ironically, though, Kennedy was a fan of Petit Coronas, a small cigar from the traditional H. Upmann Cuban brand, and he wasn’t willing to try alternatives from other countries. So the president asked his press secretary, Pierre Salinger (himself a cigar lover) to roam Washington DC’s tobacco stores and find as many of those stogies he could find.

H. Upmann Petit Coronas

The next morning, Salinger brought the President 1,200 Upmanns – almost 50 boxes – to Kennedy. “Fantastic!”, he said, pulling a paper from a drawer and signing the embargo.

Cuba embargo

The same product linked both antagonists in the Cold War: Castro, a keen cigar smoker, and the champion of American freedom, Kennedy. But they weren’t alone in their passion for Cuban cigars.