Feel free to contact me with any questions about my commentaries, cigar reviews or cigar hunting in Costa Rica.
Saturday, October 04, 2008
One of the nice things about living in Costa Rica is that it has developed a cigar culture that did not exist before. Not only do we have access to the most Cuban cigars, but also there are a variety of cigar factories and brands produced right here in Costa Rica.
Some are better than others- but there are really 4 categories in my opinion; Bad, Smokable, Good, and Great. Unfortunately most of the cigars are in the first two categories, and only one is in the last (that I have found); however it is always a pleasure to find another good cigar.
Habanos Hernandez is defiantly one of these good cigars.
I received an email from a nice couple here in Costa Rica that have been working on the development of their cigar brand, and they asked me to give it a try. As things are here in Costa Rica, in the end we knew several people in common, and I gladly looked forward to trying their cigars.
The presentation that I saw was crisp with that simple elegance I prefer.
All of the cigars has a similar construction and blend, however for the sake of the review I used the Extra Robusto.
The cigar was lightly rolled, but was not missing material. It's wrapper was light and delicate with an attractive shine.
The cigar was a smooth cigar with an easy draw. I expected it to be a little stronger for it's ring gauge (52), however it was not that it lacked strength, rather it was just a lighter smoke; easy on the throat and lungs...
It has a light aroma and a natural flavor. The nut, wood and spice characteristics came through from the first puff and carried through until the end. I am happy to report there was none of that damp-earthy flavor that I despise.
The burn was even and consistent, and I did not have to relight it.
Habanos Hernandez is one of the cigars that exceeds the run-of-the-mill reputation that has defined many of Costa Rica's other cigars.
Their website is growing so check back often. For more information visit them at:
Monday, September 10, 2007
Origin: Costa Rica Construction: Hand(?)
Purchased: N/A Price: See Website
Smoked: Living Room Accompanied by: Old Parr 12 (Scotch)
Some months back a nice fellow by the name of Lynn contacted me about blogging his cigar on my site. He offered to drop off the cigar next time he was in San Jose, and some weeks later he stopped by and dropped me a sample.
At first glance, I saw a well built cigar with a flawless wrapper- dark in color. It did not appear to be rolled too tight, so I knew the draw would be easy; easy draw is a plus for me.
I did not waste any time, and I opened one up. I had a hard time distinguishing the seco from the ligero, but that might just be part of the blend. It was rolled slightly different that I have seen many other cigars, the leaves were slightly more curled, but since it did not appear to be rolled to tight, that did not affect the draw.
For my review, I smoked the Espendido, a 6 inch by 50 ring cigar. I unique vitola that is like the uncommon Cuban "double." The cigars smoked well, proper coning, no significant runners.
Every smoke had a sense of peat in it, and when the smoke first hit the tougue, a tickle of spice come through. "Earthy," would be the term I use to explain this cigar, but do I mean earthy, not grassy. A strong woody flavor mixed with significant hints of roasted coffee passed through my pallet with every draw.
The smoke was thick and less pungent than many Nicaraguan cigars. Overall the cigar lacked aroma, but this was not a show stopper. No overheating, and no relights. The wrapper, although delicate, complimented the cigar well by burning evenly.
Overall, I enjoyed them. And, for being a 100% Costa Rican cigar, I was surprised and happy smoke it.
For more information on Don Leon Cigars, visit their website: http://www.purosdonleon.com
Lynn is a real gentleman, and I appreciate his effort with this cigar in Costa Rica.
Overall Score: 75/100
Sunday, May 27, 2007
From: Jim in Tampa
Subject: great blog sir!
I want to congratulate you on your excellent cigar blog. Particularly useful to me was your recommendations on reliable shops in San Jose to purchase cuban cigars as I plan to visit next month for the first time.
This may be a dumb question, but I'm sure you have other readers who may be curious about this as well;
Is the matter of bringing back cuban cigars from CR to the US as simple as taking the labels off of them? Is it better to bring them on carry on or checked in luggage? Please let me know your opinion on bringing back a few cuban cigars to the US in the safest and most discreet way.
keep up the excellent blogging!
Jim in Tampa
Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I will try to expand the Costa Rica Cigar Hunting information in the future. I have often thought about adding a section specifically dealing with all of the cigar stores and dealers in San Jose- but I do not want to make too many enemies in the city where I am living... Good to hear that you are coming to Costa Rica for a visit, it is a great travel destination.
On the subject of bringing Cuban Cigars back the the Unites States; no- not a dumb question at all. I have not touched on this information before, and, although I have never looked for it before online, I have not read about it online much either.
Indeed, you initial assumption is correct, it can be as simple as just taking off the rings, but there can be a little more to it. I have seen many people bring Cuban Cigars back to the US from Costa Rica, and other locations, and I have some tips to make the most of the process.
First of all, you will need a travel humidor, or an empty cigar box(es). This of course will depend on how many cigars you would like to bring back. However, if you are going to make the investment in trueHabano cigars, I recommend that you take care of them in the proper conditions. This is something that people do not often plan for, and I have heard some horror stories of cigars drying out, wrappers cracking, or worse.
Now that you have the proper conditions to stow your cigars, you need to think about what you will be buying. I stress this part, because depending on where you go you will have a great variety to choose from. For cigars that you plan to travel with, go for the gold- spend more than you normally would and pick up some super-stars (Like aCohiba Siglo IV or Sublime for example). In addition, most locations will let you inspect and smell the cigars before you buy them- do not be shy. Make sure that the cigars smell fresh, and are not overly dry.
After you have purchased the cigars, you will have to remove the rings. Some shops will help you do this, but it would be at your own risk no matter what they say. Depending on your manual dexterity you might want to do this yourself. However you choose to do it if, make sure you make a map so that you know what is what. You might be surprised how similar two different robustos might look.
It is not necessary to throw the rings away. If you take them off with the right amount of care, they can be put back on, but if it is a matter of damaging the rings or the cigar wrapper, you know what to do. Before you leave home take a decent quality envelope with you. By decent quality I mean one that is not easy to see through. You could also use a "tri-folded" piece of paper inside the envelope. While in Costa Rica, you can send the envelope back home for less than a dollar. Any hotel will help you get the appropriate stamps and post your letter. It may take a couple weeks to arrive.
You can put the rings back on using white glueor a glue stick. Use another cigar from your collection to get the proper location set, and be very conservative with the glue. Put a 'dab' in the same spot where the dry glue is and paste the cigar ring to itself.
Traveling into the United States with "un-ringed" cigars from Costa Rica should not be an issue, as several of the local factories sell "un-ringed bundles." Be sure to declare you "Costa Rican Cigars" on your customs declaration form, as you are required to declare all tobacco.
Monday, September 11, 2006
Based on my previous post, I received an email asking for further detail, so we will continue the conversation a bit... Thanks Phil
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: True Habano's in San Jose
Date: Sat, September 09, 2006 4:09 pm
What a refreshing relief to find your commentary on finding true Cuban cigars in Costa Rica (San Jose). I found an article back in 98 that talked about how to identify a falso, but Im not sure if it remains true today. I've pasted it into a MS Word document that Ive enclosed.
I was planning on visiting the La Casa Del Habano in San Jose but Im not sure if they will try and sell me fake Cuban cigars. If I come in looking like a tourist who does not know much about Habanos, might they try and rip me off? Or will I be safe in that store? Should I inspect them according to the enclosed article?
I will be there in November. What can I expect to pay for a box?
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:25 AM
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
The article looks fairly dated, but there is some good information in there. The truth is if someone wants to produce a fake box of cigars, everything except the tobaccco can be produced here (In Costa Rica), Cuba, even in the US. The cigar falsification industry is huge, world wide. The only trick to buying is buying from a trusted dealer.
La Casa Del Habanao is pretty trusted in my opinion. I used to know the general manager there well, but he has recently moved on. I use the term "pretty trusted" becasue I do not know who is running the place now, and what has happened at other places is that their own staff was bringing in fakes and selling them. I doubt that is happening, but it is a risk.
I doubt that they will take advantage of you as a tourist. Although some places in Costa Rica use that philosophy, La Casa Del Habano is owned by an Italian family who knows that you can "shear a sheep many times, but skin it once." They should try to make you a long term client, but if you like send me a list of what you might be looking for and I will write you an estimate on what they should cost- just so you can be safe. Prices depend greatly on what brands and vitolas you are interested in.
If you are interested in a boutique cigar, I will recommend Don Benigno. I smoke his cigars almost exclusively with the exception of gifts and reviews. They are excellent, and go for $100 to $200 per box (depending on vitola). They are sold at a popular mall on the west side of town call "Plaza Major." If you can pick up a few sticks, and if you are interested in purchasing by the box you can visit the factory and get a nice little tour.
Drop me a line with what you are looking for,
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
Date: Sun, September 10, 2006 11:24 am
Thanks Keith, great info.
I saw your blog post on Don Benigno and was thinking of checking that out.
Ok, you've uncovered my ignorance in regards to cigars. I'm very much a novice who doesn't get much past smoking a mild Macanudo but wants to take advantage of my trip to Costa Rica.
So I like mild cigars. When I drink an IPA, a harsh cigar makes it impossible as an IPA is a strong beer and they are too powerful as a combo.
So I know enough to know that I've probably not tasted a truly good cigar (not sure if Macanudo's are considered good quality). I say mild probably because I've had some harsh cigars... I don't smoke cigarettes...
So what do you think? I've looked at all the various brands of cuban's, but figured I would ask the shop owner when I get there to recommend something for me. If you can help me out that'd be great.
Perhaps this should be on your blog as comments to help others? I got your blog info from a forum poster on a message board as a quality blog with good info. I sure appreciate your time in this matter!
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
Date: Mon, September 11, 2006 12:39 am
First of all, thanks for the repeated kind words about my blog, I hope that people find it useful, so thanks for saying as much. Greatly appreciated.
Excellent idea on posting the messages! I don't post emails because I worry about jeopardizing people's confidence (and I hate to ask). I have made a Part 2 of the Cigar Hunting post that is on my blog.
No need to be bashful, we were all novices at one time- and as a very serious cigar smoker, I am glad to see the hobby/pastime grow. Before moving abroad, I smoked many Macs, they are indeed mild, but I still smoke one from time to time. I still find mild cigars pleasing to the pallet. You are right on however, take advantage of this trip to check out some new cigars.
On that note, let me explain that Cuban cigars are strong, but they are not harsh. Even some experienced smokers that have not had access to Cuban cigars make the mistake of thinking that they are mild, because they are not harsh. You will have one up on them.
Cuban tobacco should not burn or scratch the throat. They are smooth and creamy. If you inhale a little, you will see their strength, but it is not necessary. It is hard to say where to start, but make sure you buy some singles before buying a box. Mareva is a great starting point, but if you are feeling adventurous, you will enjoy a Robusto.
In terms of brands, the best is Cohiba. All the of parts of Cohiba are from the Vuelta Abajo zone of Cuba- it is the best of the best. That being said, the other big names are all respectable as well- don't get too caught up thinking a Limited Edition is something special, normally it is just means a different wrapper and additional ring.
Prices start around $350 a box, but you are looking at more for some of the more popular brands. A box of Cohiba Robustos will be about $500. I should point out that cash (dollars) should get you a discount over using a credit card.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
San Jose, Costa Rica is a great place to visit, and a wonderful place to live, however in the world of cigars, it has it's darker side.
San Jose is kind of like the Mos Eisley of the world for cigar smoker... As Obi-Wan put it, it is a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."
You are certainly think... "How can this guy say something so strong about San Jose, Costa Rica... this is his adopted home... how bad can it really be?"
Well, yes- my words are extreme, but only because I recommend that you hunt, shop, and buy with EXTREME caution.
My research show that there are no less that 40 cigar producers in the country. However, if you look in the yellow pages, you will only find one. I understand that the yellow pages is not a great guide, and it is a bit of a mafia in itself, but use that example as a metaphor for the situation in Costa Rica.
As many tourist locations outside the US, there is a huge market for fake Cuban cigars, however due to Costa Rica's popularity combined with it's proximity to Nicaragua (to provide rollers and tobacco), the number of fake cigars out there is enormous.
Nearly everyone know the street is full of fakes, but that is not where it ends. Many hotels, restaurants, and even tobacco stores are tainted- mainly unknowingly, others foolishly.
That being said, there are a number of places where you can find real Cuban cigars. La Mata De Tobacco (Multi-Plaza), Don Benigno Cigars (kiosk in Plaza Mayor), La Casa Del Habano (San Pedro near the mall), to name a few.
There are good and bad fakes, and you my find a fake cigar that you enjoy, but truth be told, it is not right, proper, or healthy (who knows how the tobacco was cured).
I am writing this because it is very important to me that cigar smokers get access to great cigars, and purchasing fake cigars in San Jose, Costa Rica is bad for tourism, but is worse for the cigar smoker who gets them.
Proceed with caution when cigar hunting in San Jose, Costa Rica. There are plenty of opportunities to find the "real deal" so do not be foolish. Enjoying a great cigar is a wonderful experience, and following my advice can make that wonderful experience a reality while on a trip in San Jose.
Sunday, April 09, 2006
Don Benigno Cigars was created nearly 10 years ago in beautiful Costa Rica, although the story of Don Benigno, and his family's tradition of cigar rolling began generations before.
Don Benigno Arronte was was born in Pinar Del Rio, Cuba in the 1950s. Pinar Del Rio, right in the middle of the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba, is known as the international capital of tobacco cultivation. Pre-revolution Cuba had hundreds of cigar factories throughout the country. One of these factories, Ceniza (Spanish for ash), was owned by Benigno's grandfather. Benigno, at a very young age, was involved in Cuba's tobacco world.
In those times, most affluent (and often most experienced) cigar smokers would not be caught dead smoking a brand name Habano, rather they had a personal tabaquero, or cigar roller. Their tabaquero, often a friend, would roll them the best cigar possible, using the finest materials and strictest quality controls. One of Benigno's uncle's, Jose, was a reknown master cigar roller and personal tabaquero for many prestigious friends and clients, mainly from Spain. It was this uncle, that taught young Benigno how to roll cigars. Jose loved to roll cigars, and rolled his own cigars up until his death several years ago.
Following the Revolution, the needs of Cuba changed, and the Ceniza Cigar Factory closed as the large cigar factories of Havana took precedent. Professionally, Don Benigno and his family pursued other callings. Don Benigno studied education, and became a history professor, but his love of cigars and cigar rolling never ended. A life long smoker, he rolled his own cigars while living in Cuba. Not only were the name brand cigars too expensive for the average Cuban, but he was unable to find a cigar that consistently satisfied his needs as a smoker.
In 1997, Don Benigno immigrated to Costa Rica and immediately pursued a career in his true calling, cigar rolling. Starting with basically nothing but his skills and bare hands, Don Benigno Cigars was born. First on his kitchen table with the most basic tools, Don Benigno quickly gained notoriety in Costa Rica's cigar smoking circles. Shortly there after, Don Benigno opened his first Cigar Shop in a historical district of San Jose near the city's beautiful National Theater (Theatro Nacional) where he rolled cigars and administered the store.
After building a solid clientèle, and wanting to focus more on the production of his brand, Benigno and his wife rolled cigars full time in there home. Don Benigno was please with the success of his signature cigar brand, and with the help of a close friend and fellow cigar smoker Gary Naffer they developed a logo, rings, and a box design, and registered the brand. These designs have not changed since their creation.
Within no time, Don Benigno knew that they were going to be unable to keep up with demand, and had to find additional cigar rollers to help produce the now popular Don Benigno Cigar. Starting first with one, and incrementally adding more, Don Benigno hired career cigar rollers from Costa Rica. Knowing that he needed to instruct them in the meticulous art that had been passed down to him, Don Benigno cautiously moved them through the ranks in his family workshop. But, being trained educator, he had great success teaching them his family's methods.
Today, Don Benigno has become the Cigar Guru of his adopted country, Costa Rica; he has been interviewed by the local media both for feature pieces as well as a source in cigar related articles, he is frequently visited by national and international dignitaries who are (or become) friends and clients, and hundreds of tourists annually are introduced to his cigar when they arrive to Costa Rica and ask, "Where can I get a great cigar?"
The story continues today, in a quiet suburb of San Jose he produces his cigars with the tradition of excellence that he was taught in his youth. Don Benigno Cigars are a limited production that cigar aims to satisfy the most demanding smoker. His commitment to quality, skilled methods, and impeccable final product have distinguished Don Benigno as a True Cigar Master.
For More Information about Don Benigno Cigars, see the link in my earler post.