What you need to know before buying “fake” cigars in Cuba

If they’re made in Cuba, how can they be counterfeit habanos?

Cuban cigar factories have a very strict quality control. Any cigars that show defects are discarded or given to the factory workers for personal consumption. The quality control and government control it’s what gives Habanos such a lucrative rate.

Buying cigars on the streets is like buying factory defect t-shirts with the red mark that reads “irregular” on their packaging.

The rejected cigars end up repackaged, taken to the street and sold at a fraction of the price the factory sells them, but instead of having the red irregular mark, it will be missing a very important factory code and packaging date at the bottom of a perfectly packaged product.

You get what you pay for, when it comes to habanos, you pay for quality and taxes. If you are not a cigar aficionado and you are not willing to pay over $400 for a box of 25 “Robusto” Cohiba then I suggest to take the Cigar Hustle Tour. It’s free and it consist of visiting different houses where these “counterfeit” are hidden.

Don’t be afraid, Cuba is very safe and you will get to see how simple (some) Cubans live. My friends and I had the chance to visit few of these houses, looking for a quality habano at good price. Obviously not the same quality as the factory, but close enough. We were guided to a house near the cathedral in La vieja Habana where a very welcoming 80-year-old woman cooking dinner while watching novelas on her 40-inch flatscreen TV received us. She stopped stirring the pot, lower the fire on the stove, walked towards the dining table, and underneath it there was a big box cover with paper. Out of the big box she extracted three different type of cigars boxes and left the negotiation to our guide. After haggling for 10 minutes with her relative, We walked out of the house with a box of 25 “Robusto” Cohiba for $38. It had all the stamps, all the rings, the perfect wooden box with the Hecho a mano engravement, but no factory code or packaging date.

This is what a counterfeit burns like.

You take a risk when buying cigars that are kept in a poor environment (too dry or too humid). Some may not light up, or might burn to quick. Check carefully for molds on the wrap of the cigar, theses are usually white spots, small green spots and weblike dust, not to be confused with plume a white dust produced by the oil of tobacco leaf when it ages (Plume is good)

Here are some of the reasons “Counterfeit” cigars don’t make it to a humidor at the Fabrica de Cigarros:

  • They are cut too short
  • The width doesn’t match the required spec
  • The tobacco leaf used to rolled the cigar has discoloration or doesn’t match the required color
  • The veins in the tobacco leaf used to rolled the cigar may be thick, making the habano texture too rough.
  • Mold (look carefully for these)

Other theories I heard about the streets cigars:

  • They are imported from Dominican Republic, which is absurd considering the government has complete control on what goes into the country. Cuba just started allowing (cruise) ships to the island harbor.
  • They are made from leftover leafs and are not rolled in a hygienic establishment.
  • The tobacco leaf were never pesticide

The best way to compare a Fake vs an Original:

Cigarettes in a New York City store can cost around $12 a pack. An “illegal” pack of cigarette sold in the street may cost $5. If you buy the pack in Virginia you may find yourself paying $2 a pack. What is the difference in the prices? Taxes. A stamp at the bottom of the pack of cigarette will let you know if you are buying the NY TAXED cigarette. The same thing happens when you buy a box of Habanos in streets of Cuba. The rings, the stickers, the box they all look legit, but they will be missing the stamp at the bottom of the box with the code of the factory and the date the cigars were packaged.

A little quality and a lot of taxes that is the difference between a “Counterfeit” habano and a Company Certify.

 

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