If you've been following our Cigar History Series, you already know that you can find incredible cigars beyond the boundaries of Cuba. So far, we've covered cigar nations like Nicaragua, Honduras, and most recently, Brazil.
In this post, we'll highlight the Mexican cigar industry. While countries like The Dominican Republic are world-famous for their cigars, less-known tobacco producers like Mexico are still a force to reckon with.
The San Andrés Wrapper
One of the most amazing things about the cigar industry is the opportunity to blend tobacco from different regions and countries.
For those who didn’t know, a blend is a combination of different types of tobacco in a cigar, including up to five types of filler leaves, one or two binder leaves and an outer wrapper.
For many years, well-established cigar producers have recognized the fine quality that Mexican-grown tobacco can provide and used it in their blends. Often, the Mexican component of these cigars is the wrapper. The most commonly used is the San Andrés wrapper, which is easily the most highly regarded Mexican cigar tobacco.
San Andrés wrapper leaf (Credit: Leaf Only)
This tobacco varietal is grown in the San Andres valley in Veracruz. This area has a rich history of growing tobacco dating back to the ancient Mayans. The soil is rich in fertile volcanic ash, and a humid climate is attributable to the closeness of the Gulf of Mexico, lending a unique flavor to the tobacco crop.
This dark chocolate wrapper brings peppery notes with smooth, toasty qualities accompanied by a hint of sweetness. Other flavors may include earth, almond, dark cocoa, spices and black pepper.
If you enjoy Maduro cigars, chances are you have smoked a cigar made with the jet black San Andres wrapper from Mexico.
Today, wrappers from San Andrés adorn many prominent premium cigars. However, experienced blenders find that the San Andres wrapper does not combine or balance very well with just any filler.
It lends itself best to very bold blends and will overpower a cigar quickly if it is not paired with other robust tobacco varieties.
Examples of some premium cigars with a San Andres wrapper include:
- La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor-made by renowned cigar-maker Jose' Pepin' Garcia, La Aroma de Cuba Mi Amor is a blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers accentuated by an oily San Andrés wrapper leaf.
- E.P. Carrillo La Historia- another celebrated cigar maker Ernest Perez-Carrillo combines the San Andrés wrapper leaf with a complex blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers and an Ecuador binder.
- Romeo y Julieta San Andrés - the San Andrés wrapper leaf holds together an intricate blend of Dominican and Nicaraguan long-fillers. What you get is an earthy and leathery profile of chestnuts and cedar.
It's not just a wrapper leaf. Many blenders have experimented with using Mexican tobacco as a binder or filler to showcase the versatile range of flavors tobacco from the San Andres valley has to offer.
Evolution of the Mexico Cigar Industry: The Turrent Family
Nobody knows for sure when the tobacco plant was first cultivated, but there is little doubt about where. The native people of the American continent were undoubtedly the first to grow and smoke the plant.
Records show that this was probably the tribes of the Maya civilization who dwelt in the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico. As a matter of fact, ancient carvings on Mayan monuments show gods smoking cigars and billows of smoke rising above them.
However, it wasn't until centuries later that tobacco came to the attention of the rest of the world through Cristopher Columbus's momentous voyage of 1492.
In 1880, the Turrent family arrived in the San Andreas Valley from Cuba. Soon after, they started farming tobacco, but most of the output was exported back to Europe to make cigars and cigarettes.
It wasn't until 1966 that they opened their first cigar factory, and the Te-Amo cigar brand was born. Back then, they only had one product, the Te-Amo Cigar, which was made using solely 100% percent Mexican tobacco.
This cigar became extremely popular in the US for its smooth blend and wallet-friendly price.
This was helped by the fact that following the Cuban embargo of 1962, Cuban cigars were no longer available to Americans. For three decades, the Te-Amo cigar was one of the top-selling brands in the United States. At one point in the 1970s, they had 170 stores around the New York City area selling their cigars!
But all that changed at the turn of the 21st century. More high-end cigar brands from countries like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua started encroaching on its market share. Things only got worse as industry periodicals like Cigar Aficionado began rating and awarding honors to these premium cigars.
Te-Amo, despite being the leading Mexican cigar brand, was only kept afloat by its loyal fan base. However, the Turrent family realized that it was time for an overhaul.
But for decades, Te-Amo cigars had enjoyed a reputation of being a working man's cigar. This proved to be a major hindrance in the cigar family's attempt to break into the upper echelons of premium cigar making. The first few attempts to launch a premium cigar were not well received.
Alas, in the past decade or so, that's been changing.
In the past decade, the Turrent family has regained some of the lost ground. Now they incorporate tobaccos from other countries to produce intricate blends that are good enough to satisfy the modern, sophisticated cigar enthusiast.
A perfect example of the Te-Amo brand stepping out of their comfort zone is their World Selection Series of cigars which was released in 2015.
The lineup includes five different cigar profiles from the leading cigar producers we've featured on this blog. An example is the Honduran blend with Honduran filler, a flavorful Mexican San Andrés binder, and a rich Cuban Corojo wrapper.
On the other hand, the Nicaraguan blend contains a robust, premium blend of Nicaraguan long-fillers, a spicy San Andrés binder, and a silky, smooth Cuban-seed Criollo wrapper. You can learn more about the entire series here.
To Wrap Up
Other than Te-Amo, there's probably only one or two other companies producing cigars for export. After that, there are a lot of small companies, chinchalles [tiny cigar factories], making cigars for the domestic market.
If you are ever in Mexico, make sure to indulge in a premium local cigar and ask for a glass of tequila that pairs perfectly with your cigar.
Can't make it to Mexico? Reputable cigar dealers like JR Cigars will deliver handrolled premium Mexican cigars right at your doorstep.
Here are some good otions you should give a try:
- Romeo y Julieta San Andrés
- E.P. Carrillo La Historia
- Casa Turrent 1880 Claro Doble Robusto
- Camacho Scorpion Sweet Tip