Honduras is one of the countries that Cuban exiles relocated
to with the dream of starting their cigar factories or tobacco farms that they
had lost during the Revolution. The city of Santa Rosa de Copan already had a
rich history of tobacco farming. Tobacco farmers in Santa Rosa benefit from a
tropical climate and rich soils in a beautiful valley. For many years, they
harvested Burley tobacco for the cigarette industry. In more recent years,
coffee has replaced the Burley tobacco, but they still produce quite a bit of
tobacco for the premium cigar industry, mainly Criollo ’98.
In 1969, Mr. Jorge Bueso Arias, founder of La Flor de Copan
cigar factory, brought from Cuba the seed that he would plant in Yarguera. The
flavor of this tobacco was fantastic, but unfortunately the plant was
susceptible to blue mold. However, the people at La Flor de Copan never gave up
on this tobacco. In the past 7 years, they have been crossing the tobacco with
the more pest resistant Criollo ’98, and finally have developed a hybrid that
has the characteristics of the original Yarguera, with the hardiness of the
Criollo ’98 leaf. It is this tobacco that is harvested for wrapper leaf on the
H Upmann Yarguera cigar.
We had the privilege to visit these tobacco farms and the
factory of La Flor de Copan where these cigars are made. Here we discovered the
secrets of what makes the H Upmann Yarguera special, but we also discovered
something that was unexpected: that the secret to truly great cigarmaking lies
in the people behind the scene in the factories.
Grupo de Maestros
It all starts with a group of cigar and tobacco experts that
Altadis USA, owner of La Flor de Copan, calls its “Grupo de Maestros”. These 8
people with vast experience and many years on their belts in the cigar industry
get together in a room to smoke the blends they produce and review them. The
tasting is blind, of course. After many of these meetings these guys come up
with the blends that they will use in a new cigar.
La Flor de Copan harvests 70% of the tobacco they use to
make their cigars. The other 30% is bought from other tobacco farms. The farms
are located in several localities in the region of Copan. The tobacco used in
the production of H Upmann Yarguera comes from the crops cultivated at the
Yarguera farm and from 14 small local producers. The cigar uses 4 primings of
Criollo 98, a Cuban and Honduran seed hybrid that is the most common tobacco
grown in Honduras and Nicaragua. The leaves of the Yarguera wrapper tobacco are
shiny, brown with golden shades, big, thick and very elastic. When the tobacco
leaves are harvested they are taken to the fermentation room.
The Fermentation Room
Here the tobacco leaves are separated by priming, year, farm
and varietal. The leaves are arranged in “pilones”, which are layer upon layer
of hemmed tobacco leaves. This allows for the temperature to rise using the
natural humidity of the leaves during the first three months. After that, water
is added to the pilones to continue the fermentation up to 14 months. In the
fermentation room, the temperature of the pilones is taken daily. The workers
will regularly switch the tobacco from one pilon to another for temperature
control (this process is called Virado). As they switch the hemmed leaves
(called “manos” or hands because they look like hands), they will shake each
one to lower the temperature and also wet the leaves as needed to add moisture.
The Flor de Copan factory uses color flags to inform the status of a pilon.
Depending on the color of the flag, the pilon will be checked daily, weekly or
Another way to keep the temperature high inside the
fermentation room is by covering each pilon with cloth. Each pilon weighs 4,000
lbs so you can imagine how hot it gets in the interior of each one!
The entire room is humidified with powerful humidifiers that
use only distilled water to run. The wetting or “Mojado” process is also
extremely important and varies depending on the type of tobacco. Wrapper
tobacco needs to be more elastic, and thus requires more moisture. After the
tobacco is wetted with a thin water mist, it is allowed to rest for 24 hours
before going back to the pilon. First primings or Seco only need to be wetted once,
while higher primings such as Viso and Ligero are thicker and need to be wetted
2-3 times during the fermentation process. This factory does not use the lower
priming, or Volado, in their cigar production.
In the stripping room, the tobacco is sorted by size and
priming by skilled workers. The central vein from every leaf is removed, or
stripped. It is here that each leaf is checked for quality and also designated
as filler (seco, viso, and ligero) and binder, in 2 sizes: long (banda larga)
and medium (banda mediana). The wrapper stripping is not done in this room.
Because the wrapper requires complete removal of the vein, workers devein the
wrappers using a machine, then separate the right and left sides of the leaves.
During stripping, the tobacco is wetted and then set to dry for 8 hours before
being packed in bales. After the tobacco is set in bales, it is taken to the
warehouse to age for one year minimum.
The Aging Room
In its aging room, La Flor de Copan stores about 2 years’ worth
of tobacco. This means that the tobacco that is received from the farms is used
to make cigars about 2 years after. The aging room is kept at natural humidity
and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Quality control at La Flor de Copan starts from the very
beginning. Each roller gets a box (cajon) with the exact amount of tobacco they
need to make 100 cigars. This ensures that each cigar has the perfect blend. To
make Yarguera, the roller receives one leaf of Seco Criollo de Yarguera 2012,
one leaf of Viso criollo de Yarguera 2013, one leaf of Viso Sun Grown of Cuban
Seed Yarguera 2014, one binder leaf of Honduran Criollo from the Florida
farm, and one Yarguera wrapper leaf. The cigar is 100% Honduran.
La Flor de Copan uses active supervision on all steps of the
bunching process to ensure great quality. All cigars are tested in the draw
machine, where 5% of the production is rejected and returned to the roller so
they can be fixed. You can imagine that no one wants to get the cigars
returned, so the rollers work very hard to craft a perfect cigar every time.
One roller will make on average about 350 cigars in one 8-hour work day. The
fastest rollers will make up to 500 cigars a day!
After bunching the cigars are placed in molds. Then for the
finish the wrappers are rolled on the cigars and the head is topped with a cap
that is cut from the wrapper leaf.
The Cedar Room
This impressive room holds about 2 million cigars. This is
where the freshly rolled cigars go to finish aging for a minimum of 4 weeks. In
here, the cigars are stored in trays and kept at 70% RH and 70 degrees
Fahrenheit. After leaving the Cedar Room the cigars go on to be sorted and
packaged. La Flor de Copan has a nice box factory where all the packaging is
manufactured by hand.
They say when you’ve seen one cigar factory that you have
seen them all. This is not true with La Flor de Copan factory, which to us was
unique in many ways. For one, the factory is not located in Danli, where most
of the Honduran cigar production is concentrated. This factory is the only
cigar factory established in Santa Rosa de Copan, a city in western Honduras
very close to the Guatemalan border and situated at 3,700 ft above sea
level. There is a deep culture of tobacco farming in this region that
goes back since the early 18th century, but some believe goes as far
back as the Mayan civilization in 200 AC.
The factory of La Flor de Copan is also extremely organized
and efficient. It is no wonder that the cigars made in this factory are as
consistent as they are. The factory controls the source of their tobacco and is
able to age and store 2 years’ worth of premium cigar tobacco which is
essential to making consistent cigars. The factory has also been certified
ISO9000 for quality and ISO14000 for environmental management. ISO9000 is an
international quality management standard that presents guidelines to increase
business efficiency and customer satisfaction. When visiting this beautiful
factory, it is obvious that a lot of effort has been made to make this a model
Finally, this factory employs 600 workers, for whom this
work represents economic stability and a better quality of life for themselves
and their families. Ultimately, the people who work at this factory are
responsible for making these great cigars. Everyone we talked to was passionate
and proud about the work they do. Cigars are so labor intensive, and every
single step is made by hand, that these people pour their heart and soul into
making a truly artisan product. Next time you enjoy a premium, handmade cigar,
keep in mind that you are supporting a great industry!