Tobacco Research Institute, The Habano Shield


A perfectly-cogged system designed to protect both the quality and the development of habanos has been operating in Cuba for a quarter of a century.

Claimed by smokers from around the world, the habano is the most successful premium cigar in the market, capable of pleasing the most demanding customers. But to protect its chart-topping position, this item needs staunch guardians, like the Tobacco Research Institute.

This facility is located in San Antonio de los Baños’ Tumbadero Farmhouse, south of Havana and since its foundation 25 years ago it outlined such clear-cut goals as the protection of Cuba’s tobacco traditions and the contribution of scientific and technical breakthroughs for the sake of stepping up both the quality and development of this coveted product.

A Clear Path

Even though a Tobacco Experimental Station was run in Pinar del Rio’s San Juan y Martinez since 1937 and a similar facility was opened in 1940 in Cabaiguan –currently in the province of Villa Clara- the grand opening of the abovementioned institute allowed for the creation of a nationwide network for the protection of tobacco all across Cuba, based on the integration of its three basic fronts: biology, agronomy and industry.

That explanation was picked up by Excelencias from agronomist Vladimir Andino, head of this institute that many people consider a genuine protective shield for the habano. The facility has a payroll of 397 workers –206 of them in the main building- and features 43 researchers, including 8 doctors of science and 27 masters.

These experts have played a major role in keeping up the quality and international acclaim of the world’s finest premium cigars, thanks to the achievement of tobacco species resistant to its common diseases and weather change that, at the same time, don’t let go of the plant’s organoleptic characteristics, so important for the identity of the habano.

Its breakthroughs are applied in the field, in the plantation and in the spread of new agronomic and phytosanitary guidelines, just another aspect the center pays nonstop attention to.

Eumelio Espino Marrero, the institute’s chief of Development, makes his own point. The winner of the Habano Man of the Year Award has been bestowed with the Carlos J. Finlay Order for his outstanding studies and researches. This man of science, who has written several books and countless articles, loves delving into genetics and rooting for new advances and applications.

That’s why he acknowledges that one of the fundamental tasks in the world of habano is the spread and introduction of all breakthroughs in both technology and species all across the island nation’s tobacco realm by the hand of the growers and planters. Catering to them and hanging out with them have led to a whopping 90 percent of technological discipline –the correct application of all guidelines. This has no doubt direct repercussions on harvest upshots and the quality of the raw materials.

With this view in mind, some 550 supervisors work within the framework of a special system that embraces 22,000 tobacco fields scattered on the island. That means that the efforts of a dozen people at the Tobacco Research Institute are spread nationwide.

Supervisors oversee the processes and make it easy for as many as 18,000 producers to have access to more efficient policies. At the end of the day, these planters are the ones who guarantee the perfect balance between tradition and the application of scientific-technical advances in the best interest of preserving the undisputed quality of the habano. That includes a permanent watch on the kind of Cuban black tobacco contained in the cigars, the soil where the leaves grow, the weather conditions of the area where the plantation is located and the experience of the human resources, both in the field and in the industry.

“If just one of them is missing, the habano cannot be produced. That’s why so many people have tried to duplicate it overseas just to no avail,” says this expert.

It’s worth mentioning that achieving some of the highly efficient varieties that grow in Cuba’s plantations today, as many as 220 genetically-advanced lines are studied for a span of 14 years. Finally, the National Tasting Commission picks just a couple of them, as it happened with the Habana 2000 and the Habana 92.

Tasters Call the Shots

The third seasoned and ineludible voice in the history of the Tobacco Research Institute is Juan Jose Lopez Freire’s, chief of the Industrial Division and a great taster per se who’s strongly linked to the gourmet world and sommeliers, someone who keeps tabs on the expectations of the faithful habano smokers. His responsibility lies in contributing his own to the blends in terms of both quality control at the factories and the appearance of new products.

Many of the most celebrated new things designed for smokers from around the world carry a piece of his contributions and those coming down the pike from the tasting commissions at each and every cigar factory around the country, the technically so-called Habano Sensorial Evaluation Panels.

This functions as a need and a demand, and it represents a fundamental mechanism laid out not only to guarantee the permanent quality of the habano, but also to validate the blends and the upcoming products in the light of Habanos S.A.’s nonstop advances and renewals in line with market trends and its customers’ tastes, an attitude that has made the company become both a leading firm and a role model in the realm of premium cigars.

That means this expert’s shoulders support the heavy burden of being responsible for the quality control process of habanos and the “birth” of new products, by far one of the most painstaking, complex and delicate tasks in this part of the industry.

This endeavor takes months of tests, studies, trials and assessments as part of a huge inquiry or multilateral consultation that unfolds within a comprehensive process from top to bottom, with tasters stealing the limelight. They size up the products based on a scale that gauge aroma, strength, burning, draw and even format parameters and hand-rolling quality, depending on the requirements everyone expects from the newcomer.

Only at the end of the thorough effort, according to the coincidental levels in the positive appraisal of all these aspects, they reach to a definitive new product that could start breathing on its own and being part of the selective habano family.