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Mystique has surrounded them for years. Many automatically assume that Cubans are the crème de la crème of the cigar world. But do they really deserve this distinction or are they just coasting on the laurels of decades worth of hype and intrigue?

Enthusiasts argue that Cubans are “stronger” than other cigars. They have a unique taste that many experts agree beats the flavor of other international brands. In addition, the climate conditions and soil in Cuba are perfect for growing tobacco. It’s also impossible to argue that Cubans don’t take their cigars very seriously.

The island nation’s cigar industry is controlled by the government and overseen by two companies, Habanos SA and Cubatabaco. They’re responsible for all manufacturing, promotion, distribution and exports, in addition to quality control. The companies produce two principle types of cigars: hecho a mano, which are machine-bunched and finished by hand and the fully handmade totalmente a mano.

The latter are the preferred of the two. The torcedores that hand roll these cigars often attain a level of esteem worthy of a skilled sculptor in Cuban society. When you combine the world’s finest tobacco with an industry and culture that considers the production of cigars an artform, what you wind up with is, well, a product more than worthy of a spot in your humidor.

Further adding to their allure, Cuban cigars are still a forbidden fruit for Americans. As you probably already know, they’re banned in the United States. While these cigars are widely available around the world and remain one of Cuba’s leading exports, they, along with all the nation’s exports, have been the subject of a trade embargo since 1962.

The night before President John F. Kennedy passed the executive order, he allegedly convinced his press secretary, Pierre Salinger, to fetch him 1,000 Petit Upmanns for his own personal use. Salinger, himself a cigar aficionado, quickly managed to track down 1,200 of them. Once he delivered the Cubans the next morning, Kennedy signed the embargo into law.

In addition to JFK, thousands of other cigar aficionados have sworn by Cubans over the years. As with anything, there is some quibbling among obsessed connoisseurs over strength, wrapping and variations that can cause some cigars to become difficult to draw. Nevertheless, if your interest is peaked and if you’re reading these words in the US, it’s easier to purchase Cubans now than, perhaps, any other period since the embargo was established.

If you’re unwilling to make a trip to Canada or Mexico for a few boxes, there are several websites that specialize in shipping Cubans to the United States. They skirt all the legalities by mailing the cigars without bands and/or in unmarked boxes. While these sites are just a short Google search away, beware, counterfeits and imitators are abundant.

But, if you’re feeling dangerous, we recommend a box of Partagás Serie P No. 2. made by Habanos S.A. This brand nabbed the # 4 spot in Cigar Aficionado’s “Best Cigars of the Year 2011” list. With their hints of cappuccino and flavors that soar from black pepper to coffee to leather, they’re about as Cuban as Cubans get.

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