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Puros From The Canary Isles

Pure Pleasure
Tobacco tradition of the Canaries
Cigar production in the Canaries
Cigars From the Canaries are a Work
What size is a "Pyramid"?


Puros - or cigars. As we know them - from the Canary Isles go back a long way. In fact, it all began with Christopher Columbus. Rodrigo de Xeres had been sent off to find gold. But instead he found "chimney men," who had smoke coming out of their mouth and nose, but he had no idea that he had indeed found gold - brown gold- or tobacco.

The date chronicled was 2 November 1492, three weeks after Columbuslanded in the new world. Columbus sent Rodrigo de Xeres off to find outabout the inland and at the same time to look for gold. He was very disappointed when Rodrigo de Xeres returned without gold, but with incredible news -he had discovered the land of the chimney men. With great excitement, he reported that he had seen natives smoking like chimneys. They carried about a brow tube that burned at one end. They put the other end in their mouth and then blew out smoke through the mouth and nostrils, which they seemed to find extremely pleasurable. Understandably, Columbus found it difficult to believe this story and decided to pay the land of the wandering chimneys a visit himself. What the Admiral then saw was later chronicled by the monk, Bartolom6 de las Casas: "all the men carried a torch, breathing in the heady smoke like incense. A few dry herbs were placed on a dry leaf, which was then rolled up into a tube not unlike a small musket barrel. This was then lit at one end. They inhaled a type of smoke from the other end with each breath, said to sooth the body and have a pleasant inebriating and soporific effect. The natives called the tubes" tabacos." Neither Columbus, the monk nor Rodrigo de Xeres suspected at that time that they had tumbled on "gold leaf'- the brown gold called tobacco. But they took it home with them as a curiosity and also for the purpose of documenting the barbaric customs they had found. And that is how the tobacco plant. arrived on the Canary Isles, the first port of call after the long and weary journey across the Atlantic. For Columbus, and all the other Spanish explorers, Islands like La Palma, Gomera, Hierro, Tenerife and Gran Canaria were like a green paradise after the blue, wet wilderness of the Atlantic, somewhere where they could obtain fresh water, fruit and vegetables. They were also the first chance they had to tell about the strange habits of the natives, their "chimney men.  "La Palma flourished early as a result and the capital and port of Santa Cruz de La Palma grew quickly as the result of the contact with the new world, to become a leading trading post and the third largest port of the Spanish empire after Seville and Antwerp. This is how tobacco arrived in La Palma.

Tobacco tradition of the Canaries 
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The name "tobacco" originates from a mistake by the chronicler. What the natives called "tabacos" were actually the small tubular or trumpet shaped objects early figurado cigars and not the plants from which they were rolled. But, as is often the case, sometimes-historical errors become facts. Nor was it true that Columbus or the Conquistadores immediately became enthusiastic smokers of tobacco this heathen habit remained suspect for a long time. But for Rodrigo de Xeres, who discovered the "chimney men," tobacco was his undoing. Back in Spain, his wife discovered that he smoked secretly in the dark in his room. And in the sinister atmosphere of the Middle Ages, she believed that he had made a pact with the devil and so reported him to the Inquisition. And the smoking Xeres ended upon the stake. Demetrio Pela was the first cigar "manufacturer" who, in 1541, reported that Panduka, the Indian chieftain, and had taught him how to roll a cigar. In any case, the Europeans transformed the cumbersome smoking device the "tubes" made from leaves into the work of art, which is the cigar today. The technique was perfected in Cuba, but was principally the work of Spaniards, mainly migrants from La Palma. Since the time of the conquistadors, La Palma has enjoyed close relations with Cuba. Adventurers left the island to find their fortune in the New World. Not all of them were successful in the search for the legendary Eldorado, the land of gold, but many settled in Cuba as farmers and established families there. The fact that they were excellent farmers and were also very industrious was extremely advantageous for the tobacco industry. In the middle of the last century, those returning home and who had worked as tobacco planters in Cuba, mainly in the region of San Juan de los Remedios, brought the tobacco plant with them to the island and cultivated it on small plots for their own needs. Up to now, La Palma is the only is land in the Canaries where tobacco grows. Helped by the mountainous topography of the island, the volcanic soil and the abundant rainfall, some parts of the island provide an ideal microclimate for cultivating tobacco. Around 1870, tobacco growing on La Palma had become so important that it even surpassed the success of breeding the cocbinilla, the insect used for dyeing silk. Families like Sotomayor (the famous Cuban high jumper had ancestors from La Palma) and Poggio had large tobacco plantations. At that time Puros De La Palma" became synonymous with craftsmanship and first class tobacco. According to old records, a cigar from La Palma had to include tobacco of the extinct volcano Taburiente, it had to bum uniformly all round, producing a white ash, and have the characteristic herby aroma which was the mark of quality. The people of La Palma soon learned the art of cigar rolling from those returning from Cuba; all families rolled cigars at home for their own needs and later also for selling in continental Spain. Nothing has changed on La Palma up to now - the art of making cigars has been passed on from generation to generation. More or less at the same time as on La Palma, in the second half of the last century, the great cigar boom also started in Cuba. More than four hundred large and small company's hand produced the cigars suddenly in demand in Europe and the U.S.A. Those involved were mainly Spaniards and migrants from La Palma, as the famous brand name "Hoyode Monterrey" proves after the Monterrey family that originated from La Palma. In the1920s, when there was a recession, there was mass emigration from La Palmato Cuba. Exports of silk and textiles - the mainstay of the island's economy until then -had collapsed completely.

Hunger and need became every day life. As a result, many people left La Palma for the cigar islands in the Caribbean, where they already had relatives and were welcomed with open arms. After Castro's revolution, there was a move in the opposite direction: many of the migrants returned home and many Cubans found a second home on the larger islands of the Canaries, such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria.  They include such legendary names inthe cigar business as the successors of Jos Maria Garcia and HermenegildoMen6ndez, who created the Montecristo brand, and also part of the Cifuentesfamily, who followed Jaime Partagds, the founder of the factory with the same name in Havana. They found everything they needed on the Canary isles- sufficiently experienced cigar rollers and a great tobacco tradition- and so were able to continue their trade. This provided a second major impetus for cigar production on the Canaries. Naturally, the small quantities of tobacco produced in La Palma were not sufficient for he mass production of cigars, so raw tobacco was imported from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, but also from Indonesia and Cameroon. In the same way as a cuv6e with wine, Canaries cigars are always a blend of several excellent tobaccos of different provenance. This allows many variations in flavorand subtle nuances. What they have in common is the excellent craftsmanship combined with the experience of generations. It is indicative that in Spain, torcedores and torcedoras (Cigar rollers), are not regarded as normal workers, but as craftsmen and craftswomen. For at the end of the day, the product that they make - the cigar - is a work of art.

Cigar production in the Canaries 
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The tobacco industry in general and cigar production in particular not only has a great tradition in the Canary Isles, but is also very important economically. Twenty three billion cigarettes (1.15 billion packs) and400 million cigars (including machine made cigars) are produced every year. Seventy-five percent of the production is exported. The tobacco industry employs 4,000 people directly and another 2,000 indirectly as suppliers. Whereas the Spanish domestic market has always regarded handmade cigars from the Canaries as a quality symbol, and these have always sold very well, it was only in the last few years that the cigar boom in the U.S.A. and Europe (mainly Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain and, recently, France) has dramatically in-creased the interest in puros canarios. Top producers are now emerging to deal with the export demand. Puros Vargas in Santa Cruz de La Palma is one of these companies - it employs 52 people, making it the largest cigar producer on this small island. Seventy-three-year-old Enrique Vargas, company founder and father of the present Manager Director of the same name, is still going strong and smokes and rolls his own cigars. For the whole of his life, he has done nothing else but make first class cigars with a great deal of love and care and cannot stop now, although he has reached retirement age. Enrique Vargas is perhaps the best example of a very old family tradition producing cigars in the Canaries. His son, who is responsible for marketing, has brought a breath of fresh air into the company, which is organized as a cooperative. The company produces six brands - Don Enrique (named after the founder of the company), Vargas, Tene-guia, Pefia, La Criolla and La Mia - still made by hand in the traditional manner, but now marketed in a more modern way. The company buys tobacco from La Palma, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Sumatra and Java for the tipa larga (long filler) and capote (binder) and also from Connecticut (U.S.A.), Java and Sumatra for the capa (wrapper). They produce approximately50,000 cigars a week at the moment. Comercial Arico on Gran Canaria is one of the younger, though not less famous cigar manufacturers of the Canary Isles. Founded in 1980, the owner, Antonio Montafi'es Alemdn, can already point to a successful export business. Comercial Arico has earned itself a reputation as a quality producer, making 100,000 hand rolled cigars every month, of Which 90% are exported to the U.S.A. and 10% to Europe and the domestic Spanish market. Brands include Casanova, one of the most well known and popular brands from the Canary Isles, available in four different sizes: Churchills, Sublimes, Superfinos and Consuls, and also La Regional, available as Monarcos, Churchills, Lonsdales, and Coronas. Commercial Arico also makes Cara Mia for the U.S. market: Pyramides, Churchills, Toros, Lonsdales and Coronas, and Don Xavier: Pyramides, Churchills, Gran Corona, Lonsdales, Petit Lonsdales, Coronas, Panetel las, Petit Panetellas, and Robusto and also Sommer's for the German market: Churchill, Coronas, Panetellas,S61idos, Delgados, and Superfinos, The cigars are produced from Caribbean tobaccos (from Cuba, Dominican Republic), tobacco from Brazil, the Canary isles and also Connecticut wrappers from the U.S.A. The latest addition to the family of export-orientated cigar producers on the Canary Islesis Fulgencio Vega Gil, also from Grand Canaria. In 1989, the owner, Fulgencio Vega Gil, started his business in a small room measuring 120 m2 employing a handful of cigar rollers. Three years later, the expanding company moved to premises with a floor space of 600 m2 and to even larger premises three years later. The expanding company moved to premises three years later. Only the Montecanario brand from Fulgencio Vega Gil is 100% handmade. initially, it was only intended for the local market, but the first export successes soon followed with small quantities to Germany and now also to the U.S.A. by concentrating on the handmade brand, Fulgencio Vega Gil can adapt his production to the wishes and requirements of his export customers -both in terms of size, and tobacco composition, mixing the long filler with tobacco from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Brazil combined with wrappers from Indonesia. These three well-known cigar producers are representative of the variety and range of production on the Canary Isles which is based on a centuries-old tradition and - most importantly - a large pool of local craftsmen who produce these works of art by hand.

Cigars From the Canaries Are a Work 
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Each hand-made cigar is an individual work of art, when the art also consists of making them all as identical to each other as possible. Completely handmade. It means that the cigars are exclusively made by hand throughout- unlike pseudo hand-made cigars, when only the binder is rolled by hand onto a machine bunched nucleus. Each cigar consists of three parts: the bunch, made from tripa larga or tripa corta, the binder or capote, which holds the bunch together and then the wrapper which is known as the capa.  The "inner workings" determine the quality of the cigar and how it smokes: tripa larga means that strips are torn from whole tobacco leaves and twisted together to form a bunch. A different tobacco can be used todo this. The ash will only hold together when the cigar is smoked if long pieces of tobacco are used. If cheaper short tobacco pieces - tripa corta- are used (and may also include waste) the ash falls off very quickly. The bunch consisting of several pieces of tobacco leaf, is held together by the binder or capote and is compressed in a wooden mold. These wooden molds have the shape and size of the finished cigar and give the "blank" its form. When the wooden forms are full they hold between 10 and 12 cigar blanks, depending on shape and size - they are stacked on top of one another and clamped. After a certain time, the wrapper is rolled on to the cigar blank. The wrapper is cut to size with a round blade from half a tobacco leaf, from which the veins have been removed. All this requires considerable skill, because the leaves are very fine and are therefore very sensitive and tear easily. They are also expensive, so it makes sense that as many wrappers as possible need to be cut from the tobacco leaf and there must be as little waste as possible. The wrapper is rolled onto the blank at an angle and a small semi circular tip is cut at the end or head, which seals the one end of the cigar. It is fixed with a natural resin adhesive. The tuck of the cigar is then trimmed with a sharp knife - and the work of art is ready. It is typical of the Canaries cigars that the production process is exactly the same as that LISeCi in Cuba - each cigar roller makes a complete cigar from beginning to end, whereas in other cigar producing countries, the bunch and wrapper are very often made by different workers.

What size is a "Pyramid"? 
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Since there is an uncountable number sizes for Puros, we will just give a list of the formats mentioned in the article. The sizes indicated may vary slightly between producers and are, therefore, only average measures.

CHURCHILLS 17.8 x 1.8 cm / 7.00 x 0.70 in.
SUBLIMES 12.9 x 1.6 cm / 5.07 x 0.62 in.
SUPERFINOS 17.5 x 1.4 cm / 6.88 x 0.55 in.
CONSULES 14.6 x 1.5 cm / 5.74 x 0.59 in.
MONARCOS 17.8 x 1.8 cm / 7.00 x 0.70 in.
LONSDALES 16.5 x 1.6 cm / 6.49 x 0.62 in
CORONAS 13.6 x 1.5 cm / 5.35 x 0.59 in.
PIRAMIDES 15.6 x 2.1 cm / 6.14 x 0.82 in.
TOROS 16.8 x 2.0 cm / 6.61 x 0.78 in.
GRAN CORONA 14.3 x 1.7 cm / 5.62 x 0.66 in.
PETIT LONSDALES 15.5 x 1.6 cm / 6.10 x 0.62 in.
PANETELLAS 5.9 x 1.4 cm / 6.25 x 0.55 in.
PETIT PANETELLAS 15.2 x 1.3 cm / 5.98 x 0.51 in.
ROBUSTO 12.4 x 1.9 cm / 4.88 x 0.74 in.
SOLIDOS 12.7 x 1.7 cm / 4.99 x 0.66 in.
DELGADOS 12.6 x 1.4 cm / 4.96 x 0.55 in.

Erich F. Muhlhofer is the chief editor of the leading cigar magazine published in Germany, the European Cigar Culture Jornal, and bas already organized readers' tips for cigar aficionados to the most important producers in the Canary Isles.

 

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