Tobacco is a fundamental part of Cuban life, and a look inside this cigar factory, which is also known as La Casa del Habano, is a must—despite the high entry fee and the pricey cigars. The store itself has more than $1 million of tobacco on sale and an inner sanctum sanctorum where you can smoke and sip coffee or a mojito. The upstairs factory has been in operation since 1845 and employs 500 people, who roll cigars for eight hours a day Monday through Saturday. When the lector isn't entertaining these artisans by reading a newspaper or a novel, Cuban music is piped into the rooms and 500 voices sing along, often drowning out the speakers on the crescendos.
The operation is divided into seven departments: despalillo (stripping the central nerve from the tobacco leaf); liga (mixing leaves into combinations appropriate for making a cigar); la galera (the gallery) or departamento de torcido (rolling—literally, twisting—department), where some
260 workers actually craft cigars; escogida (choosing aesthetically matching cigars for presentation in the box); anillado (placing the paper rings on the cigars); adorno de caja (decorating the cedar boxes); and embalaje (wrapping for shipping). Depending on the quality of the cigar, from the majestic Monte Cristo A on down, each roller is expected to meet a daily quota of anywhere from 60 to 250 cigars (the average is about 170). Look for the older woman in the liga department who works with a giant stogie dangling from her lips. Seek out la galera's Alfredo Pérez (he sits in the back row, in an aisle seat in front of the air shaft), the top gun who rolls three times his quota daily.
Calle Industria 520, Havana, Cuba