This is indeed an historic time for American cigar smokers as, for the first time since 1962, restrictions on Cuban cigars have been lifted, and U.S. citizens traveling outside of the country can now legally bring back what once was Havana’s “forbidden fruit.”
But it is still illegal to sell Cuban cigars in the United States. That means you won’t be finding Havana’s finest at your local tobacconist’s any time soon—numerous obstacles prevent that, including the fact that many Cuban and non-Cuban cigars share the same names (think Cohiba, Partagas, and Fonseca, for example).
However, you can now legally buy Cuban cigars in any country except the United States. But beware of fakes. Because of their reputation and mystique, counterfeit Cuban cigars are rampant worldwide—even in Cuba. Cuban tobacco has, in varying degrees, a slight earthiness in taste and aroma, and you do not usually find this characteristic in counterfeit cigars. But it is not just the possibility of inferior tobaccos—Cuban or otherwise—one should guard against; bands and boxes (even when date-stamped on the bottom) are commonly counterfeited. Therefore, the best places to buy Cuban cigars are from reputable tobacconists, which include La Casa del Habano shops and Duty Free stores.
When buying Havanas by the box, look for the official Habanos S.A. watermarked and hologramed stamp, which has been in use since 2009. Plus, make sure all the cigars are of uniform color. There are approximately ninety shades of brown, and cigar makers employ a color-sorter to ensure every cigar in the box is the same color. It is also wise to check the second layer of cigars in the box. If they are a different shade of brown, select a different box.
And finally, even with the newly relaxed rules, the cigars you bring back must be for personal consumption—they cannot be for resale. And U.S. customs regulations still apply, which means returning travelers are limited to 100 cigars. Considering Cuban cigars typically sell from $17 to $40 apiece—not counting limited editions and other rarities—that may effectively limit your purchases to four boxes or less. But to help ensure the brand of Cuban cigars you buy will be the ones you will enjoy smoking, here are our top 10 recommendations.