After a year of legwork we discovered an ideal combination of quality, price and consistency from a small, Cuban family-run factory hidden away in the Cibao Valley
At Cafe Cito, we have always enjoyed introducing customers to such discoveries as the Dominican Republic’s premium sipping rums, some of which are close to cognac in their smoothness and flavor. Likewise, we have always wanted to be able to offer a good ‘discovery cigar’; one we could recommend with confidence and sell for a reasonable price. But for the longest time we were reluctant to recommend any particular brand, aware that:
- Almost all of the famous brand name cigars sold in tourist shops – Cohiba, Davidoff, etc. – are knockoffs or counterfeits: you pay for the name but you don’t get the real thing.
- Much of the product available is simply unknown to the buyer and sold at prices that don’t necessarily speak for the quality, and with no way to try before you buy.
- There is nothing worse than buying for a cigar-loving friend back home, only to find out too late that you have bought him a box of junk.
We concluded that there must exist in the Dominican Republic a cottage industry of highly talented cigar makers who can make an excellent cigar and whose prices reflect the fact that they are not well known. After all, there are dozens of cigar manufacturers in the Dominican Republic. Many have come from Cuba, others have been professionally trained in factories located near Puerto Plata that produce some of the world’s most famous cigars. So we set out to try to find one of these unknown talents.
As for the quality of the ‘smoke,’ our criteria was simple: the cigar would have to be a comfortable smoke, meaning an easy draw, a good burn and a flavor that wouldn’t knock the bejeezus out of your taste buds. In short, we were looking for a decent cigar at a decent price that would be both satisfying for the beginner and respectable to the connaisseur – something you take home to father-in-law and he actually thanks you for it.
The final criterion for us was consistency in product. One problem with cottage industries is that a well-meaning beginner might put out a good product one day, yet prove unable to keep up with his own success. We wanted a source that could provide reasonable assurance that next month, next year, we could buy the same cigar we enjoyed before.
As it turns out we didn’t have to go out looking for this because it ended up coming to us. One Sunday a regular client of Café Cito, Robert Daoust, showed up for a leisurely afternoon lunch with an associate of his, Don Luis Cuevas.
Robert is a Canadian businessman who over the last few years has developed his own brand name, ‘Don Roberto,’ and started a distributorship out of Montreal that today spans the country. While operating on a much larger scale than us, he had the same objectives; a good smoke, a good price, consistent quality. Several years ago and after a few false starts, he found what he was looking for in Don Luis, a virtual walking cigar encyclopedia who heralds from the famed tobacco region of Pinar Del Rio, in Cuba, where his family’s tobacco plantation traditions go back three generations.
“The first thing I remember as a kid is tobacco,” says Don Luis. “I don’t know anything else. When we were kids my mother used to roll us little baby cigars before anybody even knew about cancer and all that.”
Don Luis has been producing cigars in the Cibao region of the Dominican Republic for the last twenty years. He found his niche in the anonymous side of the business, that of running a factory and making cigars for other people who have their own brand names and distributorships in different parts the world. Along the way he also developed his own line under the name Cuevas Hermanos.
Some very respectable brand names come out of the Cuevas Hermanos cigar factory, brands that are well known throughout Europe, North America and The United Kingdom. During a visit to Luis’ factory, we leafed through a couple of issues of Cigar Aficionado Magazine. In each issue, they publish a rating of different cigar brands in a single category or size. In this rating system, anything from 90 to 100 is considered outstanding, 80 to 89 is considered very good to excellent. Below seventy means not recommended. In the issues we looked at, we found at least a half dozen of the brands produced at the Cuevas factory; many scored in the high 80’s – excellent.
“We have been coming out on those lists ever since 1994,” he says.
Considering that cigars that rate in the 90’s are either impossible to find or tremendously expensive, Don Luis’ high-eighties ratings convinced us that indeed he had a product that promises consistently high quality.
All this of course was merely confirmation of what our own experience had told us when smoking his cigars. Over a year of Don Luis’ occasional visits to Café Cito, we had tried a variety of his cigars and also gave several dozen away to our cigar-smoking clients. Everyone agreed that Don Luis’ cigars were very well made, burn evenly and draw nicely. Even people who weren’t veteran cigar smokers found themselves, not with a half-smoked cigar in the ashtray, but puffing away right to the very end.
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