As we discussed the itinerary of our trip to Honduras on Day 1, I was bummed to find out that most crops had been completely harvested by this time of year and that we wouldn’t have a chance to see any growing tobacco. Trying not to show my disappointment, I stopped my lip from quivering, chalked it up to Mother Nature and decided to enjoy hanging out in the factory for the remainder of the week.
This bummed-ness became elation on that Tuesday morning, when we were told that we would make the drive to Talanga, Honduras to walk through the fields of one of if not THE most powerful and influential men in Central America, Don Nestor Plasencia!!!! If you’ve never heard of him, put your cigar down and Google him immediately!
After an hour driving through the mountains and countryside, we were granted access to one of the most fascinating operations I had ever seen. For miles, all I saw were these thin, white tarps surrounding what I knew to be the coveted tobacco plants that Bruce and I wanted so badly to see. We parked and Don Nestor himself walked us “behind the veil” to see what he was growing. This particular crop was ALL Connecticut Shade wrapper, and they were the tallest and largest plants I had ever seen in my life. The sheer size and flawlessness of the leaves was enough to wow me, as seeing them in pictures in cigar magazines do not do them justice.
As Don Nestor personally showed off his crop, he broke down the science (literally science) behind how the plants are grown, maintained and why it can take weeks to harvest one single tobacco plant. While he spoke, it was impossible not to appreciate the pride and love this man had for tobacco and the care and time it takes to produce the cigars that we enjoy.
As we drove through his farm, we saw the greenhouses that would soon house tobacco seedlings that would eventually make it out to the fields. We then went inside the curing barns, where dozens of workers used the simplest, yet most sophisticated methods of storing and curing the leaves that had been harvested just that morning. The timing and teamwork displayed in this process got my HR juices flowing as I watched in perfect harmony leaves being delivered, delivered leaves sewn to large wooden logs and then teams of gentlemen climbing the rafters with these logs to store them in the tops of the barn.
As the leaves were dried and fermented, we kept using the word, “Amazing”, as the leaves were changing from huge perfectly green specimens to slightly smaller perfectly uniformed light-brown specimens.
So after trying my hand at priming a tobacco plant, getting a great educational tour from and taking several pictures with the legend, Don Nestor himself, we headed back through the mountains to Danli to continue our work at the factory.
Ever heard of a “Fuma”? I hadn’t either until this day. I had always wondered how cigar blenders determined exactly what types of tobacco they wanted for a particular blend. Well before we made an attempt to blend our very own cigars, Rick and Augustin (the factory manager and coolest dude in Honduras) decided we needed to learn how to taste the differences ourselves.
Fuma, derived from the Spanish “Fumar” meaning To Smoke, is a cigar comprised of only one type of tobacco (all wrapper or all binder). Cigars are always made of multiple types of tobacco where all of the flavors are working together, but in this instance, we were able to taste the characteristics each particular leaf alone: Connecticut Shade, Connecticut Broadleaf, Brazilian Mata Fina, Ligero, Jamastran Viso, Ecuador Habano , just to name a few. This is what allows the blender to say, “I want more of X, less of X, X amount of body, X amount of flavor”. This can only be determined by knowing how each tastes individually, then collectively.
After putting our palettes to the test, Bruce and I decided on the tobaccos that would soon become the Rauchhund (Bruce’s Blend) and the Cada Domingo (my blend). Next, we were ready to bunch them (create molds with our fillers and binders). I had a splitting headache after this process as it was clearly the most difficult part of creating a cigar. And just to think, the employees here do this daily and are able to measure the precise portions and percentages of ingredients by hand and by site alone.
Our last day at HATSA, Danli entailed rolling our creations and outfitting them with labels. This was like Christmas, as Jorge and his team in the Box Factory (which is awesome in and of itself) designed boxes for our finished blends. Let me add, NEVER just discard a cigar box, as they are all beautifully made by hand with little more than tools we’d find at our local hardware store!
Cigar rolling is truly an art, as the way the workers manipulate and stretch the fermented and aged leaves to their limits perfectly each time is nothing to take for granted. After “mastering” (giggling) the roll and capping process, we took our final products to the labeling end of the production floor where the HATSA team had printed out our personalized cigar bands. Even this process was challenging! I cannot emphasize enough how much skill and detail goes into each stick we purchase.
After receiving final instructions from the team on how to care for our newborn “babies”, we packed up our bags, cigars and headed for the airport in Tegucigalpa. Our Cigar Odyssey had finally come to an end…
…or has it?
Check out my YouTube Channel for the complete Slideshow of our adventure in Honduras. I hope that you have enjoyed my accounts and pictures as much as I enjoyed the documenting this awesome educational experience.
Special thanks to Rick Rodriguez, the management & staff at HATSA, Danli, General Cigar Co. and CAO Cigars for making this dream a reality.