Buying Cuban Cigars Online - A Beginners Guide
Buying Cigars online for the first time can be a somewhat daunting process, especially when Cuban Cigars are generally expensive due to the taxation policies of all the major European and Asian nations. Therefore, you don't want to be out of pocket buying poorly transported, damaged or even fake Cuban Cigars. Buying your first few Cigars, or even your first box shouldn't be a chore.
This guide attempts to answer some of the questions I get asked both online and in person regarding the purchasing of Cuban Cigars online. Most online retailers are reputable and are willing to help.
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There are plenty of retailers in your country who will have an online presence in some shape or form. Most small to medium sized tobacconists will have at the very least a website with information regarding their company, their location, the Cigars they stock and opening times etc. The larger Cigar retailers online will either have a large presence in the country that they are located in, for example will have multiple stores, or almost exclusively sell online.
Like any other online purchase, buying Cigars is straightforward and a relatively easy process. The only difficulty is choosing WHAT to buy. Online retailers usually have on location, a huge walk in humidor that can stock hundreds of boxes of Cigars along with each brand and vitola available as purchase as single Cigars.
Many of the online retailers will let you visit their warehouse where you can hand pick the boxes you wish to purchase. You may be able to walk in and say hi, but with some retailers you may have to book a visit in advance. Gestocigars, based in Geneva, Switzerland go as far to have a webcam where you can view a real-time direct feed of their walk in humidor, where they will show you the boxes you’ll order!
Naturally, the highest probability of your Cigars being damaged would be in transit from the retailer to the buyer. All reputable retailers know this and will do their utmost to package the Cigars as well as possible to withstand any possible damage caused in transit. Additionally, retailers will always package your Cigars in a way to regulate the humidity and moisture in the package. A common packaging method online retailers will use is a Ziplock Bag, sprayed inside with a small amount of deionised water vapour. Boxes and Singles will mostly always be wrapped with bubble wrap or similar padding.
Another perk of buying Cigars online is free delivery. Many of the major online retailers will ship Cigars on free depending their total value price. For example, C.Gars Ltd will deliver any packages free of charge in the U.K. mainline if the total value is over one hundred pounds. The Cigar Club will deliver three and five packs of Cigars for free in the U.K. mainland for example.
Most retailers will allow the buying of singles as well as full twenty five count boxes. This is an excellent option for smokers who wish to sample a wide range of Cigars or to try a certain Cigar before committing towards a whole box. A single Cigar will most often cost a little more per Cigar versus a full box count to cover the fulfillment needed to stock and handle singles.
Look out for online stores who offer "sampler packs". These are a great way for a novice smoker to try out a range of Cigars that fit a certain size, flavour profile or even event to smoke them at. For example, a sampler pack may consist of a range of short smokes from the whole Cuban range that will include the Montecristo No. 5, Trinidad Reyes, Ramon Allones Short Club Corona amongst others. Another sample pack may consist of mild Cigars that may include examples such as the Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto, El Rey de Mundo Choix Supreme and H. Upmann Majestic.
Buying Boxes - Sealed and Unsealed Boxes
If you buy a box of Cigars for the first time, you may be surprised to find that the Warranty Seal (the green sticker that stuck over the left hand side of the box) has but cut and the box opened. There is nothing to worry about. It is common practise for distributors and retailers to check all shipments of Cigars they receive. They do this for a few reasons. First thing of course is quality. You don’t want to open your new box purchase, only to find that the wrappers on the Cigars have split. Secondly, badly kept Cigars will result in the development of mold or a tobacco beetle infestation. Tobacco beetle is a potentially disastrous problem if you find any in your humidor as they can destroy whole sway of Cigars. Cuba freezes all Cigars before export just for this reason, to ensure that any tobacco beetle infection is killed before they have a chance to develop and spread.
Some retailers I have heard of don’t check boxes when they receive them or when they ship them to their customers. If on their website they don’t mention that they check each boxes I would strongly email them when placing an order to open each box they are going to send to you and check for any issues.
Buying Boxes - Box Codes
At the bottom of every box is a “box code”, the month and year of when the Cigars have been packaged in the box and the factory that this was carried out. A common misconception is that the box code is when the Cigars inside the box were rolled, but that is inaccurate. It is known for Cigars to have been rolled for two years before they were boxed - the box code won’t mention this.
Each factory has a special three character code assigned to it. Which code belongs to which factory is a closely guarded secret that people only within the Cuban Cigar industry know. The Cuban Cigar industry changes the code every few years so even if someone works out that code XYZ belongs to a certain factory, it may only associated with that factory for that year.
Some retailers will list the box codes that they have in stock, although most will not. Any reputable retailer will have an email address where you will be able to contact them directly and request information regarding box codes. Buying a box of your favourite Cigars on their box code is an art in itself and something that a serious aficionado would do. I would suggest when you buy your first box is to talk to the retailer in question and ask if they have a box sufficiently aged. Depending on the Cigars you wish to purchase, they may be better off having been aged for a few years. Hopefully the retailer you are in communication with will have the Cigars you need with the required amount of age on them that will result in an enjoyable smoke.
Buying Boxes - Cigar Wrapper Shades
When you have bought one or two boxes of Cigars of the same brand and vitola, you’ll begin to notice that the shade of the wrappers in one box could be darker or lighter than the other box. There is nothing to worry about. When Cigars are boxed, Cigars are grouped together by the shade of their wrapper. Then after, the workers will pack the Cigars in the boxes, the lightest shade of the twenty five first to the darkest.
It is a personal preference if you buy a box with the wrappers of a lighter shade or a box of darker shades. Some Cigar smokers will argue that darker wrapper shades mean that the flavour of the Cigar is more richer but this up for debate.
La Casa del Habanos stores
You may stumble across a La Casa del Habanos while looking for a retailer who is based nearby where you live or in your country. A La Casa del Habanos is a world-wide franchise, launched by Habanos SA, that exclusively sells Cuban Cigars and accessories. Every major Cigar consuming country will at least have one or more La Casa del Habanos located in each major City there. For example, Germany, the largest buyers of Cigars in Europe, have a La Casa del Habanos located in Bremen, Berlin, Hamburg, Köln, and even two in Dusseldorf!
You may or may not decide to buy from a La Casa del Habanos. Two advantages that a La Casa del Habanos will have over other retailers is that any new regular or limited edition release will be available there first along with exclusive La Casa del Habanos Releases. For example, the Bolívar Gold Medal, Hoyo de Monterrey Hoyo de Luxe and Partagás Salomones are only available from La Casa del Habanos stores.
EMS - English Market Selection
All boxes of Cigars that are sold in the U.K. will have a exclusive EMS (English Market Selection) sticker attached to the top left corner of the box. This is to indicate that the box was imported into the country by Hunters & Frankau, the U.K. exclusive importer of Cuban Cigars. Only Hunters & Frankau are allowed to import and distribute all Cuban Cigars to U.K. retailers. If you see anyone retailing a box in the U.K. that does not carry an EMS sticker, then I would be weary to where that box has originated from. They could even be fakes. I would suggest getting in contact with Hunters & Frankau if you come across any retailers whether they are online or on the highstreet and they are based in the U.K. that they are selling boxes of Cuban Cigars without the EMS sticker.
There has always been an issue with Cuban Cigars and draw. This problem was at it’s worst between 1999 and 2001, where overproduction led to construction issues. This issue has been
If you bought a Cuban Cigar and the draw is so bad that it is unsmokable, any respectable retailer will happily take the Cigar back and exchange it for another one. Get in contact with the retailer as soon as possible and arrange with them the return of the Cigar you’re having draw problems with. The retailer involved will then exchange the Cigar in question for one that has no production issues.
I would like to finally point out that Cigars are a handmade product, and are suspectible to small differences from Cigar to Cigar. In a box, you will find that each Cigar may draw slightly different to the next. There shouldn’t be a huge difference in each Cigar.
Fakes, and how to spot them
A last piece of advice, be wary of fakes. There are some online sites out there, while advertising that they are selling 100% authentic Cuban Cigars, are actually selling stone-cold fakes. There are online sites who only offer fake Cuban Cigars at ridiculously low prices. There are a few tell tale signs that an online retailer is selling fake Cuban Cigars:
- Prices that are incredibly low compared to other retailers in that country.
- They have in stock Cigars that have been long discontinued, but they somehow have them in stock.
- They have in stock Limited Edition Cigars from the early to mid 2000’s that have long been sold out everywhere else but are still available at one particular retailer for ridiculously low prices.
- They have in stock Limited Editions that never even existed. For example, a common Limited Edition Cigar that is faked is a Cohiba Piramide with the wrong year embossed on the Limited Edition band.
If the price is too good to be true, then it is. There is plenty of information online regarding the authenticity of retailers both online and brick and mortar stores. I would suggest just sticking the particular retailers name into Google and see what is returned. If you keep vigilant regarding pricing and follow the tips I’ve outlined above, you shouldn’t go far wrong.
Buying Cigars from overseas online retailers
If you have done your homework regarding buying Cigars online, you will have seen the cheaper prices online advertised by retailers that are based in Switzerland, Germany, Spain, France etc. Firstly, many of these retailers are unable to ship to any other country due to laws passed by their respective Country. Secondly, all online retailers, when shipping abroad are legally required to declare on the customs form what is within the package. Therefore, you will be liable to pay tax on your package when they enter their country of destination.
I hope this guide gives you a broad overview regarding buying online and fills you in regarding any queries or doubt that you have regarding buying Cigars online. Remember, you're not alone. There are plenty of forums online where you can ask for advice regarding a particular retailer. Most retailers are more than happy to discuss any issues with your order. Just give them a call.