Buying a real Cuban cigar should be a lot of fun – especially when you’re in Cuba. But it’s so important to know how to spot a fake cigar. Here are our tips on spotting fake cigars.
Cuban cigars are the best cigars in the world. To quote a Cuban cigar expert we talked to when we were there: even 3rd rate Cuban cigars will be considered world class anywhere else.
They’re Cuba’s most famous export and one of the best souvenirs you can buy when you’re travelling in Cuba.
And smoking a fine, hand-crafted cigar, which should really be considered a work of art, is a wonderful thing indeed.
However, when you’re buying a cigar – especially if it’s from a place you can’t guarantee is genuine – you need to know what to look for to spot a fake.
What is a fake cigar?
There are two types of fake cigar.
In Cuba, there are ‘farmer’s’ cigars that are smokeable, are hand-made using cigar-grade tobacco, but with one of the cigar house labels put on them.
Worse than that, there are ‘cigars’ that look real, but are in fact made from rolled banana leaf or a number of different things to make you think they’re proper cigars.
Outside of Cuba, you might find cigars that look the real deal, but are simply inferior cigars from other parts of the world with a Cuban cigar label put on them to fool you.
Our experience of fake cigars
Thankfully, I have never bought a fake cigar, though I was offered one in a bar in Havana once. The barman said the cigars were real – they even had Montecristo collars on – and were ‘special’. They were in an old wooden box he kept behind the bar and were so dodgy.
I could easily see from how misshapen they were and that the labels were shabby and faded that these were not real. Plus the barman told me they were about $2 each. That’s way to cheap – even in Cuba.
I have bought farmers’ cigars though.
The ones you can see here are all farmers’ cigars. I bought these from a tobacco farmer in Vinales – the tobacco region in Cuba where all the best cigar houses source their tobacco.
The farmers never pretend these cigars are anything but what they are: cigars they’ve made themselves with their own tobacco. But they’re good examples of what we’re talking about.
How to spot a fake Cuban cigar
Poorly attached cap
The cap is a small piece of tobacco leaf that’s glued on right at the end of the cigar-making process. This is the final finishing touch and when the professional rollers do it, it’s perfect.
If the cap isn’t on straight, is too big or isn’t stuck down all the way round, it’s fake.
Professionally rolled cigars go through multiple rigorous checks at the workshop before they get anywhere near the door. If a cigar isn’t dead straight, it’ll be rejected. If it’s bulging too much, it’ll also go in the reject pile.
Gaps in the foot
The foot of the cigar – the bit you light – should look like the cross section of a Cadbury Twirl of a Flake. You should be able to see how the filler is bunched and packed when the roller was making it.
If there are any gaps, holes or big chunks of woody looking tobacco, it’s probably a fake. The rollers take great care in making sure the filler is consistent. If it’s not, the cigar won’t smoke properly.
Baggy, ragged or poorly shaped wrapper
The wrapper is a single leaf of tobacco that goes round the outside of the cigar and holds in the filler and binder. The wrapper should be smooth, a little shiny, uniform colour and fitting neat and tight to the cigar.
The leaves the rollers use for the wrappers go through even more stringent inspections than the other parts of a cigar, so they should be perfect. If the wrapper looks loose or poorly made, this could be a fake cigar.
Loose or very soft feel to body
Give the cigar a gentle squeeze. If there’s too much give between your finger and thumb, there’s probably a gap in the filler, which means the cigar probably wasn’t rolled by a professional. Some cigars are rolled tighter than others as part of their brand, so if you have a few you can inspect, compare them. If they’re all loose, it could just be the style of that cigar.
Let’s face it, cigars aren’t cheap – even in Cuba. If the price is a lot lower than you were expecting to pay or than what you’ve seen in shops, it’s probably because they’re fake. As the saying goes: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Collar isn’t straight or faded colours
Inspect the collar – the label that goes around the cigar. If it’s faded, wonky or looks a bit ‘hand-made’ (it’s the only part of the cigar that is made by a machine), it’s probably a fake cigar. Look out for collars that look a bit creased or worn – the counterfeiters often re-use old collars.
So if you’re in Cuba and someone offers you cheap cigars on the street or tells you about a ‘co-operative’ in a house round the corner, by all means have a look, but be prepared to find only fakes.
You should also check out our other guides on cigars:
And if you’re heading to Cuba, you should definitely check out the cigar trail Havana day tour Cuban Adventures does.
Have you had any experiences of being sold fake cigars in Cuba or anywhere else? Do you have any other tips to add for spotting a fake cigar? Tell us in the comments!