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The Cuban art of preserving cigars in handmade boxes



Using a Soviet-era glider, Cuban Rene Reyes refits an old cedar door panel, which he will turn into a humidor, a beautiful hand-crafted box to store the island’s famous cigars.

“People don’t believe that (…) those damps are coming from there,” the 55-year-old carpenter told AFP, pointing to the corner of the building. Beams, doors and unused furniture are collected: raw materials for this artisan business.

Scratching the door panel, “more than 80 years old,” a warm aroma with sweet notes of old cedar wafts into this workshop in downtown Havana.

This “cedar smell is the best. It’s like gold, old gold,” adds Reiss, a cigar smoker and hands full of sawdust to his nose.

Tanya Duios, a 53-year-old freelancer, is the soul of the business. He has been producing these boxes for 20 years, where the cigars maintain their ideal properties at 65 to 70% humidity and 16 to 18 degrees Celsius.

Dozens of similar workshops carry out this work on the island. According to experts, this type of chest or furniture can preserve the quality of the cigar for up to 15 years, or even improve it.

Cigar expert Tanya Duios makes a wrapper with Reyes.  / Photo: AFP

Cigar expert Tanya Duios makes a wrapper with Reyes. / Photo: AFP

Different and unique

In Cuba, whose cigars are considered the best in the world and with a 500-year history of tobacco, craftsmen use other woods for these boxes, such as mahogany and ebony, but the tradition is to use cedar inside.

“Our cedar helps us a lot” because “it protects the tobacco from bacteria and keeps it moist,” says Duyos, who also sells hidorahs in Los Almacenes de San José, an artisan mecca in Old Havana.

“It makes us different and unique,” says this woman, who buys old doors and furniture, as well as wooden beams from dilapidated houses.

Carved in relief, decorated with metal embossing or painted in oil, some of these chests, coveted by collectors or cigar aficionados, are true works of art.

Local artisans sell their products directly for thousands of dollars, but you can also buy less elaborate boxes at local markets for a modest price.

Each year, the Habano Festival closes with a Hamidor auction that welcomes enthusiasts, distributors and dignitaries.

In its most recent edition in February, the six-lot auction fetched a record $11.9 million.

The big star of this offering sold for $4.4 million. The 165 cm high and 100 cm deep circular piece of furniture is made of jukaro, okume, cedar and old mahogany wood with titanium and bronze work. The exquisite humidor contained 500 of the best cigars from the Cohiba brand, the most prestigious in Cuba.

Every detail of humidifiers is important.  / Photo: AFP

Every detail of humidifiers is important. / Photo: AFP

The secret is love

Reiss is now working on a more modest copy of the box that once belonged to Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), Nobel Prize laureate in literature and cigar aficionado.

The original relief-carved piece is part of the collection of Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s house-museum east of Havana.

After leaving the carpentry, a team of goldsmiths, cabinetmakers, restorers and polishers are responsible for each piece’s unique finish.

Duios admits that in Cuba, which is experiencing the worst economic crisis in the last 30 years, it is “very difficult” to produce humidors, because they constantly have to deal with a lack of glue, sealant, varnish, sand and equipment.

“You can do wonders with virtually nothing,” says Reyes. “The secret is to love the work,” he says.

The duo has had clients such as former US President Jimmy Carter, former football player Diego Maradona (1960-2020) and Mick Jagger, singer of the Rolling Stones.

He also gifted the humidor to former United States President Barack Obama when he visited the island in 2016. “Thank you for the gift,” the then-president wrote in a letter he kept.

Sales had a golden age during the tourism boom that resulted from the historic rapprochement between Cuba and the United States in 2015, which was replaced by Republican Donald Trump, he recalled.

The business is now “going through a tough time because there is almost no tourism,” he explains. He maintains it under some contract with the embassies in Havana.

However, he does not give up on his dream of “creating different and beautiful humidors”.

Source: Diario.Elmundo

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