No event celebrating Cohiba would be complete without a visit to the factory where those cigars are made, and that is what took up quite a bit of the day on Thursday.
Unlike the last time I photographed El Laguito—which translates to the small lake from Spanish, named after a small pond in the area—members of the press were told to show up earlier than other attendees of the festival for our own tour. The factory is located in a converted mansion that once housed a cigar rolling school for women in the 1960s.
Sitting on top of a small hill and surrounded by palm trees, the mansion is actually part of a larger complex of buildings and features marble columns. The main building is quite impressive when seen for the first time, especially when you walk in the front door, where a massive staircase directly in front of you sports a large Cohiba log surrounded by stained glass windows.
One thing that was quite different from the other times I have photographed the factory was that virtually every worker, tour guide and roller in the building was wearing the same basic outfit made up of black polos and black hats branded with the Cohiba 55th anniversary logo. These seemed to be the same as the shirts and hats that the press received in our packets when we checked in on Monday, and they looked quite nice from a visual standpoint.
However, unlike previous visits, our group actually started in the back of the building, in a completely separate building that housed not only the raw tobacco that was being aged but also the blending room. There are three different small rooms, including one where tobacco leaves used in the binder and filler of Cohiba cigars are aged in wooden barrels covered in burlap sacks. This third fermentation is apparently unique in all of the different Cuban cigar brands and is supposed to impart more rounded flavor profile.
After that, we walked through the back door—which is actually quite nice, albeit not as opulent as the front entrance—and made our way to the front of the building, where workers rolling Cohiba cigars are located in small rooms located on both sides of the entrance. As has been the case every time I have visited the factory, there are far fewer rollers than most people would probably expect; in fact, I counted just 14 people actively rolling cigars in both areas. With that said, there were tables that could handle quite a few more rollers than what I saw.
I tried to walk down the front stairs to take an overall photograph from the front of the building, but was told—somewhat emphatically—the I could not even get onto the stairs, never mind walk down them.
After fighting through the mass of people trying to take photographs of themselves and friends on the staircase under the Cohiba logo, our group made it upstairs, where the stripping room is located. This is where the tobacco leaves have the veins stripped out of them, and once again, the room was quite small with only six different people inside. Interestingly, instead of throwing the tobacco veins on the ground or in a trash can, I noticed that the workers kept all of the veins on top of their stations until they had a large mass together.
We then walked through a number of rooms holding different parts of the production process in quick succession: three people in one room who were in charge of color sorting, four people in another room who were putting bands on cigars and a couple of other rooms filled with random items, desks and people. One thing we did not see was any sort of cigars being boxed up, as that section of the building was not part of our tour.
After being shuttled out of the back door from whence we came—and handed the customary Cohiba Siglo I as we left—I decided to head back to the house to get some work done. The tour was enjoyable but not exactly expansive when it comes to seeing everything in the building, and due to the absolutely massive number of people in other groups who started their own tours about 15 minutes after we began, it took quite a bit longer—not to mention being quite bit more exhausting—than I expected.
After getting some work done back at the house, I went to dinner before returning to the house to work some more, finally getting to bed around 1 a.m.