Just as the cigar industry comes out of the winter holiday season and factories get up and running, a batch of new of cigars begins to come to light, casting a bit of brightness in what can otherwise be a dull and dreary time of year.

Those cigars come from a number of manufacturers. Some are new lines and others simply new sizes, and some are limited editions while others destined for ongoing production. While their blends are different, they share one thing in common: the letters TAA.

The letters are an abbreviation for Tobacconists’ Association of America, a group of approximately 80 of the country’s top tobacconists that collectively represent a number of stores that reaches into the low three digits, as well as about 40 cigar manufacturers.

Every spring, the group gathers south of the border, usually in Mexico or the Dominican Republic, for its annual meeting and trade show. The former involves discussions and seminars facing the cigar industry and retailers, while the latter features a unique group buying event where they are able to obtain progressive—and quite sizable—discounts based on the quantity ordered by the collective retailers.

As part of the evolution of the buying aspect of the show over the last decade-plus, the cigar manufacturers began offering the retailers exclusive cigars. As mentioned above, some were simply a new size of an existing blend, while others were completely new cigar lines. In the case of what Kristoff did in 2020, it is the former, and it is a very limited release.

The company added the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro TAA 2020, a 6 1/4 x 54 box-pressed toro, with just 500 boxes of 20 cigars being produced. Individual cigars are priced at $9.80, before taxes, while full boxes are $196.

It is the same blend as the regular production sizes, which debuted at the 2015 IPCPR Convention and Trade Show, meaning a Mexican San Andrés wrapper, an Ecuadorian habano seed binder, and a Nicaraguan habano seed filler. It is produced at the Charles Fairmorn factory in the Dominican Republic, just like the line’s other three sizes:

  • Kristoff San Andrés Robusto (5 1/2 x 54)
  • Kristoff San Andrés Churchill (7 x 50)
  • Kristoff San Andrés 6 x 60

However, this is the first of the Kristoff San Andrés line to get a box press, as the other sizes are round vitola. The cigar began shipping in the second half of April.

  • Cigar Reviewed: Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro TAA 2020
  • Country of Origin: Dominican Republic
  • Factory: Charles Fairmorn Factory
  • Wrapper: Mexico (San Andrés)
  • Binder: Ecuador (Habano)
  • Filler: Nicaragua (Habano)
  • Length: 6 1/4 Inches
  • Ring Gauge: 54
  • Vitola: Toro
  • MSRP: $9.80 (Box of 20, $196)
  • Release Date: April 2020
  • Number of Cigars Released: 500 Boxes of 20 Cigars (10,000 Total Cigars)
  • Number of Cigars Smoked For Review: 3

While the box-pressed part of the cigar is covered the name, there are a few other notable flourishes that aren’t, namely a thoroughly covered foot, a chunky bun of tobacco on the head, and one sample that has just a bit of taper at the top of the cigar that for a moment makes me think of what a box-pressed 109 vitola might look like. The wrapper leaf is a dark, earthy brown that is mottled in spots. While it’s not shiny with oil, I can feel some on my fingers, as well as a good bit of fine grit tooth. As I feel compelled to mention every time I review one, box-pressed cigars have a bit more give than normal in order to accommodate the process. This feels just a bit softer than average, particularly when squeezed side to side but also a bit front to back, which seems to contribute to the occasional depression of the shape. The foot of the cigar has a fairly dense aroma, hinting at a bit of grape jelly sweetness and earthy terroir but not quite letting it out, which could be a function of the well-covered foot. The wrapper itself is drier and leans more towards dry soil and a bit of lumber. The cold draw is much lighter, retaining the grape sweetness but also tasting a bit like actual red grapes. There’s touches of damp earth some black pepper and a flavor that falls between dry wood and dry wheat depending on the sample. Airflow is good across all the samples.

Having smoked a number of full-bodied cigars lately and knowing that Mexican tobacco can pack a punch, I’m a bit relieved to find that the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro starts off on a bit milder note, at least occasionally. When it does, a few puffs lead me to thinking of uncooked Quaker Oats. Some samples amp up the greeting with black pepper, which I’m inclined to think is due to that natural variance of wrapper leaves and what that covered foot contains, as there is definitely some regression of pepper on the palate once that part has burned. Retrohales pick up where that leaves off though, becoming the primary vehicle for the profile’s peppery aspect. It’s not until the first clump of ash gets tapped off around the one-inch mark that pepper starts to pick back up, and even then it’s fairly mellow both in intensity and its lingering effects. The earthy background becomes a bit clearer yet it still hasn’t hit its stride yet in terms of delivering its full flavor offering. The final puffs of the first third suggest that the cigar is getting to the proverbial good stuff, as the flavor gets a bit richer, with some creaminess emerging with touches of woods and nuts, and in one sample just a bit of warm milk chocolate. Flavor is in the medium-plus range, with occasional hits of pepper nudging it closer to full, while body and strength are closer to medium. The technical performance has been very good.

The second third of the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro starts by nudging the creaminess into the spotlight for a very enjoyable if all-too-brief profile. It is just a few puffs that could easily get overlooked, but some attentiveness pays handsome rewards in flavor. It doesn’t stick around that long, however, and the flavor gets back to more mixed pepper, light earth, and an emerging woodiness, the last of which is particularly present on retrohales. By the midway point the cigar is showing some appreciable black pepper, a flavor that seems to be coming from the habano seed leaves more than anything given where it falls on the pepper spectrum. I keep waiting for the profile to explore the richer, earthier notes of either the Mexican wrapper of Nicaraguan filler, yet it continues to show reluctance to do so, staying out of the deeper end of the proverbial flavor pool. A bit of smokiness and oak finish off the section, with the profile still hanging in the medium-plus to medium-full range, though with a bit more lingering finish. Body and strength are just a bit above medium, while the technical performance continues to be solid.

While I’d love for the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro to really get into the richer flavor notes of San Andrés tobacco, as well as offer some sweetness to balance out the profile a bit, the start of the final third is still pretty enjoyable. The oak that helped transition the cigar reminds me a bit of a spent wine barrel, a flavor that sticks around for much of the final inches, until the combination of it, mixed pepper and heat signal that the cigar has come to an end, with just about an inch left to go. The dry earth is still there, yet for much as I want it to be a showcase of San Andrés, it falls a bit short of what I’ve come to love of it from other cigars as well as being able to smoke puritos of a number of varietals. One thing that has definitely progressed since the first third is the finish, and specifically the lingering tingle of the wood and pepper on the front half of the tongue. The draw, burn and smoke production remain very good to near perfect, with the flavor finishing around medium-plus but with an extended tingle, the body at medium-plus and strength just over medium, but not so much so that I feel any effects from it.

Final Notes

  • I’d be curious to know how many cigar smokers are aware that the blend of a box-pressed cigar is slightly different than a round version, as the former has generally half a leaf removed to accommodate the box-press process.
  • As such, when done right, there is a very distinct firmness to a box-pressed cigar, and it definitely evokes thoughts of a high quality pillow.
  • There aren’t a lot of cigars where both round and box-pressed vitolas are available, but Illusione offers just that in its Original Documents line, with the 4/2g and 888 vitolas. If you are looking to conduct what I consider to be a very interesting and informative experiment, get a round and box-pressed vitola of the same size and smoke them side by side. The Ashton VSG line was round and then became box-pressed.
  • This was by far one of the more unusual years for news about TAA cigars. There was definitely a directive for manufacturers not to talk about their releases prior to the group’s event, an event that was postponed, canceled and then held virtually. Once the virtual meeting started, manufacturers were suddenly very willing to talk about their TAA releases.
  • In other news from the 2020 TAA virtual meeting, Joe Arundel was named the group’s new president; he is the owner of Rain City Cigar in Seattle, Wash., and was the shop I frequented the most when I lived in the northwest.
  • Kristoff was one of 14 companies to release exclusive cigars for the TAA in 2020, joining A.J. Fernandez, CLE, Crowned Heads, Drew Estate, E.P. Carrillo, La Aurora, La Flor Dominicana, La Palina, My Father, Nat Sherman International, Rocky Patel, Tatuaje, Villiger
  • Mark your calendar for April 11-15, 2021, as that is the dates of the 2021 TAA meeting and trade show.
  • None of the three samples had me thinking about white sugar to counteract the effects of nicotine strength, which is something I’m happy to report. In fact, for the blend, this seemed to be on the milder side of the strength spectrum.
  • The cigars for this review were purchased by halfwheel.
  • Final smoking time was one hour and 40 minutes on average.
89 Overall Score

Say the words San Andrés and you have my attention, as it is a varietal that I have really come to enjoy over the years, showing what for my palate is a very enjoyable combination of earthiness and sweetness, along with that quasi-intangible terroir component. In the case of the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro TAA 2020, it’s a bit less of a showcase of San Andrés than I was hoping for, but instead plucks from some of it to create what is still an enjoyable blend. While it may not be the majority of the profile, I found the Ecuadorian habano binder and Nicaraguan habano filler to color the bulk of the profile, a point I bring up given that it’s not billed as a habano cigar since it’s not the wrapper leaf. The profile also seemed to stay out of the deeper and more complex end of the spectrum, with that habano leaf seemingly buoying the San Andrés and whatever other components the Nicaraguan tobacco might have. But with that said, it is still a balanced and at times complex cigar with some good transitions that make bring out different aspects of the core flavors. While the Kristoff San Andrés Box-Pressed Toro TAA 2020 might not be the best example of what I consider to be a San Andrés-forward profile, it is still a very enjoyable cigar in its own right, and one I wouldn’t be hesitant to recommend or light up again.

Patrick Lagreid

I strive to capture the essence of a cigar and the people behind them in my work – every cigar you light up is the culmination of the work of countless people and often represents generations of struggle and stories. For me, it’s about so much more than the cigar – it’s about the story behind it, the experience of enjoying the work of artisans and the way that a good cigar can bring people together. In addition to my work with halfwheel, I’m the public address announcer for the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training, as well as for the Salt River Rafters of the Arizona Fall League, the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury and the Arizona Rattlers of the Indoor Football League. I also work in a number of roles for MLB.com, plus I'm a voice over artist. I previously covered the Phoenix and national cigar scene for Examiner.com, and was an editor for Cigar Snob magazine.