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Monday, August 22, 2022

Celebrating 25+ Years

 


Time flies and it is hard to believe that 25+ years have gone by since the founding of Tobacconist University.  We are so busy managing record level certifications and developing our future infrastructure that we fail to look back and appreciate what we have accomplished.  So we had to dig deep into our archives to put this timeline together and we were pleasantly rewarded with a trip down memory lane; we hope you enjoy it!


1996 Cuban Cigar University Is Born
Less than six months after opening his first store in Princeton, NJ, TU founder Jorge Armenteros goes to Cuba and accidentally meets the director general of Cubatabaco, getting access to farms, factories and rare educational materials which become the foundation of Tobacconist University's academic curriculum.  Armenteros returns to the US and creates a curriculum to train his tobacconists and starts doing consumer seminars under the brand name Cuban Cigar University.

"I wasn't even a fully developed adult human, yet I opened my first store in 1995 at the age of 21.  I went to Cuba in 1996 to further my knowledge of premium cigars.  When I got back I realized I needed to create a program to educate my tobacconists and customers.  I did this because I wanted to be the best.  By 1997 we were doing live seminars with customers in hotel meeting rooms." - Armenteros   



2005 Tobacconist University And The Certified Seal Is Born
While opening 3 stores in 3 states, Armenteros continues to train his retail tobacconists using the Cuban Cigar University (CCU) curriculum.   Until now, CCU was a proprietary educational program to train professionals for a single company.  The challenges of employee education/product knowledge, the proliferation of bad information on the internet, and the continual threats of new taxation and smoking bans incites the desire to turn the program ‘inside out’ and make it available to all retail tobacconists.  The power of the internet allows for the creation of a website to provide free and credible information for consumers and tobacconists.  


"For a decade, our original CCU curriculum consisted of giant notebooks, transparent overhead projector sheets, and paper exams... until we put it online." - Armenteros

"The TU Certified Seal and Lapel pin is the first and only symbol of a professionally trained tobacconist." - Armenteros


2007 Tobacconist University (TU) Arrives
TU becomes the official educational curriculum of the RTDA/IPCPR, today’s Premium Cigar Association (PCA).  This begins a 10+ year period of building out the online academic programs and administering free final exams at the annual tradeshow convention.  Funding is scarce but a few companies provide enough help for TU to survive.  PadrĂ³n Cigars provides a significant endowment and others like Tatuaje Cigars, Drew Estate, and Miami Cigars support TU as well.  Our first tradeshow booth for administering TU exams was 2008. 


"We spent the next 10+ years staffing a booth at the tradeshow and certifying more than 400 Certified Retail Tobacconists (CRT); it was slow, expensive, but steady growth." - Armenteros


2009 The Tobacconist Handbook 1st Edition
The historic release of The Tobacconist Handbook marks the first time a comprehensive book is published to educate tobacconists.  As a distillation of the TU online curriculum, The Tobacconist Handbook can provide enough education for TU students to pass their final exams and give anyone a well-rounded education on luxury tobacco.


"Writing this book nearly killed me; it was like having a tiger by the tail and I couldn't let go.  While it is a distillation of the online curriculum, it still took a year to compile/write, working typically from 10pm to 3am, after normal hours of running my shops and TU.  While I am normally an avid reader, I didn't read a book for two years after this project!  It took a lot out of me." - Armenteros


2012 - 2015 R&D Cigars
Our revolutionary program to create educational cigars where we research and develop cigars along with their component puros and educational content.  This program created the R&D Brazilian Corojo and PA/CT Broadleaf cigars which were sold exclusively to Certified Retail Tobacconists (CRT).  Unfortunately, onerous regulatory threats from the FDA made the next Mexican San Andres and Organic Nicaraguan projects impossible to release.  Once again, over regulation kills another dream in the luxury tobacco industry.  Click here to learn more about R&D Cigars.

   


"R&D Cigars was my pride and joy, a grand educational cigar adventure that created cigars that only Certified Tobacconists could sell; a bona fide competitive and educational advantage.  Alas, it was extremely costly to execute and killed by the FDA." - Armenteros


2018 Online Final Exams for Everyone!
After a decade of administering final exams at the PCA tradeshow and through the USPS with Certified Tobacconists administering paper tests, we deploy online exams for everyone; making our certification programs (CCT, CRT, CST) 100% online and fueling unprecedented growth. 


"It was actually terrifying to put our final exams online; mostly due to fear of people cheating or releasing the questions to the public.  Fortunately, our community of luxury tobacco lovers has integrity and a deep commitment to the value of education and certification." - Armenteros


2019 The Cigar Sommelier Is Born
The Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist (CCST) degree is released.  Capitalizing on the demand for education and certification for those in the ‘business’ who are not full-service tobacconists, this degree serves lounges, mobile/event businesses, media, restaurants and golf clubs and everyone in between.  Our CCST School is the first program we placed behind a paywall and allows custom branding and configuration for individuals or companies with many employees and locations.  It is a streamlined distillation of our broader curriculum and it focuses on creating knowledgeable and competent premium cigar service professionals.  Click here to learn more about the CCST program.


"The success of the CCST program took us by surprise.  We were always so focused on full-service tobacconists that we didn't realize the massive growth and demand in the cigar-centric space.  The need for credibility and education was real and the CCST has become our fastest growing certification." - Armenteros

2020 Certified Cigar Reviews Is Born & The Tobacconist Handbook Is Updated
After 'perfecting' the online educational and certification programs for professionals and consumers, the TU focus turns to creating post-graduation value for certified tobacconists.  The Certified Cigar Reviews (CCR) platform allows users to create comprehensive reviews for online sharing and printable options like shelf-talkers.  Most importantly, CCR educates and empowers users and viewers by defining terms and creating a professional structure for an admittedly subjective process. 


"By the mid-2010s, the internet is proliferating with cigar reviewers providing their own opinions.  We believe tobacconists are the ultimate reviewers since they do it all day long, face-to-face with customers.  This leads us to create (over the course of 4 years) the CCR platform.  In the process, we realize the need to create post-graduation value and leverage for our certified professionals and consumers.  How can we help certified tobacconists? becomes our new focus." - Armenteros

The Tobacconist Handbook: An Essential Guide To Cigars & Pipes is upgraded, updated, enhanced, improved and re-released by Skyhorse Publishing.  Sales continue to surpass all expectations and reach consumers and professionals around the world.  Take a look here...

   


2020 CIGARS 101 Introduced
Our CIGARS 101 program was released outside of the TU website on a modern learning platform; this experiment is part of our long term plan to potentially move part or all of our certifications onto more technologically advanced and responsive platforms.  CIGARS 101 is also intended to create a strong educational/knowledge foundation for all levels of consumers.  Click here to learn more.


2021 CCST Maestro Released
Compelled by the growth and success of the Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist (CCST) program, the CCST Maestro program is introduced.  This historic program empowers CCST Maestro to certify others for profit while administering their own CCST School.


"While still in its infancy, this program will change everything!  The CCST Maestro gives certified tobacconists the plug and play ability to educate and certify their own customers while profiting from the process.  Helping tobacconists profit through education is an unbelievable dream come true! " - Armenteros


2022 Benchmark Cigars Database Is Born
The dream of Certified Cigar Reviews (CCR) was stunted by a worldwide pandemic and a garbage-in/garbage-out problem:  reviewers were overburdened by having to input too much cigar data.  This led us to create the Benchmark Cigars Database, which allows manufacturers/distributors to upload their cigars into the CCR platform for free: then users can create reviews in just seconds!  Populating the Benchmark Cigars Database in the Certified Cigar Reviews website started in the Summer of 2022 and will continue into the foreseeable future.


"This project has nearly killed me physically and financially, but the hardest part is now behind us.  The technology and database we have created are the foundation for projects we will be releasing in the near future: projects which benefit all professionals and consumers but especially help Certified Retail Tobacconists compete.  So stay tuned as we roll out exciting new developments in 2023 and beyond." - Armenteros


2023 And Beyond
TUECOM, Online Career Center, educational content improvement, deeper discounts for retail tobacconists and many more things are in development…  Stay tuned….


"It is difficult to put an exact date on the birth of Tobacconist University, so I have chosen, partly for sentimental reasons, September, 8 of 1997; by then we were certifying professional tobacconists and consumers.  Looking back, it has been a wild ride and I feel like we have accomplished the impossible.  Despite the blood, sweat, dollars and tears, it has been worth every sacrifice.  As I look back, I am proud to say that we have accomplished everything we set out to do and layed a strong foundation for an extraordinary future... It feels strange to say, but I definitely feel like we are just getting started!" - Armenteros



Thursday, April 21, 2022

Benchmark Cigars: The New Standard

BENCHMARK CIGARS

"cigars in the Tobacconist University database with objective data, image(s), a mini-review, and Brand and Line information" (noun)

and...

"to document the objective facts (of a cigar) as a point of reference for sharing and comparing" (verb)

Words and facts matter and above all else, in anything we do, TU must get the information right.  Otherwise, we undermine our credibility and become useless or counterproductive.  


In 2020 we launched our Certified Cigar Reviews (CCR) platform and quickly realized that much of the data being entered by users was flawed and/or incorrect.  Over the long term it  would be a disaster to allow bad information to accumulate on a platform we created so we have been working diligently to create a system where we can ensure the integrity of the data - leading to substantive information and reviews.  To that end, we have initiated Benchmark Cigars. 

Benchmark Cigars is a multi-media database for premium cigars with objective data, a mini-review, cigar/brand images, and the "story" behind the company, brand and lines.  In addition, much of the words and data in the Benchmark Cigars Database is hot-linked into our Tobacconist University curriculum for added educational value.

TU creates these accounts (for security purposes) and hands the reigns over to manufacturers/distributors so they can maintain accurate data and promote their cigars: the process is free to all participants.  


The multi-media Benchmark Cigars database is a repository for accurate cigar data and information to be used by professionals and consumers.  In the context of CCR, Benchmarked Cigars allows users to select a cigar they want to review and create an accurate CCR review in seconds!  These reviews can be shared digitally, through social media and printed as shelf-talkers and tear sheets (white papers).   The Benchmark Cigars database is also the foundation of TUECOM sites: turnkey mail-order websites for Certified Retail Tobacconists (CRT).  


By default, the Benchmark Cigars Database will help us establish a factual and accurate repository of cigars in our industry; a huge step towards having reliable standards and facts in an industry that lacks marketing/terminology governance or anything similar to appellation standards.  We believe this is a significant step towards best-practices and substantive fundamentals. 



If you are old enough to remember Pereleman's Cigar Cyclopedia, consider this the 21st Century version, with added bells and whistles and a higher goal in mind.  If your interested in facts, standards and accuracy, look for the Benchmark Checkmark TU seal of approval as you review cigars or shop online with Certified Retail Tobacconists!

Click here if you would like to see what Benchmark Cigars has to offer you.

If you are interested in Benchmarking your cigars, please email info@tobacconistuniversity.org or call 609.651.2311.  



Friday, December 25, 2020

The Tobacconist Handbook - Updated Edition: Ushering In A New Era Of Professionalism

 


More than ten years after the initial publication and after more than a year of 2020 related delays, The Tobacconist Handbook Updated Edition is here.  This new edition features enhanced images, glossary, tasting content and is available at a fraction of the original cost.  This is a must have for every retail tobacconist and lover of the leaf: available wherever books are sold!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Skyhorse Publishing





Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Certified Aged Cigars Seal

As part of our never ending efforts to build, promote and reinforce the credibility of tobacconists, we have released these new Certified Aged Cigar seals, exclusively for our Certified Retail Tobacconists (CRT).  When you see this seal on a bundle, box, or bag of cigars, you know the credibility of the tobacconist is real.  Ever seal is signed by a CRT along with their certification number so you can look them up on the TU website.  There are countless fakes, counterfeit and fraudulent tobacconists and products in the world, so we encourage you to look for this mark of substance and authenticity.  Shop safe and smoke well!



Thursday, July 9, 2020

The Tragic Tobacco Trifecta Of Loss: Beetles, Mold & Damage



The cigars in this image were boxed and sealed in airtight plastic in 2007.  They were opened in 2020 and it was discovered that everything was ruined due to mold!  The financial and emotional damage is incomprehensible, especially if these were your cigars and your were salivating and ready to smoke them.  But mold does not just appear on older or aged cigars; it can be found on recently shipped cigars!  Mold can result from less than ideal factory conditions or be exacerbated by very oily wrappers on freshly made cigars.  

This past March a Certified Retail Tobacconist reported to TU that they had to destroy more than $13,000 (wholesale value) of cigars due to mold.  The cigars were stored perfectly but a flow valve on a humidifier failed to stop the flow of water, creating an unseen puddle and soaking through a massive amount of cigars.  To add insult to injury, the water leaked through walls and into the neighbors basement and cost the retailer another $400+ in repairs.  Mold is evil and it will irreparably contaminate and destroy cigars; and this happens every day to retail tobacconists and distributors! 




The insipid tobacco beetle is yet another enemy of tobacco purveyors.  They will eat through and destroy your inventory without you even knowing it.  Adding insult to injury, you may not even notice the damage until months later when you open a box and find holes in your cigars and dead beetles at the bottom of a box.  At this point, you can't know if the beetles were triggered by temperature at factory, distributor or during shipment.  The loss exists and there is no one to blame or compensate you for the loss.  Things get even worse if you operate cigar lockers for customers and they bring in "outside" cigars which can contaminate other customers' cigars!  We have heard countless stories where tobacconists compensate customers for beetle ridden cigar losses even when they have no fault in the matter.  There are many veteran retailers who will not house customers' cigars in lockers because of this potential problem.  We recommend you review our content on Tobacco Beetles, but know that they will inevitably cost you money.  Adding insult to injury, beetle damaged cigars, like moldy cigars, have no salvage value, so they must be removed from the premises and destroyed.  


Damaged cigars are yet another way tobacconists loose money every day.  If your'e a retail tobacconist you see customers drop cigars on a daily basis, and this is just one of the ways they get damaged.  People mishandle cigars on a daily basis in a retail humidor; foot, body and head damage occurs daily in every walk-in humidor.  Furthermore, many cigars get damaged during import or shipping to stores.  Tapered heads and all cigar feet are susceptible to damage during shipment, long before they arrive at your favorite local retail tobacconist.  In addition, if you are in this business long enough, you will regularly see entire batches of piramides/torpedos arrive with cracked heads; and often times it is not worth the effort to get your money back from the importer.  Even worse, there are brands whose wrappers are extremely delicate and will crack with minor deviations in humidity or even gently handling.  Damaged cigars are so common it seems unreal, as if an evil fairy pounces on them overnight, just to see your angst the next day!

These losses are real and devastating to retail tobacconists.  We estimate at least 5% of all cigar inventories are lost due to mold, damage and tobacco beetles, with no recourse for vendors.  And we haven't even mentioned shoplifting/slippage!  This is a difficult business with many challenges!   As always, we encourage you to shop with your local retail tobacconist and help us preserve luxury tobacco for generations to come!        

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Hand Journal Worksheet - Certified Cigar Reviews


Here is our Certified Cigar Review Hand Journal Worksheet, for those of you that would like to take some notes by hand before you create a cigar review.  This download is free to anyone who wants to use it for any purpose, but it is tailored to the Certified Cigar Review (CCR) process: you will see that it closely resembles our Tear Sheet printables.   This worksheet is especially handy if you intend to do a CCR later but wanted to make some notes now.  Enjoy!