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Monday, February 20, 2023

The SOTL Global Movement Maestro School


Sisters Of The Leaf (SOTL) Unite!  

We are proud to announce our new and historic partnership with the SOTL Global Movement.   The SOTL Global Movement is an international organization committed to introducing, supporting and empowering women in the cigar industry and Tobacconist University is proud to engage with them and their mission.  We strongly believe that their contributions to our industry will benefit us all and contribute to our vision of "preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come".

The SOTL Global Movement has earned the privilege of administering their own Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist (CCST) Maestro School and they are actively certifying aficionados through Tobacconist University.   See what they have accomplished by clicking here.

If you are a woman who loves cigars and would like to learn, network and contribute more, we encourage you to visit SOTL Global Movement or email

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

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!


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, April 1, 2020

Weathering The Storm: By Patrick Potter, CMT

Certified Master Tobacconist
Academic Contribution
Patrick Potter, CMT

Bob Dillon couldn’t be more apropos “The Times They Are A Changing.” As the landscape of personal space and social distancing becomes a new normal Tobacconists will be challenged. However, by incorporating public health guidance into daily practices and responding to customers’ need for peace of mind during these  trying  times,  Tobacconists  can  meet  these  challenges  head-on  and  with confidence. 

Tobacconists the world over have always weathered the storm. We are an essential service and provide an essential dispensation unlike other retail businesses. Extravagant to some; the relationship between Tobacconist and the cigar and pipe smoker are a lifeline to freedom and self-care. One of the greatest aspects is the two or three hour break we all get to shed the stress of the day, turn a shoulder to the chaos of the world and either discover a new cigar or reach for ole’ faithful. From first cut, to first draw, the expectation and delight that comes is priceless. Tobacco has always been given a bad rap especially because of cigarettes but cigars and pipes  are  not  cigarettes  and  their  design  was  never  intended  to  be  a  nicotine delivery system. Cigars are air cured, fermented, hand rolled and blended to inspire, delight and satiate. James J Fox once commented that cigars and pipes are at the center of civility and decent behavior. They give both men and women an opportunity to decompress, reflect on life or their day and most importantly socialize.  

Change is something all Tobacconists face.  Brands  have  changed,  some  have remained  and  new  exciting  developments  with  boutique  cigar  makers  have emerged.  Tobacconists have always been challenged in knowing which brand or vitolas to carry over another. The modern “go-to” for this valued information was once isolated to Cigar Aficionado but in recent years new media has also emerged from online blogs like Halfwheel, to Stogie Press, and Cigar Advisor. Additionally, the European market has a dedicated magazine and online presence ‘Cigar Journal, who has helped to impact the European Tobacconist by highlighting free world cigars and showcasing boutique makers from around the world. 

Every Tobacconist is challenged with either implementation or threat of taxation. Most states in the country impose a tobacco tax, and in some, that tax is so great, selling cigars alone may result in closure.  As the tax climate changes, the Tobacconist is faced with opposing forces. One retailer who saw the climate of change grow around them was my grandfather’s company he co-founded, Tinder Box International. Founded in 1928, and later incorporated in 1946. This small- town brick and mortar grew to over eight hundred stores worldwide by the mid 1980’s, before their sale. They capitalized on a retail franchise concept that allowed for incredible expansion while maintaining the brand price structure per market. Which meant that the same cigar purchased in Los Angeles could be purchased in Chicago at the same price. They combated higher taxation by designing a buying system  and price  structure  that  is  now  called vertical (*1)  integration.

Tinder Box used this central buying design and amassed such inventory that they could take losses in high tax states and gain revenue in the lower tax states. Unfortunately, our economy today couldn’t support this type of “retail only” design. However, I took my grandfather’s Tinder Box Franchise design and restructured it to work in today’s economy. The Continental Cigar Club is my solution; it’s the integration between retail and a private members lounge. Lounges for some, are an essential to a brick and mortars success. Especially with higher taxation and legislative restrictions, the combination of private/public membership lounge and retail operation is the perfect business model in today’s economy, for me.

The interaction between consumer and Tobacconist can also be very challenging. We must fight to maintain our relationships and our customer loyalties. With social distancing becoming a new normal we have to balance self-care with business. Customer loyalty is all that we have. The preservation of those relationships will help us weather the new storms. In the dawn of COVID-19 or really any viral or bacterial  illness  cleanliness  is  essential  to  foster  peace  of  mind  between  the customer and the Tobacconist.  To address this issue, I developed (*2) an Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan for all Continental Cigar Clubs.

In creating this plan there were a number of recommendations (*3) from OSHA that I could incorporate. I have implemented several that give my customers peace of mind. Here is a list of practices I have implemented that have been effective for both customer and my tobacconists:

1.  I created a reservation system for our private member lounge.  I found a restaurant seating application that has the configurations I wanted.  It makes it easy for staff and convenient for the member.  The design allows the member to call us and reserve a particular seat.  Our seating chart allows for thirty-six total seats.  For the time being we are still in a hold status on members in the club or retail use.  However, once reopened, members will find that we are able to move our furniture in such a way to allow a six foot gap between seats, except our four-tops, which we have reduced to two seats, and our community table, which accomodates ten, we have reduced to four.  Members can choose a three hour reservation beginning at 11:00am and the last reservation is at 8:00pm, so that we can promptly close at 11:00pm.  Those that wish to extend, can if the next three hour slot is available.  No one has been belligerent over this; as a matter of fact, it's increased our accolades for being concerned about members' health.  This may be our new normal, and if it is, we are prepared to adapt. 

2.   In our plan we asks customers to use a hand sanitizer before entering the main part of the retail operation.  Currently hand sanitizer is in short supply but our hand sanitizer kiosk is operational.  OSHA (*4) recommends alcohol- based hand-wipes containing at least 60% alcohol. Allowing the customer to enter the humidor is discretionary; we have a posted sign explaining that at this time humidor access is limited to tobacconist staff only. One creative option I implemented is a menu book detailing the brands I carry. It took some time to develop but has proven to be a fantastic method for selling. This is especially helpful because now the engagement is based on my product knowledge of my tobacconist and enthusiasm of customer.

3.   We started using latex and vinyl gloves but they seemed to create more issues than they were designed to prevent between the handling of things like money, touching our face from time to time, and they would make our hands sweat which wasn’t good either. Our hand sanitizing policy is frequent use: every time between transactions. However, the practice of washing our hands for 20 seconds between transactions is impossible when the bathroom is across the store. Seeing no real solution, we opted for the lesser of two evils. I gave the tobacconist the option of either using a disposable cotton glove or use a tong. When handling cigars their care is the utmost importance and who doesn’t like white glove service? We use hand sanitizer between transactions as a normal behavior anyway. We only use the glove to handle the cigar itself. The glove is on when we enter the humidor and removed when the cigar is placed into the cigar pouch or handed to customer.

4.   Another option my other tobacconists favor is the use of the tong. After doing a little homework on tongs, standard BBQ tongs would be to harmful to the cigar itself, the tong we use has rounded ends, and is all metal. We wanted something easy to sterilize. We use Barbicide disinfectant easy to get online and it use meets the OSHA requirement of 60% alcohol for sterilization.

5.   We,  as a  normal practice, offer cutting  service upon  purchase of a  cigar.  Luckily we, as a normal course of business, only use sterilized cutters, punches or V cuts. We have a members cutting station in the lounge. We do have to constantly remind lounge members not to lick their cigar before cutting or ask them to use their own cutter.

6.   Our lounge cleaning procedure is strict. We ask members to disinfect upon entering the lounge and we disinfect the seating area after a member has left. A  simple  wipe  down  of  the  chair,  TV  remotes  and  ashtrays  can  have enormous impact on safety and peace of mind. Some already may be wearing a protective mask or have gloves on, we don’t humiliate anyone who chooses these precautions. It’s about peace of mind. Most members chip in and help with monitoring their own space after use.

7.   Not all cigars are in cellophane. Cellophane has not been tested clinically if they pose less/more of a risk to contraception. However, they do seem to give customers peace of mind. This was proven in my store when Padron and Oliva V sales dropped off. Then when I decided to put them in cello, the sales improved immediately. Preventing random customers from entering the humidor has also improved customer peace of mind.  Cellophane is an unexpected benefit of today’s cigar manufacturing. I was able to buy a case of cellophanes from the manufacturer I use in Nicaragua and had them shipped with my regular order of house cigars.  I was also able to find them through various vendors like The benefit with cellophane is that the cigar itself isn’t touched, merely the plastic-like exterior.  Cellophane (*5) is a polymeric cellulose film made from the cellulose from wood, cotton, hemp, or other sources. The viscose solution is then extruded through a slit into a bath of dilute sulfuric acid and sodium sulfate to reconvert the viscose into cellulose. This is then put through an extruder and sealed for various sizes of cigars. We ask the customer if they prefer to leave the cello on before putting them into a to-go pouch or removing them entirely from the cello before placing in the to-go pouch.

8.   We have posted brass laser etched signs all over the club and bathroom with various reminders. In the bathroom we ask the user to please wash their hands or use disinfectant gel or foam. Upon entering there are signs posted to respect the 6ft rule. These not only are aesthetically pleasing but reduce the clubs liability exposure if a claim were ever levied against us.

9.   One option that we attempted to use, but were later advised (by state law) we couldn’t, was curbside delivery. We don’t meet the essential business criteria although our members disagree. In the locations that can legally and logistically service this option, might take advantage of a curbside pick-up. Customers can order by phone, pull up out front and obtain their cigars. Companies like Postmates have very strict rules regarding tobacco but could be an option if you qualify. Otherwise you could consider using a courier service.

As the times continue to change, the Tobacconist must change as well. Our greatest strength is our ability to be creative, to think outside the box, to help instill peace of mind  to  our  customer  and  be  the  one  constant  shoulder  to  lean  on.  Winston Churchill was quoted once saying “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” As Tobacconists we must adapt, improvise and overcome the challenges we face as Tobacconists and as an industry as a whole. Our unification is paramount. We should constantly share experiences and information with one another. I for one am grateful for Tobacconist University for creating and implementing its curriculum. I think it’s a fantastic way to grow enthusiasm in our industry and I am honored to be part of it.


Vertical integration is a strategy whereby a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations to control its value or supply chain.

*2  Page 8,

*3  Page 8 & 9,

*4  Page 8