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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Tobacco Business Magazine Article

We appreciate this excellent article in Tobacco Business Magazine by Antoine Reid.  This link will take you to the full article.  There is a lot of insight, history, and new news!  This is a great way to wrap up 2018 and we can promise you 2019 will be our greatest yet!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Online CRT Final Exam

After more than twenty years of educating and certifying tobacconists and administering paper exams with a proctor, we are announcing our most historic and revolutionary service ever:

Now, all CRT Apprentices can take the final exam on the TU website.  

Gone are the days of waiting for a CST to visit your store (if you were lucky enough to have one in your area), or paying $100 for a skype exam (and coordinating your schedule around a convenient time), or traveling to our offices in Princeton, NJ, or waiting for the annual tradeshow and wasting valuable time that could be spent with your vendors: now you can take the final exam at your convenience online!

Our new online exams feature 100 varying and improved multiple choice questions, instantaneous grading, immediate conversion of your listing to "certified" and rotation on our homepage, and a diploma you can print yourself if you pass!   In addition, you can purchase the exam and take it whenever you are ready - there is no time limit or expiration date as long as you remain an apprentice with your company.  However, once you have paid for the exam and log in to take it, you must finish it.

Take note, the final exam price is $50 and it is a one time only, non-refundable fee.  We strongly recommend you study the Final Exam Review links featured on the right side of this blog so you don't fail.  Lastly, for security purposes, the apprentice who will be taking the exam must be the person to purchase it because login credentials will be required.  If you are interested in making a bulk purchase for multiple apprentices/employees, please contact TU via

Friday, October 13, 2017

The History Of Cigars: The Rite Of Tobacco (Cohoba)

In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered the new world. During his first contact with the Taino Indians (indigenous tribes that inhabited the Caribbean islands), he noticed, as he described on his navigational diary #85, transcribed by Spanish historian Bartolome de las Casas, to have seen these indigenous with a “tizon” (Like a branding iron) in their hands, made of dry leaves (buncher), and wrapped in other dry leaves (Wrapper) in the shape of a musket, lit on one end, and sucking from the other end, inhaling the smoke. This object, wrote Columbus, we will name the same as the Taino called them, “Tabaco”. These leaves were given to Columbus as valuable gifts, among others, like gold, spices, exotic fruit, etc., on his return trip, to be presented to the Queen of Spain as proof that he had discovered the new world. It wasn’t until their later voyages that Spaniards discovered that the Taino Indians smoked for pleasure, but most importantly, for religious purposes. The tobacco had a powerful spiritual meaning, and through a ceremony called “The Rite of Cohoba” (The Rite of Tobacco), it played a major roll on the social and economic structure of the aboriginal Taino tribes.


The Rite of Tobacco was a powerful, spiritual, sacred, and religious ceremony among all the Taino tribes. The BEHIKE (witch doctor) would sit on his DUJO (ancestral ceremonial seat or throne) to inhale COHIBA/COHOBA. He would smoke and inhale TOBACCO to induce a trance to achieve communication with their ancestors that resided in COABEY (Paradise) to plead for health, protection, to assign which members of the tribes would be hunting, harvesting, and even to consult about matrimonial unions, to make sure that everything was done with the approval of the ancestors. During their ritual, they used CUEY (sacred objects or semis carved out of stone or sacred wood). It has been speculated that Taino used the bioluminicence ink of the CUCUBANO (Taino indian word for a click beetle-Pyrophorus Luminosus) to paint their bodies to glow under the moon light during their religious rituals, performed mostly at night. 


Over the years, I have dedicated a big part of my time, visiting and sharing experiences in numerous cigar lounges around the U.S. I have noticed elements that repeat themselves, like a pattern, that are unbelievably common. Cigar lounges are frequented by a multitude of people of different backgrounds, who share their time in the same room, enjoying a cigar. These people come from different cultural, economic, religious, and educational levels. I have seen a successful lawyer, a handyman, a brain surgeon, a pizza delivery guy, a retired FBI agent, and a school teacher (quite diverse, right?) and no matter what the topic of conversation is they are always determined, far from arguing, to finding common ground between the different points of view on the subject of discussion. Always sitting back, having fun, and most importantly, relaxing. It is interesting, but I have never seen anyone smoking a cigar under stress. This general, but very common bond, among cigar smokers sharing the pleasure of smoking a premium cigar, always and inevitably reminds me of the origin and the reasons why the aboriginal Tainos saw the tobacco as the ideal element for reflection, spirituality, and peace. In conclusion, there are a few words from the Taino indian dictionary connected to the Rite of
TABACO (Tobacco)
COHIBA (Cohoba)
BEHIKE (witch doctor)
DUJO (ceremonial seat or throne)
COABEY (paradise)
CUEY (sacred object)
CUCUBANO (click beetle)

Author:  Eloy at Southern Classic Cigars
Images By: Jose Martinez

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Certified Cigar Sommelier

Few words evoke as much prestige and emotion in the luxury business as "sommelier".  The wine industry has done a great job of projecting their professionalism through trained professionals who are experts in serving their customers.  While there are many sommelier organizations, anybody can pretend to be one, so credentials matter greatly when people throw around titles!  There are even people around the world calling themselves "cigar sommeliers", but until now that has been a self-given title with no substantiation other than ego.  Just because you call yourself an expert, doesn't mean you are one!  To a large extent, that need for substantive credibility is where Tobacconist University started in 1996, aiming to give credibility and substance to luxury tobacconists.  To that end, we are now enhancing our certification programs to include bonafide cigar sommeliers.  

After years of development, we are proud to introduce the Certified Cigar Sommelier Tobacconist (CCST) degree: ushering in a new era of professionalism, customer service, and credibility.

Our Cigar Sommelier degree is designed to serve the hospitality industry, including cocktail lounges, restaurants, golf/country clubs, and liquor stores.  Our specially tailored curriculum includes Retail School, Cigar Fundamentals, and a Pairing School.  Click here to see a demo.  The Tobacconist University Cigar Sommelier school is a password protected, customized curriculum for participating companies with an online final exam, so students can sign up, study, and take the final exam all inside of the TU website.  The degree itself focuses on cigars, retail processes, and service.  The curriculum is not as extensive as the Certified Retail Tobacconist (CRT) degree, but it does include specialized content for those people who are not full-service tobacconists.

It is ultimately our goal to make sure that great service and knowledge is present wherever premium cigars are sold:  this focus is good for our businesses and customers.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cigar Civility & Freedom Fighting

CMT Contribution by Mark Brownlee, CMT

Consumer Board Member of Cigar Rights of America



     formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.
     “I hope we can treat each other with civility and respect”

synonyms:  courtesy, good manners, graciousness, politeness

Why begin an article this way?
I like to refer to a cigar as “A TOOL OF CIVILITY”.
I have often espoused this phrase to whichever of my friends or fellow cigar enthusiasts within ear shot, that will entertain the idea.  I truly believe the concept is sound and would like to explain.

I have enjoyed cigars with close friends, friends, accomplices, and new acquaintances in nearly every state in our country and several countries abroad for well over 30 years.  The one over reaching takeaway I have learned from these experiences is I can sit down in any kind of an environment, any place in the world, with complete strangers or those I know well, and experience meaningful conversation and friendship, over a cigar.

Not only is it usually more than interesting, most times we laugh, and occasionally there have been tears.  We give earnest consideration to issues that concern us, our families, and friends.  Also importantly, I always, always learn something from the experience.  Please understand it’s not all pleasantries.  Some of the conversations become passionate and go to serious depths, however, they all end pretty much the same.  We acknowledge the good company, and that we agree or that it’s okay to agree to disagree, shake hands, and then we go about our day.  We can be from completely different social economic, or political backgrounds.  From different races, religions, sexual orientations, or cultures and despite our differences the enjoyment of a premium handmade cigar together, has allowed us to be civil towards each other.  The Tobacconist University Handbook refers to the bi phasic effects of tobacco which may explain a part of this phenomenon.  I also believe, however, that there is a true comradery and mutual respect amongst cigar enthusiasts.

If you think about the world we live in, I have to believe these are traits that are becoming increasingly rare yet more valuable every year.  Also, these are traits that are worth preserving and protecting.

Why would I choose the word protecting?  Plain and simple.  There are people in our country that want nothing more than to impose their political will upon you and I and to put an end to the cigar industry in this country.  These same people don’t understand or appreciate the social dynamic of “Cigar Civility” nor do they provide any current scientific data proving they fully know or understand the true health impacts they tout as the basis for their arguments. 

Over the past 10 years, municipal, state, and federal government bureaucrats have increasingly misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized cigar enthusiasts and the handmade premium cigar industry.  As consumers if we don’t stand up to defend our positions we will certainly be accepting a fate we would not choose.

In an effort to provide disclosure, I am a consumer board member of the Cigar Rights of America.  I started by joining when I saw the original internet post for membership and then began helping with events across the country, and enrolling membership at other cigar events locally.  I’ve met and talked to literally thousands of cigar lovers all over the United States and Central America.  I have met some amazing people and made lifelong friends.  All because of a cigar!  It has been an extremely meaningful experience and is the motivation to put these thoughts to paper.

My intention is a call to action.  To continue working diligently in any way you can, for those that are currently involved, at all levels.  I also am asking those of you who have not yet chosen to become involved to do so now.  Before we have to refer to enjoying a great cigar in the context of what we did in “the good old days”.  Believe me, left unabated, this is a reality you need to accept.  I would suggest we a s a group deserve and should demand something better!

Like many of you, I was raised to work hard, deal honestly, and to standup for what I believed.  If you weren’t willing to take a position and defend it in our household you lost your right to discuss the topic.  This of course, means fighting to protect something you care about.  Cigar activism is one of those things for many of us.  Just imagine getting up one day thinking about heading to your local shop to enjoy a cigar with friends and you can’t any longer as the bureaucrats prohibition by increments has reached its final goal.  It can happen.  Say what you will but that’s a loss to all of us on many levels.  We should not allow it to take place!

Based upon the actions of those that are committed to protecting your rights and keeping the government out of your humidors.  I would like to cite a few statistics that reflect what those efforts have produced for all of us.

·       [1]Between April 15, 2011 and December 31, 2016, 407,684 consumers used the CRA petition system to express their support of exemption from FDA regulation to their respective members of US House of Representatives and US Senate.
·       [2]Of the over 119,000 comments filed during the Public Comment Period on regulating cigars by the US Food & Drug Administration, over 6,000 hand signed comments pleading for the exemption for premium handmade cigars were submitted by consumers via CRA.  This figure does not count those filed electronically.
·       [3]Consumers have used the petitions to oppose tax measures on cigars in six different states and in the City of Chicago.
·       [4]Using the relatively new White House petition system called “We The People”, consumers pleading for premium cigar exemption from FDA oversight amassed 25,000 petitions to the President’s Administration in less that 60 days.  Politically speaking, the significance lies not in the response or even actual impact on the process or policy, but in the act of getting cigar consumers to actually take action in defense of their affection for cigars, and the industry as a whole.
·       [5]In the words of Glynn Loope as CRA Executive Director, “I knew we were making headway in changing the psychology of the consumer, when they started actually taking the time and effort to fax or email to us the responses from their lawmakers.  They took that extra step in not only expressing their opinion on a cigar legislative matter, but following through with letting us know of the words they received back.  A sure sign of what’s possible in the future.”

These are the results of you, cigar consumers that have stepped up to help an industry and a pastime under siege.  These are significant contributions!

Thank you to those that have spent time and or money helping preserve what I and many of us consider one of life’s undeniably fulfilling pleasures.  I also hope those of you that have not yet chosen to be part of the solution can consider what you can do to contribute.

The following are a few ways to protect your rights to enjoy premium handmade cigars:

1.      Send a handwritten letter to your state and federal Representatives and Senators.
2.      Visit the CRA website to learn about current FDA/Government issues and to sign petitions or send automated letters to congress.
3.      Hold an event/herf to raise funds to dedicate to political defense.
4.      Join CRA.
5.      Talk to your friends about what is happening to you rights and offer the above suggestions.

Please contribute in any way you feel you can to help preserve your pastime, a noble culture, and provide your fellow citizens with civility.  One cigar at a time!

Yours Sincerely,

Mark Brownlee

[1] CRA Petition Report/Consumer Analysis, J Glynn Loope, 12/13/2016
[2] opt.cit.
[3] opt.cit
[4] opt. cit
[5] opt. cit

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Dark Age of Cigar Making & The FDApocalypse

As the FDA forces our industry from the 'Golden Age of Cigar Making' to the 'Dark Age of Cigar Making', there are many changes taking place.  Not the least of which is the government allowing Cuban cigars to circumvent the new rules by being imported by tourists for unlimited personal use.  Currently, the largest manufacturing/distribution companies are gobbling up small manufacturers and importers.  Furthermore, it is clear that the 'big boys' in our industry are becoming more vertically integrated and establishing retail operations or buying existing stores to cement their market domination - all of this in addition to their ever growing mail order operations.  Even worse, is the unseen fact that executives throughout our industry are polishing their resumes while trying to figure out where they will go next.  All the while, retail tobacconists who have invested their lives and capital into their businesses are just trying to survive... as usual.       

While massive landscape changes are occurring in the cigar industry, consumers will see very little change in the short term, thanks to good marketing, spin & pivot public relations, jive talk, jibber jabber, deflection, and the fact that most of the changes we will see will happen incrementally.  They have taken our rights, little by little.  They have compounded and beat us with taxes, little by little.  They have passed smoking bans and new regulations, little by little.  And that's how it happens... little by little.  

Sadly, five years from now, we fear there will be less retail tobacconist stores than today.  Not because the public wants less, but because the business environment is too scary to operate in.  Small business owners cannot fight and compete with local, state, and federal governments while trying to service their customers - that is a game created by and best left to the 'big boys'.  But, despite the challenges, many retail tobacconists will survive and some will thrive.  And Tobacconist University (TU) will continue to serve our Vision:

To build and project the credibility of the luxury tobacco industry in order to gain cultural acceptance around the world - preserving luxury tobacco for generations to come.

We are not packing up and calling it a day... nor are we changing our strategy, goals, or tactics.  We will not compromise.  We are doubling down.  Over the next year, TU will deploy more new and unique programs and enhancements than ever before.  We will continue to grow and support tobacconists... so stay tuned!  

If you want to make a difference, get politically involved... join Cigar Rights of America, and support the IPCPR... and GET CERTIFIED!!!


Jorge L. Armenteros, CMT
President & Founder
Tobacconist University

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Keeping Your Cigar Shop Clean!

By Ruth Bollo, author of Clean It Right

Living in a clean environment is very important to your well being. Besides a sense of pride, people have more mental tranquility living in a clean and organized home.  It is equally as important to provide your employees and customers a clean, germ-free and organized environment.  Retail Tobacconists in particular are dust factories (because of the smoke) and the constant traffic from customers requires diligent and consistent cleaning practices.

With so many cleaning products and cleaning tools on the market, most people find cleaning confusing and quite a chore. This article is going to change that.

Constant cleaning, organizing and  maintenance are the goals so that dust, dirt and germs don't get ahead of you or hurt you and your customers.


- First and foremost:  do not let anyone in the area you're cleaning until all surfaces, seating and floors are dry.

- Countertops should be wiped often. Most countertops are glass. You can use an antibacterial wipe and dry it with a paper towel.  However to disinfect, leave surface wet for three minutes, then wipe dry.

- An Ostrich feather duster is the recommended feather duster. They come in a variety of sizes and can be purchased on many online sites.  Rather then spread the dust, the ostrich feathers really do trap and hold the dust. You should wash the feather duster at least monthly. Wash the duster in the sink using warm water and mild soap. Rinse the duster, wring it gently,shake it and allow it to air dry before reusing.

- Unscented antibacterial wipes are the cleaner of choice as they can be used and thrown away. Wiping is the preferred cleaning method in a retail tobacconist shop as improper use of spray products can harm the cigar inventory.  Unscented antibacterial wipes- PDI SANI CLOTH AF3 GERMICIDAL DISPOSABLE WIPES ( 3 minute germ kill time) to wipe surfaces such as doorknobs and shelves.

- Floor cleaner- ZEP NO RINSE FLOOR DISINFECTANT. Follow mixing instructions on the bottle carefully. Use water in the sink to mix or purchase a bucket.

- The Eureka Mighty Mite small canister vacuum model 3670 Type G-4 with disposable vacuum bags type MM HEPA filter bags  or disposable vacuum bags type MM odor eliminating premium vacuum bags.

- String Mop - (O Cedar or Quickie brand).

- WINDEX ( clear formula) or Perfect Glass glass cleaner

- SCOTT or KIRKLAND brand paper towels.



- When storing or working with cigar boxes, never place the boxes directly on the floor because floors are dirty and people track in germs on their shoes:  place the boxes on shelves.  

- When employees are helping customers select cigars, have them use a tray to place the cigars in.

- Protection of the quality, safety and integrity of the tobacco products is our main priority.  Avoid touching the head of cigars (the end that goes in your mouth) with your hands, and also do not touch the foot of the cigar or wrapper to your nose when smelling.

Let's Get Started!!!

 "Top To Bottom" cleaning always works best. Using an ostrich feather duster, dust or wipe the humidor down from "Ceiling To Floor". Dust the shelves - top shelf down to the bottom shelf .This allows the dust to fall down to the floor making  vacuuming and mopping the floor your last step. Use unscented antibacterial wipes to wipe any shelves that may need to be cleaned. Do not use antibacterial wipes to clean cigar boxes!  Close the box and use a white cloth dampened with plain water to wipe the box clean. Also use an unscented wipe on the inside and outside  of the doorknob. Vacuum the floor. Mix the floor cleaner in water following the directions carefully. Dip the string mop in, wring it out very well so the mop is damp and not wet. Mop the floor from the back of the humidor out the door. Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before letting anyone walk in. If there are glass windows or doors in your humidor area, a clear glass cleaner can be used such as " Perfect Glass" or  "Clear Windex". However,  AVOID any kind of spray product in the humidor.  Wet the paper towel outside of the humidor,  wipe the glass windows or doors and dry with another piece of paper towel.



Retail Cigar Cutters - Most cigar shops leave cutters on the counters for customer convenience.  People can make a small cut, put the cigar in their mouth to test the draw and then make another cut.  The problem here is their saliva is getting on the cutter so you must train your staff to wipe the cutters down after each use.  Sanitizing the cutters can be accomplished in one of two ways. 1. Using  an individually wrapped alcohol wipe , wipe the cutter thoroughly and allow the cutter to air dry  COMPLETELY before placing it back on the counter. 2. Pump sanitizing gel onto a tissue or paper towel and wipe the cutter thoroughly. Allow the cutter to air dry COMPLETELY before placing it back on the counter.

Let's Get Started!!!

Using the "Top To Bottom"( Floor To Ceiling) cleaning method so the dust falls to the floor making your last step vacuuming and mopping the floor, dust pictures and wall decor ( use clear Windex on glass picture frames and a white rag dampened with water to wipe any canvas, plastic or metal wall decor to remove yellowing from smoke), dust shelves from first shelf down to last, dust fronts of any low cabinets and dust down  to the woodwork. Wipe shelves, surfaces, cabinet doors, cabinet knobs, cabinet handles, countertops, phones, light switches,  hand railings, computers, computer mouses, computer keyboards and cash registers with antibacterial wipes to clean and disinfect. Use Perfect Glass or Clear Windex on glass surfaces but DO NOT spray on a counter area where any tobacco product is present. Alternative cleaning method for glass surfaces is to use an antibacterial wipe. To disinfect, leave the surface wet for three minutes then wipe dry with a paper towel.

If there is a seating area, clean the area by using the same "Top To Bottom" method. I highly recommend chairs made out of vinyl or leather which can be easily wiped with an unscented antibacterial wipe. Make sure seating area chairs and couches are COMPLETELY DRY before allowing anyone to sit. Cloth upholstery is not recommended. After dusting, wipe any tables and surfaces with an antibacterial wipe. Vacuum the floor. Mix the floor cleaner in water following the directions carefully.  Dip the string mop in, wring it out very well so the mop is damp and not wet.  Allow the floor to dry thoroughly before letting anyone walk on it.  Any area rugs can be vacuumed and rolled up or removed from the floor then replaced after the floor is dry.

If there is an entrance area to your store be sure to keep that area clean and inviting using the "top to bottom" cleaning method. Use the same products and cleaning tools as you would use in your store. Be sure to wipe the  inside and outside of the entrance door and the inside and outside of the door handle. 

If you are cleaning during business hours, dry the inside and outside of the entrance door and door handle so no one's hands come in contact with a wet cleaning product.


By following the above suggestions and cleaning methods, you will make your store a great place for employees to work.  Set up a cleaning schedule and responsibilities and hold your employees accountable for your shops cleanliness.  A sparkling clean store is sure to help you provide a fantastic shopping experience for your customers.

To learn more about how to CLEAN IT RIGHT, please visit the website: