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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