Tobacconist University
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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