The finished products are placed in long boxes and stored in a series of narrow rooms that are blessedly cool and dry. After the cigars have been allowed to age for several months, the boxes are packed up in trucks that make the nail-biting journey across the crumbling roads to Tegucigalpa, where they are then loaded on a plane and shipped out to their respective companies and retailers.

All Gurkha cigars go to the Gurkha corporation’s unassuming headquarters in Doral, Florida, a suburb of Miami, before being sent to their final destinations. Company founder and president Kaizad Hansotia, a big, affable man, operates out of that office, but he’s just as likely to be in Hong Kong, Macao, Russia, or one of the several other far-flung countries Gurkha distributes to as he is to be in Doral at any given time. He tells the story of how he created his luxury cigar brand from almost nothing. “In 1988, I was in Dowa -- a Portuguese territory off the coast of India, near Bombay -- and I found these two guys making cigars,” Hansotia recalls. “I started talking to them, got drunk on cheap rum, bought all their boxes, and bought the company for $143. Gurkha Cigars was essentially a dead brand name. … We make more than three million cigars each year now.”

Hansotia’s building in Doral includes several refrigerators, each two stories tall and the size of a studio apartment, that serve as humidors for the company’s 29 individual brands of cigars, each one pricier than the last. Gurkha does not make cigars for the masses; it makes cigars for smokers who love their pastime and are willing to pay for the best cigars money can buy.

In his office upstairs, ensconced amid antique Indian furnishings, Persian rugs, brown leather sofas, and a massive television, Hansotia typifies the Gurkha customer. “I wanted to make a cigar for a guy like myself, who may not smoke every day, but when I do, I want the best,” he explains. “So, I started going and trying to find the best crops. One bale, two bales, three bales out of 500. The big cigar companies don’t care about picking out the very best of the crop -- separating the cream from the milk. They can’t afford to worry about making [only] 500 or 1,000 boxes from the cream. They need to worry about making 200,000 boxes, 500,000 boxes.”

Gurkha’s smaller output means it can concentrate on making the absolute best. The company makes several thousand boxes each year of its flagship Grand Reserve brand, but its other lines are much harder to come by. Only about 500 boxes of Beauty cigars come out each year, and each box retails for about $770. Think that’s steep? “We’re making one box right now that we’ll only make five of and will sell for $500,000 a box,” Hansotia says. “It will be called HRH: His Royal Highness. The boxes will be made of solid silver, and each of the cigars will be flawless.”

Your cigar might not have a price tag of $20,000; it may be closer to $20. But a long line of people undoubtedly put many hours into making it, regardless of the cost. And as you enjoy the sweet smell of the smoke as it swirls from the base, you can be thankful for the rollers, the testers, and the men who swat ammonia-scented leaves in a factory somewhere in the hills of Honduras.


LOCAL FLAVOR


Location is key in cigar production. Just ask the folks at Arturo Fuente cigar company.

Though Gurkha cigars are produced solely in Honduras, cigar manufacturing is a thriving industry in many Latin American, European, and Asian countries. The heart of Arturo Fuente cigar company’s cigars is located in the heart of the Dominican republic, but it took a while for the company to find its niche. after starting in the back room of Arturo Fuente’s Florida home in 1912, the operation moved to Nicaragua and then to Honduras before finally establishing its chateau de la Fuente plantation in the Dominican republic.

It’s common for cigar companies to establish plantations in multiple countries, but Arturo Fuente cigar company broke from the norm when it decided that there is value to be had in homogeneousness. It created the first Dominican puro -- meaning all the cigar’s ingredients are Dominican -- on the market, according to the corporation’s vice president of operations, Karl Herzog. The company found that the climate, the agriculture, and above all the people of the Dominican republic produce a blend unlike any other.

Embedded in the cigars is more than tobacco; each cigar contains the unique flavor of the country’s people. Says Herzog about the locals’ relationship with the company: “They are the heart and soul of it.” -- Lauri Valerio