Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Words you should know: Papeleta Or: My parents went to Jamaica and all I got was...this awesome box of cigars!. (Thank you!)

The worst part of opening a new box of cigars: Cutting the Papeleta.*

Just like your virginity, once violated, there's no going back.

We received a box of pre-1988 Royal Jamaica cigars the other day and we snapped off the yellow cello,** which was heartbreaking enough. We both stared at the papeleta, that sticker or seal that yells, "No one has opened this box. Ever. And now you're going to do it? Even though its been sealed up for over 27 years? What kind of monster are you?"

Not our box, but a box just like this.

We put the box down and circled our prey, checking it out from afar and progressively closer. Valentino approached cautiously, sharpened Henckles knife in hand. I stood behind him, peeking around. He makes an excellent human shield, by the way. I pushed him (lovingly) and we decided doing it quickly would be the least painful.

He ran the knife across the papeleta and pried the top up. He's very brave, my man.

The angels began their songs as the cover lifted, revealing:


You've probably seen the Royal Jamaica cigars around, but with a completely different look. Something more along the lines of this:


Our new (to us) box differs because while the name remains the same, the cigar itself isn't, all because Mother Nature had herself a good old hurricane in 1988.

In a Cigar Aficionado story, we learn about Robert L. Gore, a third-generation tobacco grower, who "knows hurricanes all too well. In September 1988, Hurricane Gilbert slammed into Jamaica at full strength, maiming the nation's cigar industry. The storm destroyed Gore's factory in Kingston, which had stood since his grandfather James Frederick Gore founded Royal Jamaica in 1935, and ruined 1,000 acres of tobacco in May Pen.

"It was the worst natural disaster to befall Jamaica since the 1907 earthquake that turned Kingston into rubble. Because of Gilbert, the Jamaican tobacco industry was set back several years, production of Royal Jamaica cigars was shifted to the Dominican Republic, and Jamaican tobacco was no longer used in the island's biggest brand, Macanudo."

A box of these babies, the pre-hurricane cigars, actually-made-in-Jamaica Royal Jamaica cigars, is one of the industry's great white whales. Thanks to my parents, who stopped in Jamaica on a cruise, brought us back a box. Of course, we sent them with a map to a store where we'd previously purchased them, on a similar cruise, *** along with photos of what they were looking for (and what they weren't looking for). My dad said they handed our instructions to the shopkeeper and said, "We need these."


According to the same CA article, "Royal Jamaicas have a distinctive smooth, woody taste, owed in large part to the mild Jamaican tobacco that makes up much of their filler. (Gore tends to leave the strongest leaves, the smallest ones, unpicked, and never removes the flowers from the top of the plant. This, he feels, smooths out the tobacco's flavor.) Another flavor factor is a bubbling cauldron inside the factory. It's filled with bethune, a mixture that includes rum, wine, vinegar and native herbs that workers spray on Jamaican tobacco after it cures. Gore says the bethune stops mold from forming on the tobacco during Jamaica's wet season and enhances the flavor of the cigars. As legend has it, the potion was created by Henry Winkle, who worked for Gore's grandfather."

We suggest, if you have the chance to get the originals,**** you grab them and go (after paying, of course). We also suggest, because you don't know how they've been cared for, lo these many years, you tuck them safely into the humidor for a bit--the cigar equivalent of buying them a drink and making some nice conversation, until they're ready.

Maybe it's just us, but we think, similar to that whole virginity thing, if you cut the papeleta just right, and at the right time, you will be very happy.*****

*The best part, of course, is getting to the inner goodness.

**This makes me laugh every time I say it. Go ahead! Try it! Yellow Cello!

If you turn around, you'd see a two-story window and balcony.
Yep. This was our room on that cruise.

****From what we understand, the new ones are pretty good too. We haven't yet partaken of those, which are made by Altidas.

*****And with the right, er, box of cigars, of course.


  1. I have not smoked one of those Royal Jamaicans since the early eighties, maybe it was the late seventies. (yes, aging myself) I can't remember the profile but I know I smoked a few of them.

  2. I have a full box untouched in my collection


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