Photos: Nicaragua puff up status in the world of premium cigars

From "rich and full-bodied" to "complex with hints of licorice," aficionados exhaust the lexicon to capture the essence of Nicaragua's most highly-prized produce -- not wine, but cigars, which are especially popular in the United States. The recognition turns the vibrant green hills of Esteli, in the troubled Central American country's northwest, into a hive of activity come harvest time.

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST 11 Photos
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Here, 800 meters above sea level, in the green hills of Esteli, half of the population of 110,000 is employed in the tobacco industry -- picking, drying or curing, or rolling cigars in factories. “No one has soil as good for tobacco as Nicaragua,” explained Nestor Plasencia, whose family business is one of the country’s leading cigar exporters. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

Here, 800 meters above sea level, in the green hills of Esteli, half of the population of 110,000 is employed in the tobacco industry -- picking, drying or curing, or rolling cigars in factories. “No one has soil as good for tobacco as Nicaragua,” explained Nestor Plasencia, whose family business is one of the country’s leading cigar exporters. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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Nutrient-rich volcanic soil and know-how imported from Cuba more than 50 years ago, as well as a knowledgeable workforce have set Nicaragua apart when it comes to growing flavorful top-quality tobacco. Apart from Esteli, the two other tobacco-growing regions are the Condega and Jalapa valleys in the north, each with their own distinct soils and minerals. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

Nutrient-rich volcanic soil and know-how imported from Cuba more than 50 years ago, as well as a knowledgeable workforce have set Nicaragua apart when it comes to growing flavorful top-quality tobacco. Apart from Esteli, the two other tobacco-growing regions are the Condega and Jalapa valleys in the north, each with their own distinct soils and minerals. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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Part of the lure of Nicaraguan tobacco is that “the same seeds planted in different soils and climatic regions give different flavors,” Plasencia said, between spiralling puffs. Cuban cigars may easily outsell the lesser-known Nicaraguan product in Europe, but Nicaraguan brands have taken advantage of the crippling US embargo on Havana -- in place since 1961 -- to sell to the Americans. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

Part of the lure of Nicaraguan tobacco is that “the same seeds planted in different soils and climatic regions give different flavors,” Plasencia said, between spiralling puffs. Cuban cigars may easily outsell the lesser-known Nicaraguan product in Europe, but Nicaraguan brands have taken advantage of the crippling US embargo on Havana -- in place since 1961 -- to sell to the Americans. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker is seen next to boxes of tobacco leafs at a tobacco farm in Esteli. Nicaraguan cigar exports to the US have increased by 40% since 2008, reaching 140 million cigars in 2018, outstripping the Dominican Republic and Honduras, according to figures from the Cigar Association of America (CAA). (Inti Ocon / AFP)

A worker is seen next to boxes of tobacco leafs at a tobacco farm in Esteli. Nicaraguan cigar exports to the US have increased by 40% since 2008, reaching 140 million cigars in 2018, outstripping the Dominican Republic and Honduras, according to figures from the Cigar Association of America (CAA). (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker puts tobacco leafs to dry. Nicaragua’s industry is a young one -- it was started by Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. When the Central American country’s civil war ended at the start of the 1990s, the industry started to flourish. “My family started in tobacco in Cuba in 1865. Today we operate in Nicaragua and Honduras,” said Plasencia, whose father hails from the Caribbean island. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

A worker puts tobacco leafs to dry. Nicaragua’s industry is a young one -- it was started by Cuban exiles who fled Fidel Castro’s revolution in 1959. When the Central American country’s civil war ended at the start of the 1990s, the industry started to flourish. “My family started in tobacco in Cuba in 1865. Today we operate in Nicaragua and Honduras,” said Plasencia, whose father hails from the Caribbean island. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker looks at tobacco leafs put to dry. Smokers say a lot is going on in a cigar during puffs, tasting richness, balance and complexity -- a variety of flavours and aromas that have helped several Nicaraguan brands conquer the US market. In 2018, American trade magazine Cigar Aficionado named seven Nicaraguan brands in the top 10 of its annual ranking. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

A worker looks at tobacco leafs put to dry. Smokers say a lot is going on in a cigar during puffs, tasting richness, balance and complexity -- a variety of flavours and aromas that have helped several Nicaraguan brands conquer the US market. In 2018, American trade magazine Cigar Aficionado named seven Nicaraguan brands in the top 10 of its annual ranking. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker rolls cigars at a factory in Esteli. Today, the country has 70 factories producing more than 5,000 brands, said the director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco Producers, Wenceslao Castillo. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

A worker rolls cigars at a factory in Esteli. Today, the country has 70 factories producing more than 5,000 brands, said the director of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Tobacco Producers, Wenceslao Castillo. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

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Andres Plasencia, vice-president of the company Plasencia Cigars, at his factory in Esteli. As for the Best Cigar of the Year, the “E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic” is made in the Dominican Republic, but with Nicaraguan tobacco, the magazine says. “The strength of the Nicaraguan tobacco industry is our focus on quality, which is why we are today the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States,” Castillo said proudly. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

Andres Plasencia, vice-president of the company Plasencia Cigars, at his factory in Esteli. As for the Best Cigar of the Year, the “E.P. Carrillo Encore Majestic” is made in the Dominican Republic, but with Nicaraguan tobacco, the magazine says. “The strength of the Nicaraguan tobacco industry is our focus on quality, which is why we are today the largest exporter of premium cigars to the United States,” Castillo said proudly. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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Karina Rivera, a quality control supervisor at Plasencia Cigars, tests an average of eight cigars a day. “If I see that it’s not at the level of quality demanded by customers, we report immediately to find out where the problem is,” she said. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

Karina Rivera, a quality control supervisor at Plasencia Cigars, tests an average of eight cigars a day. “If I see that it’s not at the level of quality demanded by customers, we report immediately to find out where the problem is,” she said. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker in a tobacco farm. It’s clear that in the rarified world of premium cigars, names are important. To the aficionado, in clubs and the best bars, they trip off the tongue -- La Opulencia Toro, La Imperiosa, Villiger La Vencedora Churchill... “We believe that 60 to 70% of our success is due to the way tobacco is dried and the time spent on fermentation and aging -- we don’t rush things,” said Castillo. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

A worker in a tobacco farm. It’s clear that in the rarified world of premium cigars, names are important. To the aficionado, in clubs and the best bars, they trip off the tongue -- La Opulencia Toro, La Imperiosa, Villiger La Vencedora Churchill... “We believe that 60 to 70% of our success is due to the way tobacco is dried and the time spent on fermentation and aging -- we don’t rush things,” said Castillo. (Inti Ocon / AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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A worker smokes during a break. “The trilogy of this success is the soils, the microclimate and the people, the care they put into their work,” said Plasencia. The industry is one of few to emerge largely unscathed from the political and economic crisis in Nicaragua. “If it weren’t for these factories, Esteli would surely be deserted,” said 43-year-old Silvia Moreno, who has worked in the tobacco industry for half her life. (AFP)

A worker smokes during a break. “The trilogy of this success is the soils, the microclimate and the people, the care they put into their work,” said Plasencia. The industry is one of few to emerge largely unscathed from the political and economic crisis in Nicaragua. “If it weren’t for these factories, Esteli would surely be deserted,” said 43-year-old Silvia Moreno, who has worked in the tobacco industry for half her life. (AFP)

UPDATED ON JUN 28, 2019 10:05 AM IST
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