Cigars have enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade, I suspect partly as a reaction against politically correct anti-smoking propaganda, and partially as a response to the long-lived economic boom. The last time cigars were so in favor was the 1920’s, an ominous sign of the times.
Good cigars signal market tops because they’re expensive; you can’t get a hand-rolled stogie for less than $3 anywhere and $5 to $10 is more typical. People don’t send that kind of money up in smoke when the market’s down, or they can’t make the mortgage payment. Machine-made cigars feature ground up filler held together with some kind of glue, and a paper binder; they may be cheap, but they’re not worth smoking.
Cuba has historically cranked out about 100 million cigars a year, but Castro ordered that be increased to 150 million (the current level) and then 200 million to meet the demand. I think there’s been some diminution of quality, which evidences itself in cigars that don’t draw well and wrappers that come undone easily, among other things. What’s likely to happen is that Cuban production will peak just as the world enters the Greater Depression and people stop smoking cigars because a) they can’t afford them and, b) they don’t want to be characterized as an undeserving and malevolent rich person. The popularity of cigars is as cyclical as the popularity of stocks. I, however, don’t include myself among the potential ex-smokers. Besides, I’m deserving and benevolent.
What is a good cigar? That depends to a large degree on what you like. Personally, I prefer a mild smoke in the shape of a panatela (relatively long and thin). The premier Cuban brand is the Cohiba, which is what Fidel used to smoke before he gave it up about 10 years ago. They’re excellent smokes, but at about $15-$20 each in Cuba (and upwards of $50 in most other countries), not really worth it. My own choice is the Rey del Mundo, which sells for about $4.00 in Havana, and to my taste is actually superior.
Two tips: Beware of buying cigars on the street in Havana; you’ll pay $60 a box for phony Cohibas that are completely unsmokable garbage. Get a good humidor; if cigars are allowed to dry out they can be totally ruined, and have to be thrown out