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Cameroon: The Legacy Behind The Leaf


Cameroon: The Legacy Behind The Leaf

By: Lindsay Heller

Many cigar enthusiasts are quick to name preferred brands or blends, but what about wrappers? Odds are you have enjoyed some Cameroon capa before, with fond memories of its spicy-sweetness and “toothy” nature, but most are unaware of its turbulent history and limitations within the cigar-making trade.

A Brief History of Cameroon Tobacco

Born from the importation of Sumatra seeds by the Dutch to West Africa in the early 20th century, under French colonization, tobacco production was a thriving venture. Société d'exploitation industrielle des tabacs et des allumettes, also known as SEITA, was the French tobacco monopoly in charge of the growth and exportation, controlling everything in this region for nearly a century. Although Cameroon received its independence in 1960, the French still maintained control with rapacious price fixing and a notoriously difficult bidding system. Many Cuban expats establishing themselves as cigar makers in Central America grew displeased, and in 1993, the French ceased the exportation of Cameroon tobacco believing the demand for it had waned. 

The Meerapfel Family Prevents Extinction

Rick Meerapfel, the once-patriarch of the Brussels-based M. Meerapfel & Söhne, is credited with saving Cameroon cigar tobacco entirely. While the seeds to grow this varietal can be replanted in other soils, there is a great distinction to be made when referencing authentic Cameroon vs. that of which is grown elsewhere. (It’s a similar situation with respect to Cuban tobacco vs tobacco grown in other countries with Cuban seeds.) He and his family had been purchasing these special crops for decades from the French, but Rick made it his mission to ensure West African tobacco production would continue thriving after the French exited the trade.

Uprisings, instability, and political corruption: it’s important to note just how dangerous Cameroon and its fellow tobacco-growing neighbor, Central African Republic, were at this time. Meerapfel endured constant meddling from local police, government, and often AK-47s pointed at his face, but he persevered, forming Compagnie d’Exploitation des Tabacs Centrafricains, or CETAC. (This private venture exists between the Meerapful family and local African farmers, much to the dismay of the government who realized all-too-late that they missed out on a huge opportunity.) Even with other difficulties like warring tribes and issues securing equipment in remote areas with little infrastructure, Rick won both in the eyes of the cigar industry and the locals who consider him a hero for the business he injected into the region.

Unfortunately, Rick’s story ended too soon, as he passed away from a heart attack in Miami in 2003 at the age of 52. His two sons, Jeremiah and Joshua, immediately took charge and continue to run CETAC to this day. Honoring their father’s legacy and his commitment to the people of Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the tobacco craft, these wrappers continue to grace some of the industry’s most-beloved cigars.

Characteristics & Limitations

For the uninitiated, referring to a wrapper leaf as “toothy” may seem more negative than positive, but it is in fact a compliment. Cameroon wrappers are considered the “toothiest” of them all, as many pockets of natural oils adorn each leaf, encapsulating quite a bit of flavor enjoyed by the smoker – it is here where your palate will recognize the trademark sweetness inherent with this varietal. Another characteristic is its delicacy, producing a plentiful and complex flavor profile without aggression. 

Cameroon wrappers are only able to withstand so much, though, as the fermentation process must be undertaken with great care. (For example, these crops cannot successfully undergo what it takes to transform them into the Maduro classification.) Physically, they’re also thinner than their other capa counterparts, adding further complexity to the rolling process. If we are referring to “authentic Cameroon,” however, the plants produce even smaller leaves, meaning it’s uncommon to find them utilized on larger ring gauges. I should preface that the Meerapfel brothers are continually working to improve their cultivation techniques, resulting in larger leaves of superior quality and larger yields to satisfy increasing demand.

My Top Choices for Cameroon Cigars

I wanted to assemble my list of top cigars that act as a beautiful canvas for these prized wrapper leaves. Whether you’ve enjoyed some of these before or are looking for a good place to start, I greatly encourage you to add these handmades to your next order.

Arturo Fuente

Fuente and Meerapfel are like peanut butter and jelly: the two families are very close friends and work together often. (Carlito Fuente, Jr. constantly says that if you’re not smoking Meerapful, you’re not smoking true Cameroon.) Fuente is the #1 producer of Cameroon-wrapped premiums, and core lines such as the ‘94’-rated Don Carlos, the ‘94’ rated Hemingway, and Gran Reserva are staples in the humidors of the most-discerning aficionados.

Oliva Serie ‘G’ 

This ‘91’-rated blend is without a doubt where most smokers enjoy their first encounter with Cameroon, and it’s easy to see why as it’s probably the most naturally-sweet cigar on the market. It’s both a great experience and great value, and one of those cigars where I encourage anyone wanting to train their palate to create a flight (one of each size) and smoke them in order of smallest to largest, taking note of the changes within each vitola. 

CAO L'Anniversaire Cameroon

Although the packaging has changed, this is still the same ‘92’-rated blend created to mark CAO’s 30th anniversary. This was one of the first cigars to be born due to Rick Meerapfel’s efforts to keep Cameroon tobacco alive and available for use. If you’re looking for a little less sweetness than the Oliva Serie ‘G’ and a bit more cedar-spice, look no further.

Cohiba Red Dot

A truly unique experience within the expansive Cohiba portfolio, this ‘92’-rated blend is the result of five years of intensive research and blending efforts. Rolled in the Dominican with an authentic Cameroon leaf, I always think of this cigar as kismet since cohiba is Taíno for “sweet grass” and that’s a very befitting description of this West African wrapper.

La Perla Habana Classic Cameroon

The name behind the newest addition to the La Perla brand refers to its “classic core” of Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan long-fillers, but this time rolled with a Cameroon wrapper. It’s toothier than your traditional La Perla Habana, and together all the tobaccos create what almost tastes like buttered cinnamon-raisin toast. It too is a fantastic value, and something I recommend if you wish to smoke Cameroon cigars with greater frequency.  

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