“What makes a great cigar memorable? Exceptional tobacco. In the final analysis, it will always be about the tobacco.” – John Oliva, Sr.
I’ve been in this industry a long time and it feels like there are more brands than ever out there. Just the other day I was in a retail store and bumped into a customer who was visibly overwhelmed with the massive variety and selection of cigars. He didn’t know where to start and said he felt like he was shopping the salad dressing aisle at the grocery store. I could not help but chuckle because he’s right. Putting myself in his shoes, I can understand how intimidating the wide selection of brands can be. Even with the huge number of brands out there, one thing has remained true since the day we hung our first shingle, there may be thousands of brands but there are a small number of actual factories and there are even fewer people growing the tobacco. When you reduce a cigar down to its lowest common denominator, the leaf, it’s as if you have unlocked all the secrets the industry has to offer and are quickly navigating the wide range of brands like a pro.
When we speak about the largest leaf growers in this industry, none have the notoriety of Oliva Tampa (the tobacco growers not to be confused with the cigar makers of the same name). The Oliva Tobacco Family grows tobacco all over the world and they process an even larger variety. They are credited with pioneering much of the tobacco growing in Ecuador which has become the markets hottest wrapper over the last 10 years.
Oliva Tobacco Company was founded by Angel Oliva in 1934 in Tampa, FL, where its headquarters remain today. Their history, a true American success story, begins with Angel Oliva at age eighteen emigrating from Cuba to the United States with $50 in his pocket. After working numerous odd jobs and owning a business that failed during the Great Depression, Angel Oliva found his calling working in the tobacco industry. He began in a tobacco warehouse selling and sorting tobacco, but soon after, he set out on his own and began what is known today as Oliva Tobacco Co. Initially supplying nearly every manufacturer with Cuban tobacco, Angel Oliva wasn’t fooled when Fidel Castro came to power and he liquidated the company’s Cuban holdings. In a masterstroke, he smuggled Cuban tobacco seeds and began operations in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Oliva Tobacco Co., still a family business owned and operated by his sons and grandson, is known today for supplying the very best tobacco available anywhere, chiefly among them the renowned Ecuador Sumatra and Ecuador Habano wrapper leaves.
I recently had a chance to talk to the Oliva Tobacco Family about one of their most prized farms, and the story was fascinating. The Don Angel farm in Ecuador, purchased in 1996 and named in honor of family patriarch Angel Oliva, is a magical place that sits alongside a river. This particular plot of land is unlike any other in the world, expect for maybe one, the Hoyo de Monterrey Farm first planted by the Torres Gener Brothers in San Juan y Martinez, Cuba. Part of what makes this farm, and the tobacco grown on it, so special is that during the peak of wet season the farm is replenished with nutrients and minerals while submerged under six to seven feet of water. This concentration of nutrients in the soil cannot be replicated and provides superior conditions for growing tobacco leaf beyond compare.
Oliva Tampa tobacco is used in many of today’s most coveted and highly rated cigars. You’ll find their tobaccos in noted brands including Davidoff, Don ‘Pepin’ Garcia, Tatuaje, Arturo Fuente, Perdomo, Rocky Patel, AJ Fernandez and Drew Estate. Some of the best examples of the quality of their leaf are the Man O’ War Ruination, which is one of the Oliva family’s favorite cigars, and the Latitude Zero line which only uses tobacco sourced or sorted at Oliva’s farms. These cigars made from inimitable Oliva tobacco are a love song to the toil and personal sacrifice of the Oliva family, to the long hours spent on their farms, an homage to the tried and true methods brought from the old country. Oliva Tobacco Co. stands today as a legacy befitting Angel Oliva, a humble Cuban immigrant seeking a better life in the New World, who never forgot the hard road he traveled to success.