Cohiba is a brand for two kinds of premium cigar, one produced in Cuba for Habanos S.A., the Cuban state-owned tobacco company, and the other produced in the Dominican Republic for US-based General Cigar Company. The name cohíba derives from the Taíno word for "tobacco."
The Cuban brand is filled with tobacco that comes from the Vuelta Abajo region of Cuba which has undergone an extra fermentation process. Cuban Cohiba was established in 1966 as a limited production private brand supplied exclusively to Fidel Castro and high-level officials in the Communist Party of Cuba and Cuban government. Often given as diplomatic gifts, the Cohiba brand gradually developed a "cult" status. It was first released commercially for sale to the public in 1982.
The US Cohiba brand name was registered in the United States by the General Cigar Company in 1978 and cigars using that trademark have been produced for the American market in the Dominican Republic on a large scale from 1997. This Cohiba is related to the Cuban product in name only, containing no Cuban tobacco, and thus is the only "Cohiba", tghough seldom available, that could be sold legally in the United States. Cuban Cohibas are still illegal.
Cuban Cohiba's origins trace back to the middle 1960s, when a bodyguard of Fidel Castro shared some of his private supply of cigars made by a local artisan named Eduardo Ribera. These cigars pleased Castro so much that a special production of the unbranded blend, produced under tight security, was made for Castro and other top government officials.
As Castro himself recalled the tale in 1994:
"I used to see the man smoking a very aromatic, very nice cigar, and I asked him what brand he was smoking. He told me that it was a special blend, but that it came from a friend who makes cigars and he gave them to him. I said, let's find this man. I tried the cigar, and I found it so good that we got in touch with him and asked him how he made it. Then we set up the house [the El Laguito factory], and he explained the blend of tobacco he used. He told which leaves he used from which tobacco plantations. He also told us about the wrappers he used and other things. We found a group of cigar makers. We gave them the material and that is how the factory was founded. Now Cohiba is known all over the world."
The Cuban Cohiba brand was formally launched in 1968 at the direction of Cubatabaco, the Cuban state tobacco marketing bureau. The head of Cubatabaco asked Avelino Lara, head of the El Laguito factory, to create a new super-premium blend which differed from all previously existing Cuban cigars. During the first few years of production only a few thousand boxes were produced annually, reserved for the use of high government officials and frequently given away as diplomatic gifts.
The Cuban Cohiba brand was launched as a premium cigar brand into markets outside of the US in 1982 in conjunction with the 1982 World Cup held in Spain. At the time of its first public launch, the Cohiba marque consisted of just three vitolas (sizes): the Panetela, the Corona Especial, and the Lancero. In 1989 three more vitolas were added: the Robusto, the Exquisito, and the Espléndido. These first six are now collectively known as the company's Línea Clásica (classic line).
In 1992 Habanos SA launched the first sizes in what it calls the Línea 1492, commemorating Christopher Columbus and his voyage to the Americas, with each size named for a century since Columbus' discovery. The initial launch included the Siglo I, Siglo II, Siglo III, Siglo IV, and Siglo V, with a Siglo VI added in 2002.
Besides regular production, Habanos SA regularly releases limited release Cohíba cigars for such events as the annual Habanos Festival, brand anniversaries, and their annual Edición Limitada (limited edition) release of special sizes of their various cigar brands wrapped in a darker vintage leaf. In 2007, Habanos released a new line of maduro-wrapped Cohibas, called "Maduro 5," in three sizes.
The Cuban Cohiba brand also carries two machine-made extensions cigarillos: the Mini and the Club.
Habanos SA have used their Cohiba brand name for non-cigar products, manufacturing Cohiba cigarettes since 1987 and Extra Cohiba Cognac since 1999.
In 1992 approximately 3.4 million cigars were produced in Cuba bearing the Cohiba label, out of a total Cuban cigar export production of approximately 60 million pieces.