Cameroon, world-class tobacco from Africa. In the early 1900s, European colonists brought tobacco to the countries we now know as Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Historians agree that this is a fact, yet some say it was the Dutch and others claim it was German colonists. Most likely it’s the Dutch though. The tiny country was a big colonial power with plenty of overseas territories. And the Dutch are involved in the tobacco-growing industry since the 1600s. It’s them that introduced tobacco to Indonesia. The Cameroon grown tobacco stems from Sumatra seed. That makes it most likely that the Dutch are the source of Cameroon tobacco. Although, during that era, Cameroon was a German colony. The name comes from Camarones. That was the name that the first colonists gave the country. The first colonists were the Portuguese.
Germany lost control over the region during the first world war from 1914-1918. The area was divided between the British and the French, with the last gaining most of the territory. And under the French tobacco monopoly SEITA, the tobacco industry thrived. Even after Cameroon gained its independence in 1960, SEITA maintained very influentially in the tobacco cultivating in Cameroon. But in the early 1990s. There was no longer enough demand for SEITA to be interested.
In came Richard Meerapfel. As part of a tobacco trader family, Meerapfel knew everything about the Cameroon tobacco quality. With the cigar boom about to explode, he knew he had to rescue the African tobacco industry. For decades, Meerapfel was one of the largest clients of SEITA for Cameroon tobacco. Richard Meerapfel made a commitment to save the African cigar industry and succeeded. His two sons Jeremiah and Joshua continue their father’s legacy. Richard Meerapfel passed away at age 52 in 2003.
Meerapfel created CETAC (Compagnie d’Exploitation des Tabacs Centrafricains), a cooperation between local tobacco growers and the Meerapfel family. CETAC fought against rebels, corrupt governments, the less than ideal infrastructure, and more. But the perseverance paid off, as Cameroon tobacco is now one of the most praised in the world. CTC is the largest employer in the eastern region of Cameroon and therefore has an important positive social and economic impact in that region.
Cameroon wrappers are delicate. On average, it’s not the prettiest wrapper. Often it has tooth. tiny pockets of oil that look like the skin of a teenage girl during the starting phase of acne. Or chicken skin, that’s another description often used for toothy wrappers. Unlike other toothy wrappers such as Sumatra and Connecticut Broadleaf, Cameroon tobacco cannot stand aggressive fermentation.
As a wrapper, Cameroon is praised for the elegant flavors. Not too intense, yet very flavorful. The characteristic flavors are cinnamon, baking spices, cedar, nuts, cocoa with some pepper and sweetness.
But it’s also a hard wrapper to work with. Because it’s thin, especially for a sun-grown wrapper. Plus the size of the leaves isn’t as big as counterparts from other varieties and regions. Although, in recent years the size of the tobacco plants is increasing. CETAC is increasing the quality by selecting the best seeds from every crop. Nowadays, Cameroon is also grown in other parts of the world. But true African Cameroon is a different breed and has a very specific characteristic.
You might expect that due to the millions of dollars the tobacco brings is, the tobacco fields are easy to reach. Well, you expected it wrong. The tobacco farms are in remote areas. Gutted roads, of any. Lack of reliable electricity. Corrupt governments. The conditions on most farms are spartan at best. Farmworkers often stay in mud huts near the tobacco fields during the tobacco farming season.
With a non-existing infrastructure, it’s also impossible to get artificial fertilizer to the plantations. There is no irrigation system available either. Because the farmers travel from plot to plot every year, artificial fertilizer isn’t needed anyway. A plot of land is never used two years in a row.
Another difficulty is the size of the plantations. There are about 40 different ethnic groups in the tobacco area of Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Those groups can’t get along, so CETAC can only grow tobacco on small plots.
Worth all the trouble
Is Cameroon wrapper worth to grow and use if you take a look at all the difficulties? It’s hard to get to the tobacco fields. The tobacco is more difficult to use due to the delicate properties and smaller size. It’s not a fantastic looking wrapper. Plus it’s expensive compared to other wrappers. The answer is simple and short. YES!
The tobacco is so unique, with such a beautiful very specific flavor profile. There is no other tobacco out there that comes close. Not even the Cameroon tobacco grown in other regions from Cameroon seed come close. Nowadays Cameroon is grown in Ecuador, Brazil, Honduras, and other places. But none of those tobaccos have the specific African Cameroon, often referred to as true Cameroon. But Cameroon from other countries isn’t Cameroon. The Cameroon tobacco seeds are proprietary of the Meerapfel family. Other companies simply don’t have access to the seeds. The slogan is “if it’s not Meerapfel, it’s not Cameroon” for a reason. That’s also the reason why the Meerapfel family created the Cameroon seal of authenticity in August of last year.
Over the last sixty years, the Meerapfel proprietary seed has evolved. Nobody else has access to the seeds. What other companies call “Honduran, Ecuadorian, or Brazilian grown Cameroon” is nothing else than Indonesian seed grown in Honduras. Or Ecuador, Brazil, or name any country. But it’s not Cameroon.
Cameroon wrapped cigars
The most famous use of Cameroon wrappers is the Arturo Fuente Hemingway series. But Fuente uses more Cameroon. On the Fuente Don Carlos, Gran Réserva, and the famous Casa Fuente lines for example. Oliva Serie G is made with an African Cameroon Wrapper. And Oliva uses Cameroon on the Nub line too. Just like the Rocky Patel Vintage 2003. RoMa Craft Tobacco released an African Cameroon wrapped cigar in 2019. That one is named after the local ethnic group called Baka. General Cigars works with true Cameroon for the Cohiba and Partagas Cameroon lines. The other tobacco giant, Altadis has a Montecristo Cameroon line.
As big fans of African Cameroon tobacco, we at Ministry of Cigars suggest all our readers to visit your local tobacconist. Get yourself a few African Cameroon wrapped cigars. The wrapper will steal your heart as it stole ours.