The history of Condega Cigars. A few years ago, out of nothing, Condega emerged in many cigar shops in The Netherlands, Germany, and a few other countries. And the popularity was spreading like wildfire. In 2018 we met with the former Brand Ambassador for Condega. We had a long conversation about Condega, the history behind the brand, and more. What struck me is that it’s not a new brand. He invited us to come to Valencia, to the Casa de Tabaco/Condega headquarters. And so we did in September 2019. Unfortunately, David had left the company but the invitation was extended by Aitor Zapata and Agustin Misson, the new Brand Ambassador.
Last September, right after the Intertabac Trade Show, we hopped on a plane to Valencia. The city famous for its oranges. And we fell in love with the city. It’s beautiful with old structures but also with brand new contemporary architecture. And we took a walk in the Turia Riverbed Park. The Turia was a river that ran through the city but was diverted after a deadly flood in 1957, leaving 81 lives lost. Instead of building houses in the dry riverbed, Valencia turned it onto a green corridor slithering through the city. In the park, you walk underneath century-old bridges and enjoy the beauty of the city.
Casa del Tabaco
Aitor Zapata and Agustin Misson picked us op from our Airbnb the next morning. We drove to the Academia de Tabaco. That’s the warehouse of Gesinta, the umbrella company under which Casa de Tabaco falls. But its more than a warehouse. The second floor is one huge cigar lounge with a walk-in humidor. That’s where distributors and tobacconists from all over Europe are trained. It’s the goal of Gesinta to bring experience as close as being at a factory in Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic to the European tobacconists, but with a fraction of the travel time and cost. But in a follow-up article, we will tell more about Gesinta, Casa de Tabaco, Academia de Tabaco, charity, and more.
It’s at the Academia de Tabaco where the duo told the story on Condega. The brand was acquired in 2002 by Eduardo Fernandez together with Tabacalera Tropical, now known as Aganorsa Leaf. Now that name carries a lot of weight in the industry. Eduardo Fernandez is the man behind Aganorsa Leaf. Also the man behind Tabacos Valle de Jalapa (TABSA), a renowned factory that produces a lot of private label cigars for high rated brands. He’s also the man who partnered up with Don Pepin Garcia when the latter moved to the United States. Without the partnership with Fernandez, the Garcia family might not have had the opportunity to open the El Rey de Los Habanos factory in Miami. Unfortunately, that partnership ended with a lawsuit after the Garcia family opened its factories in Esteli, Nicaragua.
One of Fernandez’s employees was the legendary master blender, Arsenio Ramos. Ramos was the fourth generation in his family history in tobacco. He dedicated his life to tobacco and was head of processing for Cubatabaco (the state tobacco company in Cuba). His specialty was the critical step of tobacco fermentation. After his retirement when he was 65, Arsenio moved to Nicaragua to work for 18 years with Eduardo Fernández, creating different blends. Including the Condega blend.
The Condega brand was launched in Spain in 2006. That was the largest market for premium cigars in Spain, plus Fernandez had connections in Spain. The brand was a steady seller in Spain. But it changed in 2015. Ramon Zapata, owner, and founder of Gesinta, a large tobacco importer and distributor in Spain formed a strategic alliance with Fernandez. Fernandez would maintain the rights for the United States, but Gesinta’s premium cigar division Casa del Tabaco would be the copyright holder for the rest of the world.
The partnership paid off, as the Condega brand exploded. It quickly became the best selling Nicaraguan cigar in Spain before taking over the rest of Europe. The Netherlands was one of the first markets to introduce Condega. Then followed Germany, now the largest European cigar market, with others following suit. The expansion doesn’t stop there. In recent years Condega is introduced in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. The cigars are available in more than 24 countries at the moment, with new markets opening up soon.
The blends and the ring
During our first conversation with David, we talked about the ring. We asked why Condega copied the Partagas D4 ring and the answer surprised us. It’s the other way around. Condega designed this ring in 2003 and Habanos only started to use it later. But Condega is slowly redesigning the artwork, in small steps. It’s their experience with other brands that a sudden change in artwork can kill a brand. Even when the blend stays the same, many smokers will swear that the cigars taste different due to the new artwork. But if you look at the Condega rings from just a few years ago and now, there are subtle differences.
As for the blend, Condega has four. The Serie S, Serie F, Serie F Maduro, and the Serie F Arsenio Special Edition. The Arsenio Special Edition is a tweaked version of the Serie F and an homage to Arsenio Ramos. This is the blend he created for himself as his daily smoke. After his passing away in 2018 at age 83, the blend was released as a limited edition. But the response was so positive that it’s now known as the Condega Arsenio Special Edition.
Both the Serie F and the Serie S are Nicaraguan Puros. The only not Nicaraguan puro in the line-up is the Serie F Maduro. The filler and binder for this blend are Nicaraguan, yet the wrapper is Mexican San Andres. As for the regular Serie F, it’s jam-packed with Corojo 99 in both the filler, binder, and wrapper. The filler also has some Criollo 98. Corojo 99 is the signature tobacco of Aganorsa Leaf and Condega.
The Serie S is the travel series as Condega likes to say. The four different vitolas all come in beautiful tubes. Or in case of the Half Corona, in a beautiful tin. The cigars are made with only Nicaraguan tobacco. The filler is Corojo from Esteli and Condega. The binder comes from Jalapa. Add a Nicaraguan Corojo wrapper to finish the cigar and you end up with a medium-full bodied cigar full of flavor.
The future of Condega
Since the cigar is grandfathered in the USA, it would not surprise us if Aganorsa will rejuvenate the presence of the brand in the United States in the coming years. Gesinta will keep expanding the reach for Condega in the international market. There is room for expansion in Asia, Africa, and even Europe. The price-quality ratio of the cigars are on point, so there is no reason why Condega should not continue to grow in both new markets or sales in existing markets. We expect that Condega will become a household name for many cigar enthusiasts worldwide.