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Cigar aficionados scramble for Cuba's most expensive smoke

By Thair Shaikh, CNN
  • A rare leaf called the "medio tiempo" is used in its blend, says Habanos SA
  • "This is perfection in a Cuban cigar," Mitchell Orchant
  • Demand will outstrip supply, inflating prices, say cigar experts
  • Cohiba is the flagship brand of Cuban cigars and was created in 1966 for Fidel Castro

(CNN) -- It is being lauded by aficionados as the finest cigar ever to come out of a country already famed for producing the best cigars in the world.

Such is the anticipation surrounding the Cohiba Behike cigar when it goes on sale in mid-June that experts are warning demand will far outstrip supply, creating a lucrative black market for the stogies.

Rarely has such excitement surrounded the launch of a cigar, say connoisseurs in the UK and the U.S., but why? Is the Behike really that good or is this just hype?

The Behike was officially launched in Havana in February with the promise of "setting a new standard among smokers worldwide," according to Habanos SA, the worldwide distributor of Cuban cigars. It says supplies will be limited.

Ana Lopez, marketing director at Habanos SA in Havana, told CNN: "This is the most expensive line ever produced in Cohibas and we are expecting that it will be very well received."

"This is perfection in a Cuban cigar.
--Mitchell Orchant, cigar connoisseur

Mitchell Orchant, a London-based cigar merchant and connoisseur, is one of the few people to have tried the Behike at its launch in Havana. He said he already has 1,000 people on his waiting list.

"This is perfection in a Cuban cigar... the Cubans have got every aspect of this cigar right - the brand, the size, the taste. And of course it's unique because a rare leaf is being used in its blend, the first time such a leaf has been used in a cigar.

"This will be a very collectible cigar, I already know people who are planning to lay [store] the Behike for 10 years. It will sell out very quickly and that will push prices up."

Simon Chase, a semi-retired director of the British cigar importers Hunters & Frankau, founded in 1790, said: "There is a particular type of rare leaf in the Behike... there is something in the blend that makes it very interesting, very special. I've been in the cigar business fo 30 years... and I would say that this will make a very serious bid to become the best cigar in the world."

Fact Box
Cuba exported $360 million worth of cigars in 2009, according to Habanos SA, the worldwide distributor of Cuban cigars
  • Havana
  • Cuba
  • Fidel Castro

Chase, also an author and auctioneer who puts Cuban cigars under the hammer every year in Cuba for charity, often with the former president Fidel Castro present, also smoked the Behike at its launch in Havana.

"It had a rich savoury taste. It's not easy to produce a distinctive cigar in what is already the most prestigious brand [Cohiba] in the world," said Chase.

The rare leaf is a part of the tobacco plant called the medio tiempo, taken from the upper leaves of the plant, but which not every plant produces, making it rare.

There will be three Behike sizes which in the UK will sell at £25 ($36), £33 ($48) and £39 ($57) each respectively, according to Hunters & Frankau.

The U.S. economic trade embargo against Cuba means that Cohiba Behikes will not officially be exported to or officially be on sale in the U.S..

Cohiba is the flagship brand of Cuban cigars and was created in 1966 for Fidel Castro; they are made at the El Laguito factory near Havana, in an opulent mansion once owned by a sugar baron.

For years only heads of state and visiting diplomats were given Cohibas but in 1982 it went on sale in limited quantities.

Cohiba is an ancient Taino Indian word for the bunches of tobacco leaves that explorer Christopher Columbus first saw being smoked by the original inhabitants of Cuba, the earliest known form of the cigar.