Imported cigars are a fashionable product now.”
showcase a variety of popular handmade Cuban brands. These include Cohiba, Romeoy Julieta, Montecristo, Bolivar and Partagas.
Prices range from 51 yuan ($8.22) for a Guantanamera roll to about 410 yuan for a premium Cohiba smoke. Individual cigars can be purchased for immediate consumption in the lounge or a whole box can be bought to be kept in the bar´s humidor for future visits.
Casa del Habano also sells a wide range of paraphernalia for aficionados, including ashtrays, cutters and humidors.
The lounge offers a haven for those who enjoy a quiet time in a sophisticated environment of leather sofas and dark wood furniture.
“Imported cigars are a fashionable product now,” said Mitchell Jiang, manager of Casa delHabano. “Some of our clients come with friends to enjoy a good time, while others prefer to buy cigars as a present.”
Yet according to young businessman Chen, the country is witnessing a rapid change in consumer attitudes.
“Before, people would smoke cigars because they liked the taste and understood the culture,” he said. “But now, a lot of cigarsmokers just want to show off. They want to show the brand and how much they paid for it. It is just a status symbol for them.
“In my case, I do not buy cigars because of the logo. I buy them for the tobacco,” Chen added.
Although China’s most popular cigar bars, such as the Casa del Habano and the Cigar Ambassador, are concentrated in the cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, there are also other areas in China interested in setting “Cuban clubs”.
Habanos SA points out that a larger number of cigars could be exported to China in order to meet the rising demand. But storage requirements limit the number that can be sold in the country.
“People from very remote provinces are contacting us because they are interested in opening cigar bars in their hometowns,” Cuban–born OmarLeon Sanchez, chief representative at Habanos in Beijing, said. “But the problem is that those places might not have climate-controlled facilities (humidors).”
Unlike cigarettes, cigars need to be stored at around 18 degrees Celsius and 70 percent humidity conditions, which can be expensive for small retailers. But cigar bars usually charge a membership fee to its customers,
their own which partly covers storage costs.
For example, the Cigar Ambassador Club offers two types of lifetime membership. The cheapest one is 30,000 yuan on a voucher card, while the most expensive option climbs to 50,000 yuan.
Both membership deals include exclusive access to tasting events and other social activities directed at aficionados, and a 10 percent discount on all the products that are franchised in the country.
The difficulty in keeping cigars is the main reason why Sanchez sees more growth prospects for specialized lounges than shops in China.
“What the market needs right now is more cigar lounges, a place where people can enjoy a good Habano in the right environment,” he said. Zhang Yitao contributed to this story.