He has always known it. The only thing missing was the secret formula for his biggest coup. For a long time, it had not only been in his thoughts, but also tangibly in front of him. The recipe was hidden, packed in countless bales of tobacco. Other parts of the formula were lying dormant in the long family history and the family’s extensive experience with tobacco. An invaluable element could be found in the special Mexican earth, and, finally, the most important “ingredient” he carried within himself – his belief in one, in the, great Mexican cigar.
What sounds like a secret medicine from the time of the Aztecs is something very different, but comes from the motherland of this advanced civilization. The medicine is called Casa Turrent, is an outstanding cigar and, when it comes to tobacco, is the best thing from Mexico that’s been sent out into the world so far. The effect: it gives cigar smokers everywhere great joy, tastes delicious, and just makes you want more of it.
Since its launch, the Casa Turrent has had a positive impact globally in specialist magazines and blogs. In order to uncover the secret of the formula of this innovative Mexican cigar, we meet Alejandro Turrent, mastermind behind the product, in Mexico City, and embark on searching for clues together. Our research is counter-cyclical. We don’t start in the tobacco field, where every cigar has its beginning, but in the Casa Turrent lounge, where the end product is sold.
Three years ago, Alejandro opened the location in the exclusive district of Polanco. Since then, the lounge has undergone visual and structural changes. Alejandro admits openly, “I had no experience in the food service industry, so I had to try out a lot of things. And I’m the type of person who’s not easily satisfied; everything has to be coherent. Before that, I won’t give up.” The casa has a relaxed and inviting vibe, appeals to people who want to relax with a good cigar and treat themselves to a drink.
We encounter an international clientele: two passionados are stopping by the lounge on their way to Cuba: author Richard Lechner and his travel companion, André Beer, from Germany. The cigar fans concur: “This is a really cool place. We stumbled upon it by chance and we’re really happy about this start to our trip!”
Alejandro still wants to expand on the concept of the lounge as well as the locality itself. “I’m planning to open two to three more Casas in Mexico City and also in two or three other big cities in Mexico. The number of cigar smokers here in Mexico is increasing; people are becoming more educated when it comes to smoking culture and thus more demanding.” However, the cigar offer and service in Mexican tobacco stores doesn’t work very well for customers, Turrent explains to us. Good hotels often have a small humidor, but that’s about all Mexico has to offer its passionados. That’s why, for the future, Alejandro Turrent is focusing on his own stores with an integrated lounge. In the lively district of Santa Fe, a large Casa Turrent store was opened in June 2014 and has been extremely popular.
On an international level, the cigar maker is planning the concept of a Casa Turrent ambassador program. Raymondo Bernasconi in Basel, who has been importing cigars from the house of Turrent for many years, will be the first ambassador. “For me, Alejandro
Turrent is a wonderful personality with a terrific passion for excellent tobaccos from Mexico!” the owner of the Royal Cigar Company expresses about the Mexican. With the new brand, Casa Turrent, a tequila of the same name will also be launched on the market – for the time being, only available at the ambassadors. As with the cigars, Alejandro Turrent also searched long and hard for the right formula for the special bottling of his tequila – the result is a gentle, amber-colored agave brand, which excellently harmonizes with his cigars. “I’m convinced that it is possible to increase the enjoyment of cigars – by a beautiful place, in the company of friends, and by the right spirit drink to go with it,” goes Alejandro’s motto.
Mexico City has become Alejandro Turrent’s base. From here, he travels around the world, is constantly on the move between the once in the United States, Europe, Asia, and, of course, the factory and the fields in San Andrés, situated near the Gulf of Mexico. Our journey continues there, through the center of the country; we traverse a pass at 3,000 meters. On the right, the volcanic massif of Popocatépetl is splayed out, and its smaller sister, the Iztaccihuatl, at 5,286 meters is also no dwarf. Following a wild-west landscape with fascinating cactus plants, we arrive 100 kilometers before Veracruz at a fertile paradise. Voluptuous vegetation covers the mountainous landscape; the sub-tropical climate takes our breath away after the surprisingly fresh air of Mexico City. Here, in 1519, on the east coast of Mexico at La Antigua, Hernán Cortés landed and received a friendly welcome by a delegation of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma – which shortly thereafter became fatal for this advanced civilization and was the beginning of its demise. We soon reach a place that is famous in the cigar industry, San Andrés Tuxtla. The colonial city is surrounded by volcanoes and lies in a basin. The climate and soil here allow excellent tobacco to grow.
Lying ahead of us are rich green tobacco fields in a captivating landscape, and four days, during which Alejandro Turrent shows us, with a lot of patience and passion, how he works. What we already sensed in Mexico City is confirmed here: Turrent is tenacious and focused on detail; in all fields of work, he tries to get better and better. And in doing so, he is not obstinate but calm, concentrated, and maintains a constant discourse with people in key positions within the factory.
Alejandro’s work with his father, Alberto Turrent, is very intense and close. He is responsible for the work up until the first fermentation process; afterwards, Alejandro “takes over.” The processes in the factory, the blending, marketing and sales all lie in his hands. Father and son are constantly in exchange; controlling their tobacco in both warehouse as well as in the factory. Alejandro constantly selects tobacco leaves and has fillers made that he and Alberto then immediately taste and discuss. We’re also allowed to try it. In the office, where we test it, Alberto Turrent explains to us: “We’re lucky that in San Andrés we’re able to cultivate various types of tobacco very well. The soil doesn’t have too great an influence on the taste of the leaves.”
Behind the senior boss, on the wall, is a huge map of the world; marked by pins are the countries that buy Turrent raw tobacco, and in a different color the ones that import Turrent cigars. The sea of pins is impressive, and due to the popularity of Casa Turrent, Alberto Turrent will be able to pin even more points on the map in the coming months.
The family is not only Mexico’s largest tobacco grower but also the country’s most important raw tobacco exporter. At the same time, Turrent manufactures the most Puros. they own 350 hectares; 200 of which are being cultivated. The remaining 150 are rested as part of a rotation system. The family grows three different types of tobacco: the famous Negro San Andrés, which comprises roughly half of the growing volume, plus Sumatra and Habano, which make up the remaining 50 percent volume. The tobacco farmers in San Andrés are able to choose between three types of soil: loamy-sand soil, sandy earth or clay soil.
To further develop the seeds, Alberto and Alejandro receive famous assistance from Cuba – none other than Eumelio Espino, seed specialist for tobacco, does research on the Turrent’s fields at least two times per year and takes care of further development. “We’re very happy that Eumelio has been working with us for many years,” says Alberto. “We have just developed a new Cuban seed, which will be perfect for a wrapper – oily, velvety and thin with few veins.” Apart from that, the Cuban was able to cultivate the Negro San Andrés so that it can no longer be attacked by blue mold. This new accomplishment brings immense relief to the tobacco farmers; there are enough other unpredictable pitfalls that can attack the harvest or even destroy it. The leaves dry in 30 barns, of which 20 are air-conditioned. Climate change is also an issue in San Andrés – because the past few years have been cooler, technical assistance has been used where necessary.
Alejandro also experiments with fermenting using a type of sauna: in wooden boxes lined with cedar wood the already fermented tobacco continues to ferment, in an artificial, very tropical climate. The junior boss tries things out, improving and thinking about every step of production. His clients are thankful – renowned buyers such as Rocky Patel, My Father, Abe Flores, Jochi Blanco, Altadis, STG, Ashton, and several more always fall back on Turrent tobacco. Of the yearly 400,000 kilos, the family sells between 60 and 70 percent. Here is where the only, but sore, point of contention lies between father and son. “I would prefer to keep all our tobacco,” says Alejandro jok-ingly. If the family enterprise had the capacity, it would be able to sell twice the amount of its raw tobacco. But now, because Alejandro has discovered the recipe for the top cigar from Mexico, he will be keeping more and more tobacco for himself.
The question – the answer to which is the reason we travelled to Mexico in the first place – is now going to be answered by Alejandro Turrent: how did the Casa Turrent cigar/brand come about?
After immediately entering the family empire after studying international economy majoring in agronomy, Alejandro was on the constant search for an excellent cigar from Mexico for discerning passionados. Additionally, he wanted to launch it internationally. The draft horse at Turrent was the famous Te-Amo. A US manufacturer had had this legendary cigar manufactured by Turrent since 1963. Alberto Turrent bought part of the company until, in 1994, he finally bought up the whole company. In the medium sector, for a long time Te-Amo was the most famous cigar in New York; it was the “taxi-driver’s cigar.”
“ That was okay – connoisseurs smoked Te-Amo. But I wanted to raise the level of our prestige overall with a first-class cigar and I knew that we had the right stuff to do it,” Turrent junior recalls. The young entrepreneur began to develop new blends, packaged in new designs. At first he used aged tobaccos for the Te-Amo, creating the premium lines like the Te-Amo Aniversario or the Cabinet Selection. Then Alejandro launched the A. Turrent brand, for which he used the Cuban seed for the first time. Finally, he experimented with tobaccos from other countries of origin, and the Te-Amo Word Selection Series was born. The pinnacle of the innovations was – as the name suggests – the brand Revolution.
“Together with a young, new sales team from Altadis, our sales partner in the United States, I wanted to launch something totally new from Mexico. I did everything differently to the way you should normally do it.” Instead of a thin binder, Turrent used a thick one; for the wrapper he used leaves from the middle part of the plant for the first time, from the Negro San Andrés – this resulted in the particular red color of the Revolution cigars. The brand took off – but only for a short time, and Alejandro Turrent was still not where he wanted to be.
“After the Revolution cigar I wanted to again create one with our family name. The Casa Turrent came into being. For me, ‘Casa’ not only means home but also family. That’s exactly what we are: we represent history and experience and can be proud of our Mexican tobacco. We don’t need to hide ourselves,” he explains. Parallel to the marketing concept, the manufacturer’s thoughts also naturally circulated around the blend. He made innumerable attempts. The starting point was always the Negro San Andrés, blended with other seeds that were grown in Mexico.
Turrent realized that tobacco from Nicaragua fit the best with his ideas about the Casa Turrent. Then, finally, he “found” tobacco leaves for the filler, which – already sorted and classified – were sorted by him again. Up to this point, the material hadn’t been used for fillers, but through the new sorting they fit magnificently with the blend. “ They are characterized by a special thickness and darkness,” discloses Alejandro. In the meantime, he only experiments with this special and multiply classified tobacco and, since 2013, he has had to make sure that now enough of it is available to produce a large amount of Casa Turrent in three lines. “We are now ready; we are able to deliver internationally,” our host says, happily.
Upon departing, we want to know what the biggest challenge for him is in the coming years. Alejandro has to think for a long time. “A good question,” he answers. “I could say that it’s the task of maintaining the good consistency of Casa Turrent – but we have plenty of top tobacco to guarantee this. We’ve worked really hard for that. That isn’t a big issue. The biggest challenge could be that there is such a huge demand that we can’t satisfy the market,” laughs Alejandro. We think that this is a nice concern to have, and wish the founder of Casa Turrent all the best for it – but not those who regularly want to have this fantastic cigar from Mexico in their humidors.