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Maya Selva Cigars: Global Player through Passion for Perfection

There is hardly any other cigar label that is as strongly, virtually pictorially, connected to a woman as the brand Maya Selva Cigars. This may ostensibly have to do with the fact that the founder gave the brand her name. But those who have the opportunity to meet the Franco-Honduran personally immediately feel that this strong, energetic woman lives for “her cigars”.

 

This is not least due to the fact that a close bond exists between brand and owner. Let’s follow Maya Selva’s path to becoming a cigar maker more closely. It begins with the touching idea of a young woman who loves her country of origin, and recently led to the finishing straight – as of this year, Maya Selva Cigars can now be referred to as a global brand.

100-Percent made in Honduras

Maya Selva, daughter of a French mother and a Honduran father, born and raised in Honduras and transplanted at the age of 16 to Paris, had a dream: “I wanted to manufacture a product that could be 100-percent produced in my home country – so that’s how I came up with the cigar.”

maya selva tobacco field sitting

Photo: Maya Selva Cigars/Marc Dantan

Selva, who studied engineering, already had some experience with the subject. She was a cigar smoker, but she found the Honduran exported cigars of the Nineties disappointing – mild, sweet and of bad quality. Yet another reason for Maya to create cigars herself.

In 1994, Selva met the Central American tobacco great par excellence: Nestor Plasencia. Although she had in the meantime been through all the work processes of cigar manufacturing Maya was still undecided as to whether she should embark on a career as a cigar producer.

The meeting with the exiled Cuban and tobacco expert then led to a decision. That same year, she worked with him on quality and production standards for her cigars. To this day, Plasencia still produces the Flor de Selva cigars for the company. “Being an engineer and acting logically in this spirit still helps me to realize my goals in this branch today,” she explains.

After the numerous tasting of individual leaves and, likewise, many blends, in 1995 the first box of Flor de Selva was launched on the market in France. “This gave Europe its first real taste of Honduras,” the Franco-Honduran says proudly. The cigars not only reflected the terroir of Maya’s homeland but also the woman herself: elegant yet strong, distinctive and determined.

Perfection and Strength of Character

In addition to her passion for perfection, Maya’s way of not thinking in stereotypes constitutes her character. This is likewise reflected in the taste and the quality of her cigars.

Being an engineer and acting logically in this spirit still helps me to realize my goals.

When asked about milestones in her career as a cigar producer, Maya Selva answers discriminatingly, openly and thoughtfully; she mentions highlights as well as low points. “Milestones were seeing the first story about Maya Selva Cigars in print; receiving the first Cigar Trophy; being accepted by the passionados; having my own stand at the InterTabac for the first time. But also professional partnerships such as the one with Nestor Plasencia Senior and Andrés Diaz.”

As further big steps in her career, Maya cites the opening of her own farm, San Judas Tadeo, in Danlí in 1998 – together with Andrés Diaz, the cigar festival Humo Jaguar, which she initiated, but also sad turning points such as the loss of her long-time advisor and business partners Aldo Pajarín and Andrés Diaz last year. “Losing two such important companions like my farm manager and head of sales within a few weeks of each other was drastic, sad, and, for me and my business, meant something akin to growing up.”

The Sky’s the Limit

After only four years, Flor de Selva became a classic in Europe. In 1995, the company launched 50,000 sticks; in 1999 it had already become 600,000. A good time to expand the business, for, as a motto of Maya’s goes, “Never stop learning; keep developing year in, year out.” What has only become clear to the industry over the past two years Maya Selva already knew back in 1999: the potential of a Nicaraguan Puro.

maya selva nestor placencia senior

Photo: Katherine Agurcia

She launched a second brand, Cumpay. It is more flavorful and spicier than the elegant Flor de Selva and perfectly transports the terroir of the volcano earth of the Jalapa valley, situated in northern Nicaragua.

Just three years later, in 2002, Maya Selva launched a third line on the market, Villa Zamorano, which is produced in her Honduras factory San Judas Tadeo. “Alongside the entry into the duty-free business in 1998, the launching of Villa Zamorano was my biggest professional success in the last 20 years.”

The figures prove the entrepreneur’s statement to be correct in every regard: without exception, all the importers speak of Villa Zamorano as being a top-seller. This Longfiller tastes more rustic than a Flor de Selva and is unbeatable from a price-performance-ratio point of view. The format El Gordo garnered 92 points in a blind tasting (CJ 1/14), costs EUR 3.10 (USD 5.80) and even made it onto Cigar Journal’s Finest 25 list of 2014.

Loyal Partners

Perfection in production and distribution works for Maya Selva not least because she focuses on long-term partnerships – on the one hand, with Nestor Plasencia, who today still manufactures Cumpay in Nicaragua, and, on the other, due to her distribution partnerships that have existed since the founding of Flor de Selva.

maya selva cj award

Photo: Michael Collins

“We’ve accompanied Maya on her success course for almost 20 years,” says Adam Kohlhase, managing director of Kohlhase and Kopp.

“It’s astonishing how outstandingly she has held her ground in this male domain. With a huge amount of persistence, self-assertion and absolute, indefatigable dedication she succeeds in balancing her passion, the production of cigars, her family and being a mother of two children,” he continues. The biggest German Longfiller importer, Kohlhase and Kopp, has been importing Maya Selva Cigars since 1996. Maya’s supporters among cigar dealers are just as loyal.

The Swiss René Wagner, owner of the legendary Tabaklädeli, is a selfprofessed Flor de Selva fan. And in the far north, she also has loyal admirers. “When I first met Maya, I was mesmerized by her vision, enthusiasm and personality. I completely fell in love with Flor de Selva with its impeccable blended flavor profile and flawless construction. For me it’s the perfect cigar! Today, Flor de Selva is our number one selling brand and I’m especially proud of the Flor de Selva Egoista, of which I am the godmother,” confesses Merja Jusélius.

A friendship that has lasted almost 20 years connects Maya and the owner of Cigarrummet, one of the best-stocked cigar shops with lounge in Stockholm.

Maya herself confirms that her company is small – compared to other producers – but that it’s growing fast. Maya Selva Cigars currently employs more than 200 people. But what is very important to her is that her employees, importers and dealers continue to remain loyal.

maya selva factory workers

Photo: Reinhold C. Widmayer

She divides her time between the farm and manufacture in Danlí, production control in Nicaragua, the head office in the heart of Paris, and the new office in the USA.

But for more than half the year she’s on the tobacco fields, or at the respective production plants. Only this way can she live her passion for perfection and guarantee the best results.

Raymondo Bernasconi has been importing Maya Selva Cigars to Switzerland since 2008 and confirms that “Flor de Selva, Cumpay and Villa Zamorano cigars are characterized by top workmanship and an extremely high quality consistency. Since we took over distribution for Flor de Selva we’ve hardly had any customer complaints – something which we unfortunately can’t assert for other brands. Flor de Selva is one of our leading products. Maya Selva’s claim is to bring only cigars of absolutely high quality to the market.”

New Markets

In 2013, the company debuted in the USA with a stand at the IPCPR trade fair and opened a location in Hollywood, Florida. Cigar pro Gabriel Alvarez manages the US office and, with his passion and knowledge of all three brand lines, successfully imports them to the USA.

maya selva silhouette black

Photo: Luc Monnet

Maya Selva is very well-versed in the respective markets. “Americans have a different relationship to tobacco,” she explains. “Shaping their taste were the traditional Virginia and Kentucky tobaccos. I’d even go so far as to say that the cigar has a different meaning to them than for us in Europe. In America it has a less exclusive touch.” The company is particularly successful with Flor de Selva in the States.

The latest milestone regarding expansion was set by the entrepreneur in spring. Selva gave Asia expert Eric Piras the task of establishing distribution in Asia and in the Middle-East for her products through his newly founded company, Cigraal. Maya Selva is excited.

“Asians have a very well schooled palate due to their exquisite cuisine. I think that the finely structured Flor de Selva will also be very popular there.” Piras, formerly president of Altadis in the Asia-Pacific, is happy with his new function.

“In regard to the new international development for the Maya Selva Cigars portfolio, since March 2015, it’s been a ‘fast track move’. I’m opening markets in Hong Kong, Macau, and duty-free sales in China, Japan, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Lebanon, and we can expect more openings during this first year of partnership. I have high expectations for Flor de Selva in Greater China because this cigar fits the current trend well. I believe that the new blend No. 20 is going to be a hit here as well! In a market driven by Habanos, this cigar scores points in that it combines the best of Havana flavor with the best of tobacco grown in Honduras.”

Strong – Clear – Global

In keeping with what has in the meantime become the global presence of Maya Selva Cigars, the logos of her three lines have been revised. Still elegant, they transport the respective brand but exhibit more strength, power, clarity and presence. As Maya openly admits, it has been difficult for her to assert herself in the industry as a woman, but now her cigars are a staple in the humidors of cigar-lovers all over the globe.

So, in effect, from a young engineer’s dream to manufacture a product that was 100-percent Honduran-made came the birth of a cigar brand that has since conquered the world.

Maya Selva Cigars Portfolio

FLOR DE SELVA

Origin: Honduras, Wrapper: Honduras Connecticut,
Binder: Honduras, Filler: Honduras;

Petit Cigares 3 1⁄2 x 20 | 89 x 6.0
EUR 0.91, USD 1.00, CHF 1.40;

Egoista 3 1⁄2 x 52 | 89 x 20.6
EUR 6.20, USD 9.00, CHF 8.90;

Siesta 4 1⁄4 x 40 | 108 x 15.9
EUR 5.10, USD n/a, CHF 8.50;

Panetela 4 1⁄2 x 30 |114 x 11.9
EUR 4.30, USD n/a, CHF 6.20;

Robusto 4 3⁄4 x 50 | 121 x 19.8
EUR 6.50, USD 9.00, CHF 10.60;

Petit Corona 5 1⁄2 x 42 | 140 x 16.7
EUR 5.80, USD n/a, CHF 8.90;

Corona 5 1⁄2 x 48 | 140 x 19.0
EUR 7.20, USD n/a, CHF 12.50;

Toro 6 x 52 | 152 x 20.6
EUR n/a, USD 10.00, CHF n/a;

No. 15 5 1⁄2 x 55 | 140 x 21.8
EUR 8.10, USD 11.00, CHF 11.80;

El Galán 6 x 49 | 152 x 19.5
EUR 13.00, USD n/a, CHF 11.00;

Fino 6 x 44 | 152 x 17.5
EUR 6.80, USD n/a, CHF 11.30;

Tempo 6 x 60 | 152 x 23.8
EUR 8.00, USD 14.00, CHF 12.40;

Churchill 7 x 49 | 178 x 19.5
EUR 8.20, USD n/a, CHF 13.30;

Doble Corona 7 1⁄2 x 52 | 191 x 20.6
EUR 8.70, USD 14.00, CHF 14.80;

Extremo 11 x 54 | 279 x 21.4
EUR 18.00, USD n/a, CHF 28.50;

20 Años Lancero (Ltd. Ed.)
Wrapper: Honduras Habano Jamastran,
Binder: Honduras Azacualpa Olancho,
Filler: Honduras;
7 x 38 | 178 x 15.1
EUR 15.00, USD 15.00, CHF n/a;

 

FLOR DE SELVA MADURO

Origin: Honduras, Wrapper: Honduras Habano,
Binder: Brazil Mata Fina, Filler: Honduras;

Robusto 4 3⁄4 x 50 | 121 x 19.8
EUR 7.00, USD 9.50, CHF 12.90;

Toro 6 x 52 | 152 x 20.6
EUR n/a, USD 10.50, CHF n/a;

No. 15 5 1⁄2 x 55 | 140 x 21.8
EUR 9.60, USD 12.00, CHF 12.80;

Tempo 6 x 60 | 152 x 23.8
EUR 9.40, USD 15.00, CHF 13.50;

 

CUMPAY

Origin: Nicaragua, Wrapper: Nicaragua,
Binder: Nicaragua, Filler: Nicaragua;

Short 4 x 46 | 102 x 18.3
EUR 4.80, USD 6.00, CHF 7.20;

Robusto 4 ¾ x 50 | 121 x 19.8
EUR 5.50, USD 8.00, CHF 8.20;

Volcán 5 x 58 | 127 x 23
EUR 7.90, USD 12.00, CHF 10.20;

Corona 5 ½ x 42 | 140 x 16.7
EUR 5.00, USD n/a, CHF 7.70;

No. 15 5 ½ x 55 | 140 x 21.8
EUR 8.20, USD 9.00, CHF n/a;

Piramide 6 x 50 | 152 x 19.8
EUR 5.80, USD n/a, CHF 9.00;

Churchill 7 x 48 | 178 x 19.0
EUR 7.00, USD 9.50, CHF 9.70;

 

CUMPAY MADURO

Volcán 5 x 58 | 127 x 23
EUR n/a, USD 13.00, CHF n/a;

 

VILLA ZAMORANO

Origin: Honduras, Wrapper: Indonesia Sumatra,
Binder: Honduras, Filler: Honduras/Nicaragua;

Expreso 3 ½ x 52 | 90 x 20.6
EUR 2.10, USD 4.40, CHF 3.20;

Intenso 4 x 46 | 102 x 18.3
EUR 2.20, USD n/a, CHF 3.20;

Corona 5 x 42 | 127 x 16.7
EUR 2.40, USD n/a, CHF 3.45;

Robusto 5 x 50 | 127 x 19.8
EUR 2.60, USD 5.20, CHF 4.00;

El Gordo 5 x 56 | 127 x 22.2
EUR 3.10, USD 5.80, CHF 4.80;

No. 15 5 ½ x 55 | 140 x 21.8
EUR 3.30, USD 6.00, CHF 4.80;

Churchill 7 x 46 | 178 x 18.3
EUR 3.60, USD n/a, CHF 4.80;

 

This article was published in the Cigar Journal Autumn Edition 2015. Read more

Katja Gnann

She learned her journalistic skills from scratch at a regional daily newspaper, for which she wrote articles for many years. Through working for the magazine Der Spiegel in Rome she had the opportunity to increase her professional knowledge in the field of media. Katja studied art history and Romance studies in Heidelberg, Palermo and Rome and, during the course of her studies, spent many years in Italy. The country was her teacher in things related to pleasure and lifestyle. She has been working for Cigar Journal since 2004. In 2010 she became editor-in-chief.


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