Liberate Yourself as a Smoker
Juan Martinez is the Executive President of Joya de Nicaragua, one of the world’s top cigar institutions, considered the ‘cigar-makers’ university’. Founded in 1968 in Estelí (tobacco capital of the world), Joya is Nicaragua’s first premium handmade cigar manufacturer and 100% Nicaraguan-owned. Ricardo Carioni interviews him
By Ricardo Carioni
July 6 2023
Ricardo Carioni: How did your upbringing and early life shape your attitude to business?
Juan Martinez: My extended family has always been a fun mix of artists, politicians, doctors and entrepreneurs. I ended up being the latter (my brother is the artist and my sister the doctor). My maternal grandmother was one of the first women entrepreneurs in Nicaragua, and my father inherited that from her. He’s always been involved in many projects at one time, in many sectors, in many industries. Moreover, I grew up in an era of endless possibilities for Nicaragua and for the world; an era of quick and radical change that gave everybody the opportunity to start from scratch. As a result, my attitude has always been very entrepreneurial, a bit spontaneous, but also driven. However, cigars and tobacco have grown to become one of our leading enterprises, and the one we enjoy and appreciate the most because it allows us to share the spirit of Nicaragua with the world.
RC: What is Joya de Nicaragua’s philosophy behind a good cigar?
JM: For us at Joya, quality is a given; that is, cigars must be, by definition and nature, well made. So, quality of cigars is not part of our philosophy because it’s inherent in what we do. What is our philosophy? Firstly, respect and appreciation for those who make and who enjoy our cigars – our tabaqueros and our customers. Secondly, consistency over time and finally, respect for tradition while constantly evolving.
RC: How has the industry changed since you started?
JM: It has changed quite a lot, not only as a result of change in demand and supply and the increase in competition. We must remember that 15 years ago Nicaragua wasn’t the leader it is today, and had less than half of the Nicaraguan brands we have today. Most importantly, change has come from the ease with which we connect with one another. Social media has fundamentally changed how we promote cigars; how we enjoy cigars; how we learn about cigars; and how we experience cigar smoking and other pleasures in life. We have seen how this has allowed for a convergence in tastes and preferences around the world. Before, what people enjoyed in the USA was quite different from what people enjoyed in Europe, but now we find more similarities.
RC: What are the biggest threats to the cigar crop and to our industry?
JM: One bad rainy season, or lack of rain, can severely hinder a crop. As climate becomes less and less stable and predictable, so the challenges to all agricultural activities will grow. I believe that we are the biggest threat to our industry, in as much as we start losing respect and appreciation for the craft; we start being reckless in the way we do business and open the way for more aggressive regulation that will make our life and the lives of customers more difficult. Regulation will come, regardless, and we are fit to survive it. However, its speed and severity will depend on how we behave.
RC: What drinks do you personally pair with cigars and why?
JM: It depends. If I’m smoking for work (in the factory, tasting, sampling etc), I’ll generally go with coffee, tea, or sparkling water. But when I smoke for pleasure, on my own time, I can go with a dark rum or a whisky but not too smoky or peaty. But I’m open minded; you can find great pairings with beers and wines!
RC: What does family mean to you?
JM: Family is the essence of what we do, both blood family and people who become family. Family is the fuel that drives us.
RC: And what do cigars mean to Nicaragua?
JM: More than what people can imagine. Nicaragua is better known around the world for its cigars than for anything else! It is one of the top agro-industrial exports from the country, and the only one that is a non commodity that has true value-added. Nicaragua is the single most important player in the cigar world, both in terms of production volumes and in terms of quality. Also, Nicaraguan tobacco can be found in the best cigars in the world, regardless of where they are made. In the end, cigars have become the medium through which the essence of Nicaragua is shared with the world: its flavours, tradition, and heritage; the richness of character of our land and of our people. They reflect the essence of our spirit.