English Market Selection Cigars (EMS): Are They Really All That They're Cracked up to Be?

English market selection (EMS) cigars have gained quite the reputation. Essentially, the rumors are that Hunters & Frankau have special access to cigars produced in Cuba. For this reason the UK gains the best of the batch and Cuban cigars in the UK are generally better that those found elsewhere. The question is, how much of this rumor is actually true? 

Read more: Three reasons Cuban cigars are the best

Hunter & Frankau are the sole importer of Cuban cigars for the United Kingdom. As the importer, they ensure that all relevant taxes are paid and manage all of the import duties and procedures. All of the cigars they import and supply to retailers have an EMS stamp on them. 

The Myth

There seem to be several myths around EMS cigars. The most prominent one is that The UK has a special relationship with Havana. This special relationship includes first access to any given batch of cigars and the UK can pick the best from the bunch. 

In essence, Cuban cigars in the UK are thought to be the best Cuban cigars that customers can buy. This notion is given weight by the fact that Cuban cigars in the UK are some of the most expensive in the world. This primarily due to taxes in the UK, however some believe this extra cost leads Habanos to offer the best cigars to the UK market. 

This idea has not been verified or even claimed by any official source, yet it continues to persist. In general, cigar smokers have used anecdotal evidence to support this claim. Direct comparisons between cigars bought from Europe versus cigars bought in the UK, are generally what fuels the belief. 

What the Cigar Retailers Say

UK retailers will almost always refer you to speak with Hunter & Frankau for any import related questions you may have; more on this below. 

EU based retailers however, have provided some insights into this matter and in general the answer is the same. There is no difference between Cuban cigars imported into the UK, versus Cuban cigars imported to any other country in Europe. This is because it's simply not feasible to have any control over what stock is received where. 

For the most part, Cuban cigars are imported on an ad hoc basis. Importers within each respective country will then manage stocks and distribute accordingly. The importers however, don't have any access to any particular batches and instead they simply manage the stock they receive.

Due to this, it is completely inaccurate to think that the UK could have any special access. 

Why Do EMS Cigars Taste Better Then? 

This is of course completely anecdotal and up until now, there have been no objective comparisons made on the subject. Nonetheless, there are still many cigar smokers that swear by the fact that EMS cigars taste better. 

There could be several reasons behind this, however it seems that it is predominantly down to how cigars are managed, stored and transported. 

As many cigar lovers will know, upon receiving cigars that have been purchased online, a resting period is required. Longer resting periods are recommended for longer transport times. Cigars purchased within the UK will generally take less time to arrive than those bought internationally. If the cigars bought from outside of the country have not been rested for long enough, they may not taste as good as their UK counterparts. 

Another point to consider is that the climate in the UK is generally better suited for cigars. The temperature remains fairly mild and the humidity is relatively close to what cigars require. This means that even when transporting, the cigars in the UK may remain relatively fine in comparison to those bought from abroad. 

Ultimately, it comes down to many environmental aspects as opposed to the cigars being inherently better in any way. 


What Hunters & Frankau Say

Hunters & Frankau has confirmed to us exactly what EMS cigars are. In a discussion it confirmed that there is no special access to better cigars or preferred batches of cigars sent to the UK. This notion is completely false and frankly quite ridiculous when considering the logistic of it. 

It is completely impractical for Hunters & Frankau to select specific batches of cigars from Cuba. The direct response we received to the question was "how would we even do that?"

With confirmations like these directly from the UK importer, we can comfortably conclude that this myth is completely false. Cuban cigars within the UK are not of some special batch or the best of any selection. The Cuban cigars in the UK are the same as Cuban cigar bought from almost anywhere else. 


Are there Any Benefits to EMS Cigars?

The term EMS has been around for more than a century within Cuba. This term was developed for cigars that were designated specifically for the British market. For the majority of that time, it's not clear what significance EMS had. However, the current form of EMS started more than twenty-five years ago and the significance of it is pretty clear. 

Cuban cigars that are imported into the UK are kept in a holding location before they are distributed to verified retailers in the UK. When any stock is requested, Hunters & Frankau will ensure that all import duties and applicable taxes are paid. 

The cigars will also be inspected by experts at Hunters & Frankau to ensure they meet the high quality standards of the importer. This is why it's generally not possible to purchase an unopened box of Cuban cigars in the UK. All cigars entering into the UK market must be inspected and quality checked. 

In a statement, Hunters & Frankau said "we may not be able to compete on price but we can compete on service". This is essentially the difference between UK Cuban cigars and cigars bought from many other locations. An extra level of care is taken to prevent any issues. 

Another benefit is that Hunters & Frankau require all verified retailers to follow its rigorous standards in order to receive a supply. Regular inspections are undertaken and retailers must abide by the rules. This could be one of the reasons why Cuban cigars in the UK are perceived to be better. Cigars that are managed and stored better will in general taste better too. 

The EMS stamp is also an additional mark of authenticity. This is why it's easier to purchase authentic cigars in the UK than it is to purchase fakes.

Ultimately, Hunters & Frankau aim to provide a consistent level of service and quality throughout the country. 

Of course, it's important to mention that this does not mean retailers outside of the UK operate with lower standards. Instead it means that Hunters & Frankau operate with guidelines specifically geared towards service rather than price.

Final Thoughts

The idea of EMS cigars being inherently better due to some special supply access is complete nonsense. Aside from the ridiculous logistical implications, there's no reasonable way to determine what is better. Cuban cigars are not draw tested, therefore it would be almost impossible to know what batch of cigars are better. 

Also, the fact that Hunters & Frankau themselves have confirmed precisely what EMS cigars are, we can safely conclude this myth to be completely false. 


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