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What are EMS cigars and what is so special about them?

In the world of cigars, when talking about Cuban cigars, many aficionados speak about EMS, or English Market Selection, cigars as if there is something special or different about them from Havana cigars found in the rest of Europe and other countries. There is an extra allure about them often romanticised by cigar aficionados. But is there any merit to it? Or, is it just something to brag about for those people who can easily afford to pay the higher prices?


So, what are EMS cigars?

I’ve seen one website claim:

“Cuban cigars in the UK are made with English Market Selection (EMS) tobaccos. In layman’s terms, this means the best tobaccos in Cuba are rolled into cigars and sold specifically to the UK. Of course this raises the prices on EMS cigars.”

This would suggest that not only are the cigars different, they use special tobacco which, when either grown or harvested(?!), is  already destined to become an EMS cigar… This is absolute nonsense for a number of reasons, too many to go into right now.

According to Hunters & Frankau, the only UK importers of Cuban cigars, and the people who invented the term, EMS Habanos are defined like this:

"EMS is a term that has been referred to in Cuba for over a century to identify the quality of cigars designated for the British market. It is the cornerstone of the UK’s long established reputation as the world’s centre for the finest Havana cigars. 

The EMS stamp was introduced by Hunters & Frankau over twenty-five years ago as an easily identifiable mark of quality and authenticity for Havanas sold in the UK market.

The stamp is applied to all boxes and packs of Havanas that have passed an additional UK quality inspection before being made available for sale to trade accounts."

So, in summary, directly from the words of the UK Cuban cigar importers themselves, EMS cigars are a cigar with an extra sticker on the box. Nothing more.

EMS cigars are exactly the same crop, leaves, boxes and cigars as every other Cuban cigar you can buy in shops or online in Europe or anywhere else in the world. There is nothing special about them and there is no difference in quality or flavour whatsoever. As long as you are buying your cigars from a reputable shop or online store who’ve stored them correctly (like us!), you will get the exact same thing, a wonderful Cuban cigar.

The term “EMS” thus seems to be a bit of an urban

myth in the cigar world, possibly to help justify higher prices on Habanos in the UK market. It is definitely worth noting that there is just 1 importer for Cuban cigars to the UK, who are part owned by Habanos SA - the governing body for Cuban cigars, therefore they hold the entire market and can set the prices... Although a big chunk of what is paid in the UK is down to tax and duty, and I am in no way suggesting the prices are inflated for other reasons.

So, what makes an EMS cigar so special?

Absolutely nothing. And if you still think there really is a difference, it is probably just the preconceived notion that there will be one which acts as a placebo type affect to make you enjoy your cigar more. The answer then is to appreciate all your Cuban cigars as something special. If you are ordering your cigars online from, you’ll know your cigars are special because they’ve been stored in the best conditions and you paid the lowest price in the world!