T. L. Johnson Tempio Extreme Box Press

I hadn’t heard of T. L. Johnson Cigars before, but I have heard of one of their brands — Jose Dominguez. In addition to this one, Johnson produces Palma cigars as well as three distinct lines under the T. L. Johnson brand name: the Legend Reserve Reserve 63, and the Signature line in Connecticut and Maduro. The company is located in Colorado, and it looks like their cigars are distributed primarily in-state.

Tempio is, I believe, their newest line, and since it is produced by one of my favorite boutique manufacturers – La Tradicion Cubana – I was itching to give it a go.

Tempio utilizes a Pennsylvania wrapper leaf (like the JML 1902) in conjunction with an habano binder and Dominican filler. The cigar is made in four sizes:

No. 50 (Robusto) — 5 x 50
No. 52 (Torpedo) — 5 1/2 x 52
No. 56 (Toro) — 5 1/4 x 56
No. 54 (Churchill) — 6 3/4 x 54

Construction Notes

If it weren’t for the sloping shoulders and tightly wound pig-tail cap of the Tempio, I’d say this cigar looks like a carpenter’s pencil. A big one. Maybe the right size for Shaq if he adds cabinetry to his career profile. The corners are clean and form tight right angles that relax a little as the cigar burns.

The colorado maduro wrapper is smooth but leathery in appearance. The veins appear to have been pressed into the leaf, so it looks rustic but doesn’t feel that way to the touch. The draw offers the right amount of resistance, and the burn is surprisingly even for a square pressed stick. The ash is a little bit flaky on the perimeter but holds strong.

Overall Construction: Excellent.

Tasting Notes

The Tempio focuses on a cedar flavor throughout the smoke, but it starts up with some unusual scents that are hard to place. There is a peppery spiciness on the tongue that fades pretty quickly, but the most interesting aspect of the first third are the fleeting sweet spicy notes in the aroma. There seems to be something vaguely fruity about the aroma, but not in a light way — it’s a spicy fruitiness that reminds me a little of the scent of mulled wine.

The spice loses some of that interesting sweetness in the mid-section, but it remains sweet in a more conventional way. There is less of a cedar flavor and the smoke becomes a little smoother. The smoke is medium in body, and probably a touch heavier than that in strength. There is a dry papery tartness in the aftertaste.

The last third reintroduces the pepperiness as the flavors begin to char, but even in the last few puffs some sweetness lingers.

Conclusion

I love the complexity of flavors that the Pennsylvania wrapper contributes to the Tempio, and the overall performance of the cigar is very good as well. It’s a balanced with just the right amount of spice, and it’s never boring.  In fact it’s a little bit edgy, which I think gives it some aging potential.

The MSRP on this cigar is about as bold as its flavors — around $11.00. I’d like to see that price drop a bit, but there’s no arguing with the quality of the stick. The biggest challenge will be locating a Tempio for purchase. It looks like there is at least one online vendor, or if you are lucky enough to live in Colorado, check out the T. L. Johnson website for retail locations.

Final Score: 90

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JML 1902 Torpedo

JML 1902, from Miami’s La Tradicion Cubana, is named for José M. Losa, the grandfather of LTC founder Luis Sanchez. The JML was the first cigar from the new factory in the Dominican Republic after the original factory in Miami was destroyed by fire in 2006.

The JML 1902 uses a Pennsylvania wrapper, which is unusual for today but historically well grounded. In the nineteenth century so many cigars were made in Pennsylvania’s Conestoga River Valley that the word “stogie” became common usage throughout the United States. In the past few years the leaf has experienced a resurgence, especially Pennsylvania broadleaf, which has been used by Rocky Patel and A.J. Fernandez in several different blends. Like Connecticut Broadleaf it is often used as binder, but it is less commonly seen as wrapper.

Both Connecticut and Pennsylvania broadleaf are grown from Cuban seed, but apparently there’s something about Lancaster County that adds some fight to the leaf. It is generally acknowledged that Pennsylvania leaf is more robust in flavor than the Connecticut variety, and it takes longer to process and mature. These characteristics may be why Penna leaf is less commonly used.  The resurgence may be due to the fact that cigar smokers have become increasingly curious and more open to new experiences — sometimes it seems that the rarer the leaf, the better. But the cigar, however refined or rare its components, must still perform well. And the JML 1902 does just that.

That said, I don’t think the Pennsylvania wrapper on the JML 1902 is  actually broadleaf. It’s thinner, more attractive, and in my opinion more subtle than broadleaf. In combination with a Honduran binder and Dominican seco and ligero fillers, the wrapper adds a sweet sharpness that balances out the blend very well.

Four sizes are currently available:

  • Petit-Cetro – 5 3/4 x 44
  • Corona – 6 1/2 x 44
  • Churchill – 6 1/2 x 50
  • Torpedo – 6 1/4 x 54

Construction Notes

The vintage appeal of the umber-colored band sets the tone for this cigar. It looks like something you might find in your grandfather’s junk drawer, along with a dried out can of Kiwi and a stitching awl for fixing baseball mitts. The band is offset by the dark smooth wrapper, a little darker than colorado maduro but not quite maduro. The veins are pronounced enough to make the wrapper rustic without being rough.

The roll is solid, though the cigar feels light in the hand. The cap is finished nicely and the tip clips cleanly with a guillotine cutter. It draws perfectly, burns evenly, and the ash is only slightly flaky.

Overall excellent construction.

Tasting Notes

The JML 1902 torpedo starts up with a sweet bready aroma, something like freshly baked cookies. (And I know how odd that sounds.) Beneath this fascinating aroma are earthy, mineral-like flavors. The flavor is high-toned, sweet but not creamy, and very well balanced. The smoke texture is medium in body, but it has plenty of strength.

Coffee flavors predominate in the mid-section, with sugary, almost maple syrup-like accents on the nose. Earthy flavors continue to occupy the lower register but they gain in strength, as does the aftertaste.

The peppery aftertaste takes over in the last part of the cigar, becoming quite strong, even though the sweetness of the wrapper is still detectable. I found I had to slow down considerably in the last lap to keep the cigar in balance.

Conclusion

There is a whole lot to like about the JML 1902. It’s complex, flavorful, and for those who like a good kick in the pants, it’s got one in reserve. The balance of subtle sweetness and earthy power is quite impressive. Based on these things alone I’d recommend this cigar to any seasoned smoker, but the best part comes last: the price. The JML is a 3 to 4 dollar stick. $60 to 75 USD per box at LTC’s online shop. That’s a screamin’ deal.

This is one of the best cigars I’ve smoked all year, and without a doubt the best cigar in this price range. I can think of no excuse for anyone not to try this cigar. None. Well, maybe one. Some reviewers have reported that these can be a little heavy-handed when fresh. That wasn’t my experience, but it you prefer a gentler smoke, just put them away for a few months and let them mellow. Like any good investment, patience will pay dividends.

Final Score: 92