Cohiba's origins trace back to the middle 1960s, when a bodyguard of Fidel Castro shared some of his private supply of cigars made by a local artisan named Eduardo Ribera.[1] These cigars pleased Castro so much that a special production of the unbranded blend, produced under tight security, was made for Castro and other top government officials.[1]

As Castro himself recalled the tale in 1994:

"I used to see the man smoking a very aromatic, very nice cigar, and I asked him what brand he was smoking. He told me that it was a special blend, but that it came from a friend who makes cigars and he gave them to him. I said, let's find this man. I tried the cigar, and I found it so good that we got in touch with him and asked him how he made it. Then we set up the house [the El Laguito factory], and he explained the blend of tobacco he used. He told which leaves he used from which tobacco plantations. He also told us about the wrappers he used and other things. We found a group of cigar makers. We gave them the material and that is how the factory was founded. Now Cohiba is known all over the world."[2]

The production of special cigars for top officials under conditions of tight security was given extra impetus by fears of ongoingCIA assassination efforts against Fidel and Raul Castro and Che Guevarra. The technical services department of the agency is now in fact known to have worked on the development of exploding cigars as a means of assassination from the early 1960s.[3]

Before the distinctive black-and-yellow band of the Cohiba became a badge of plutocracy, it was the favored smoke of Cuba's revolutionary elite [...] Soon these long, elegant cigars became as much a part of the revolutionary look as facial hair and military fatigues, thanks to Che Guevara's pronouncement that he had never smoked a better cigar.

— Newsweek

The Cohiba brand was formally launched in 1968 at the direction ofCubatabaco, the Cuban state tobacco marketing bureau.[5] The head of Cubatabaco asked Avelino Lara, head of the El Laguito factory, to create a new super-premium blend which differed from all previously existing Cuban cigars.[5] During the first few years of production only a few thousand boxes were produced annually, reserved for the use of high government officials and frequently given away as diplomatic gifts.[5]

Cohiba was launched into the public market as a premium cigar brand in 1982 in conjunction with the 1982 World Cup held in Spain.[1] At the time of its first public launch, the Cohiba marque consisted of just three vitolas(sizes): the Panetela, the Corona Especial, and the Lancero. In 1989 three more vitolas were added: the Robusto, the Exquisito, and the Espléndido. These first six are now collectively known as the company's Línea Clásica (classic line).

In 1992 Habanos SA launched the first sizes in what it calls the Línea 1492, commemorating Christopher Columbus and his voyage to the Americas, with each size named for a century since Columbus' discovery. The initial launch included the Siglo I, Siglo II, Siglo III, Siglo IV, and Siglo V, with a Siglo VI added in 2002.

Cohiba also produces two machine-made cigarillos: the Mini and the Club.

Habanos SA have used their Cohiba brand name for non-cigar products, manufacturing Cohiba cigarettes since 1987 and Extra Cohiba Cognac since 1999.

In 1992 approximately 3.4 million cigars were produced in Cuba bearing the Cohiba label, out of a total Cuban cigar export production of approximately 60 million pieces.[6]