One of the world’s few masters of Havana cigars reflects. From Issue 22.
A cigar, put simply, is a rolled-up bunch of fermented tobacco leaves, but if you want to be a little more romantic about it, it’s an hour of precious time that completely takes over your senses – a carefully thought out part of your day spent with an expertly crafted product and the rich tradition it comes from.
Smokers appreciate the level of detail and skill involved in the production of a cigar, and the journey the tobacco has gone on before it reaches them. It’s a process that has changed little over the centuries: It’s still incredibly labour intensive – there are over 500 highly skilled manual operations in the preparation and construction of each one – and every cigar will be made from tobacco that was planted at least three years before.
Cuban cigars remain the gold standard, the benchmark to set everyone else against, despite years of embargo-enforced isolation. While other cigars generally maintain a consistent flavour, a Cuban changes as you smoke it, as a result of being rolled with the thinnest part of the leaf at the top and the thickest at the base. The tips burn first, but the sugars and oils that give the intensity are lower, in the rest of the leaf – creating an experience that gradually deepens and develops.
It takes a lot of smoking to be able to identify a particular flavour or brand and, as Freud said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But if you think about where these cigars come from – a humid, equatorial country where oxen still plough the fields, where the soil is red and rich and the tobacco is cured and stored in barns – an idea might be given of the flavours you will be able to find. Possibly wood: cedar wood, damp wood, dry wood; spices and pepper; sweetness: honey, vanilla; or sometimes gamey flavours: hay, wet grass, damp manure.
Whatever you taste, there’s always something timeless and nostalgic about cigar smoke. Most of the people I speak to have looked up to someone who smoked. For me it was my father – even now, 15 years later, when I smell cigar smoke I’m brought back to that moment in time with him.
As told to George Upton. Darius Namdar is the director of Mark’s Club and one of only 33 people in the world certified as a master of Havana cigars. In March 2018, he won the prestigious International Habanosommelier Contest in Cuba, the highest qualification for cigar experts.