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The fine art of smoking Habano cigars

April 3, 2012

A 23-year-old Tapatio cigar connoisseur has beaten the Cubans at their own game, winning first place in Havana’s prestigious international Habano Sommelier competition earlier this month.

“Barely 18” when he smoked his first cigar, Luis Garcia was enraptured by the aroma and unique taste. Curiosity led him to try Mexican and Nicaraguan cigars, before “marrying” with Cuban Habanos.

He soon became a Habano Sommelier, someone qualified to offer, handle and prepare Habanos for smoking. A Sommelier should have in-depth knowledge of the history and flavors of the various brands and must be able to provide expert advice on the food, wines and spirits which best compliment any given cigar.

The international Sommelier competition was part of the 14th Habano Cigar Festival attended by smoking enthusiasts from around 80 countries between February 27 and March 2. In one of several tests, Garcia caught the jury’s attention with a mouth-watering selection of a Romeo & Juliet Wide Churchill cigar, an extra añejo Centinela tequila and a vanilla-flavored “borrachito” candy.

The Mexican was duly awarded first prize, with contestants from Chile and Cuba coming second and third respectively. “I felt really proud and really happy because I beat Cuba,” says a beaming Garcia.

Victory earned him a place on next year’s jury and a humidor made by one of the finest artisans in Cuba and brimming with quality Cuban cigars, plus a bag full of porcelain ashtrays, lighters and cigar cutters.

“But the best prize was a free flight to Cuba,” says Garcia, who has now visited the island on four occasions.

Cuba has the ideal humidity and temperature and red, volcanic soil to grow the best quality tobacco leaves, Garcia explains. These are infused with the “soul and passion” of the Cuban campesinos, who expertly carry out the cultivation, selection, drying, fermentation, blending and rolling processes. “Nothing compares with a Habano,” he adds.

Just as a tequila, cognac or champagne must be produced in a certain region, only the finest Cuban cigars can be called Habanos, as certified by the Habanos Protected Designation of Origin (DOP).

Due to the longstanding trade embargo, U.S. citizens are prohibited from bringing Cuban products into the country. For any Americans wanting to take cigars home or send a gift to friends, Garcia recommends cigars from Nicaragua, Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

While “Cubans have a lot of complexity ranging from the smooth to the strong,” Garcia says Mexican cigars are “really smooth and mild,” and recommends Robusto cigars as the best domestic product.

Garcia believes the best brand available for Americans is H. Upmann, a Cuban-owned tobacco company which also produces cigars in the Dominican Republic. “It’s a really nice cigar to begin with, it’s smooth and creamy, with hints of hazelnut, almond and chocolate,” he says.

But for those who want to smoke here in Mexico, Garcia strongly recommends superior Cuban Habanos, which are widely available. In Guadalajara, Garcia highlights Anita Li (Av. Inglaterra 3100), a restaurant with “a good selection of Cuban cigars … for the best prices,” or Cuban bar La Bodeguita del Medio (Av. Vallarta 2320), which is “maybe ten percent more expensive.” Other options include Cuban restaurant La Casa del Habano (Av. Providencia 2969) or Mediterranean restaurant Olio Bistro (Av. Americas 1501).

In terms of prices, you can find a Quintero Habano for just 50 to 80 pesos, while a Cohiba Behike, which Garcia describes as “the best of the best of the best,” will set you back a cool 1,000 pesos.

Garcia currently works for Vinoteca in Guadalajara, promoting fine wine, spirits, cigars and cuisine in the city’s best restaurants. “I think I am really well positioned within the industry,” he says, with the exposure from winning the Habano Sommelier competition having brought him into contact with the managers and presidents of big cigar companies.

Garcia adds that one day he would like to open a small business promoting cigars in Mexico, but is also interested in expanding abroad in the future.

He is certainly passionate about his work, describing smoking Habanos as a fine art. “Take the time to enjoy it on the weekend, with a glass of wine and fine cuisine,” he urges. “Don’t smoke just for the sake of it, try to discover the passion and the taste of it. Share this moment with a loved one.”

Garcia acknowledges that smoking poses a health risk, but so too does drinking alcohol; the key is do so responsibly. Thus, if you are going to smoke, then “smoke less, but enjoy it and smoke a good cigar.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 18, 2013 12:21

    Hi! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and finally got the bravery to
    go ahead and give you a shout out from Austin Texas! Just
    wanted to say keep up the excellent work!

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