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More than just a smoke
Nanditta Chibber |
August 10, 2005
Fidel Castro, William Churchill, John F Kennedy, Demi Moore, Jack Nicholson, J P Morgan... the list of some of these rich and powerful people through the decades throws up a common passion -- cigars.
Like wine, single malts and gourmet food, cigars are an accompaniment to the finer things in life, meant to be enjoyed leisurely, allowing the palate to savour every smoke.
Carefully handcrafted cigars where the tobacco rolled can be aged up to five years, gives each variety of cigar its distinct flavour and character, making it a constant source of smoky pleasure.
With Cuba famous for doling out the best cigars in the world and the US being the largest for inhaling cigar puffs, the cigar culture in India is relatively new in its market presence.
Chetan Seth, labelled India's cigar czar, and responsible for bringing the product to our doorsteps, says, "The connoisseurs of cigars are increasing and the market is doubling every year."
Having the sole distributing rights for premium Cuban handmade cigars in India, Seth controls 99 per cent of its market. At Cingari, his flagship cigar outlet at the Oberoi in New Delhi, the walk-in humidor offers more than 140 varieties of premium handmade Habanos cigars.
Cuban sun and soil, along with its long nurtured cigar-making culture, has had cigar aficionados vote its distinct tobacco flavour as the best in the world.
The Habanos cigars are mostly medium to full flavour and one could choose from some of the classic brands -- Cohiba, Monte Cristo, Trinidad, Bolivar, Romeo y Julieta or Partagas.
The Cohiba Corona Especial was Fidel Castro's favourite. The Cohiba was accidentally discovered by him through one of his bodyguards. Considered the strongest of the brands, the Cohiba come in different sizes, ringage and flavours -- Siglo, Corona Especiales or Esplendidos.
A Cohiba Churchill (the Churchill is the longest cigar available under any cigar brand in the cigar glossary) can cost as much as Rs 1,310 each.
The Partagas for which Seth vouches, comes in limited editions for Rs 11,050 (25 cigars).
Seleccion Piramides, which have torpedo tips, is another strong cigar (Rs 4,750 for five pieces).
High on the popularity scale are Romeo y Julieta's at Rs 740 a piece.
"Cigars cannot be just handed over to smoke, one has to be trained in cigar etiquette," insists Seth.
Cigars come in light, medium to full bodied flavours suiting morning, noon and night moods.
Cuban cigars have varied tobacco flavours, Dominican, Honduras and others may tickle taste buds with cognac, vanilla or chocolate, though Seth feels that these exploit the market. However, you can experiment to suit your tastes. Caution: Never follow a full cigar with a light one as the latter's taste gets lost.
Cigars should be firm to touch and the size and ringage should depend on the time you have to smoke it. Cut the cigar tip neatly with a cigar cutter or scissors -- the handcrafted, double-bladed guillotine for Rs 1,250 is efficient.
Light it slowly and evenly with a wooden match (once its head has burned off), or a butane lighter, as both are odourless and incapable of diluting the cigar's flavour. Designer matchbox cases from Elie Bleu for Rs 19,000 are a cigar accessory collector's delight.
"While smoking the cigar, never inhale the smoke. Keep it in the mouth, twirl it for the taste buds to sense and savour it," says Eric Piras, a cigar connoisseur, vice president business development, Altadis USA Inc, the largest cigar manufacturing company in the world. And while parting with a cigar, stubbing it is blasphemy. Lay it to rest so that it goes out on its own accord.
Cigars need to be stored in humidors between 16-18 degree C and a relative humidity level of 70 per cent to keep them fresh (like wine, they mature if kept in the right conditions). Designer humidors can start from Rs 2,000 to Rs 1 lakh plus. The travelling, smaller cylindrical humidors for Rs 2,000 are a cigar smoker's 'must have'.
Godfrey Phillips India, the marketing partner of Altadis USA Inc since 2003, recently opened an outlet, The Cigar Shoppe, in Hotel Park Plaza in Gurgaon. With handmade and machine-made brands of cigars from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, US and Puerto Rico, it offers, according to Eric, "a cigar for every taste and budget".
From a Phillips for Rs 7.50 to a Don Diego Aniversario for Rs 700 apiece, the cigar lounge plans to start home deliveries with a 'dial-a-cigar' concept. "In a young market like India, people should experiment with cigars of different countries," says Eric, displaying a Rs 1,000 Don Diego Premium.
With youngsters eager to experiment with cigars and "the demand more than supply", according to Manish Dutt of Kastros, a cigar shop in the capital importing Cuban and Davidoff cigars, all industry experts see a positive trend in cigar smoking.
Seth's Cingari, with additional outlets in Mumbai and a duty free one at Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport, plans to open in other metros too. Seth is now planning "an exclusive cigar connoisseurs club bringing together those passionate about their cigars."
A last word: Cigar smoking is considered non-addictive, and is supposed to help in cases of indigestion. So, leisurely experimenting with one seems a good idea.