Taboada and His Custom Smokes
Posted: Oct 11, 2007 4:37pm ET
A surprising amount is said and written about custom-made Cuban cigars. These are cigars that retired factory rollers produce in various cigar shops in Havana as well as abroad. Mostly recently I was at a La Casa del Habano in Tijuana, Mexico, and retired Rodolfo Taboada Campa was rolling in the small cigar shop. He was rolling cigars on a bench just inside the door. He was there giving a demonstration to the Casa customers of the art of cigar rolling and I assume that they could buy some of his cigars as well.
As I wrote in my last blog, he gave me a couple of slightly thinner than normal Belicosos with dark chocolaty wrappers that were packed with flavor and character. (Check out my video blog when I smoked it with CA Senior Editor Dave Savona.) They were some of the richest and strongest Cuban cigars that I had smoked in a long time. They were almost like drinking a triple espresso! Moreover, they drew wonderfully. The construction was perfect. I am not sure if he used a mold or not to shape the cigar.
“When I started rolling, we didn’t use molds,” he said, when we were speaking in Spanish at the shop. “They didn’t come into popularity until after the revolution. It is not as fast as rolling with molds but I think that cigars always draw better if you make them the old fashioned way.”
He was rolling some very large, almost mammoth-sized cigars that were sort of super Montecristo A shaped and he certainly didn’t have molds for those. Besides, the mold really only gives uniformity to the bunch of filling tobacco Taboada or any other roller rolls.
I also noticed he was using the old technique for bunching called en tubado or in tubes. It’s when each leaf used for the bunch is rolled into individual tubes and the compacted together before the binder leaf or leafs are applied. Most of the rollers in Cuba today, particularly younger ones, fold the bunch leafs like an accordion instead of working with tubes. They say it is as effective and is much quicker, which means they can make more cigars and a little more money.
I discussed the with Taboada and he said, “I prefer the old way. It may be a little slower but the cigars always draw if you use this method.”
The handful of cigars he gave me last week in Tijuana all drew like a dream. But as I have written in the past, what impresses me with Taboada is that he knows how to blend. The tobacco he was using in Tijuana had been shipped over from Havana a few days before his arrival. It was very good volado, secco and ligero as well as wrapper and binder. I had heard rumors that some of the tobacco was five or six years old, but that is impossible. Believe me. Habanos, the global distribution and marketing organization for Cuban cigars, could never get its hands on stuff like that.
I once had the head of all the cigar factories in Cuba, which numbers slightly more than 50, tell me that they send substandard quality tobacco to all the rollers in cigar shops. But how knows what the truth really is.
That’s the crux of the problem with the custom cigars from shops. As good as a roller may be, he or she can’t make great cigars unless they have serious tobacco. Moreover, they have to know how to blend it. And most don’t have the knowledge. I have had hundreds of custom smokes and most a pretty boring at best. Sure they look good and they may be special sizes...Behike, 109, double robustos, triple lanceros, whatever. But I would rather have a real Habanos with the real blend and the real band nine times out of ten.
Yet there are the exceptions, and Taboada seems to be one of the very few who can make them. For example, I really enjoyed the blockbuster, take-no-prisoners Belicoso he gave me. And another one of his cigars from that day sticks in my mind.
“Do you like Davidoff Dom Perignons?” said David Tourgamen, owner of the Tijuana La Casa del Habano.
“Of course,” I said. “I love them. What’s not to like?”
“Here,” he said, handing me a cigar that was slightly longer than a Churchill and uncut on the end whereby it resembled a carrot top.
It was a cigar that Taboada rolled in the shop, and it, if I remember correctly, tasted damn near to the Davy Dom. It was rich and flavorful yet refined with a cedar, mineral character...a wonderful blend, a wonderful cigar.
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