Cigar Aficionado

Living My Fantasy

I am going to let you in on a little secret. I have always fantasized about working in a cigar factory in Havana. There is something so seductive about the idea. Sure, it can be hard work, even monotonous labor. And the pay certainly is not much. But the thought of smelling, smoking and touching great Cuban leaf every day turns me on.

That ‘s why I have love and hate for Arek Aboulian. He is the 23-year-old son of Raffi Aboulian, the owner of Raffi’s Cigar Shop in Geneva. And he worked three months in the H. Upmann factory in Havana a couple of years ago. I had dinner with him and his dad last week during the Geneva fine watch fair, which I attend for this magazine. (I coordinate the coverage of wristwatches for Cigar Aficionado, besides writing about cigars and other stuff.) Barry Abrams, associate publisher of CA, was also there. Arek and his dad are going to be on my panel on Cuban cigars for the Big Smoke in Las Vegas on November 7 to 9.

Anyway, Arek is super knowledgeable about tobacco. How couldn’t he be, after spending that time working at the H. Upmann factory. He worked in just about every department. Check out my video with him earlier this year in the rolling room of H. Upmann in Havana. He was a rock star there.

He said the best part of working in the factory was being in the galleria, or rolling room. It is the heart and soul of a factory, and he enjoyed seeing the differences between the new generation of rollers and the old ones. “It was hard to get used to the working ethos in the factory at first but after awhile you get used to the slower pace,” he said when we were at the factory. He said he became a pretty proficient roller of bunches (the filler and binder of a cigar) but he still couldn’t master putting the wrapper on the smoke.

He also loved smoking cigars in the quality control room first thing in the morning. “It sounds rough smoking at 7:45 am, five or six cigars, but I loved it. I loved to check the quality of the cigars being made.”

Arek’s dad knows a lot about fine cigars after more than decade in his shop. He also occasionally has special cigars made for him in Havana. For example, we smoked a Salmones from one of his Raffi Collection 10:45 humidors. It was a special box launched in 2003 to commemorate Raffi’s ten years in his shop in Geneva.

The smoke was amazing. It reminded me of the legendary 1996 Partagas Salmones, but more refined, less powerful. I loved the velvety texture of the smoke and the rich coffee, tobacco flavor. It was long on the palate and lasted for minutes. I scored it 98 points (non blind). The humidor actually has 29 cigars in it, with a big Churchill-size as well, meaning the ring gauge of a double corona but the length of a Churchill.

We smoked the cigar in the Auberge d' Onex restaurant after some hearty Italian food and talked through the night about Cuba, cigars and life. I may not ever live my fantasy of working in a factory, but that night it was good enough enjoying a smoke with Arek and his dad…