Habanos & Coffee: The Perfect Duet


It was Cuban sage Fernando Ortiz the one who called people’s attention on the close ties among rum, habano and coffee, like a love affair of what he defined as “the island’s three diamonds,” tokens of our identity that have made the rounds in the world’s finest halls and saloons, acclaimed by sybarites and big-time consumers everywhere.

It seems easy, but combining so much effort, geographical privilege and mastery for generations only to see it poured in a glass or a cup, and then a product like a habano, the perfect natural hygrometer on the face of the earth, is virtually magical and supernatural.

That’s why when matching habanos with a product like coffee we must bear in mind the length and ring gauge of the cigar, as well as the coffee variant and the way to serve it, either a espresso, cappuccino, Turkish coffee, latte macchiato or Irish coffee, among others. 

It’s important to serve the coffee from a clean brewing machine and keep the cups at the right temperature, two conditions that will let us enjoy the warmth of the liquid for the longest time.

Experts suggest that if coffee is the only matching possibility available for a habano, then a habano that doesn’t exceed a half-hour smoking session must be handpicked, that is, never longer than 130mm. However, these habanos are hard to be matched due to their high tar concentration. Other features must exert influence as well, such as ring gauge, tobacco humidity and good burning.

A good choice for rookies –according to Philip Illi, world champion of the Habanosommelier Contest- is an Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (ring gauge 52 x 102mm) of mild strength and nice aromas; a Short Churchill of Romeo y Julieta (ring gauge 50 x 124mm), of mild strength; or an undisputed star like the Secreto de Cohiba Maduro 5 (ring gauge 40 x 110mm), a high-octane habano of strong taste, determined by its five-year-old Madura wrapper.

There’s no doubt these one-of-a-kind marriages or matching are thought out to please both the body and the soul, to extol the spirit, the mind and the heart, because puffing on a good habano and their perfect partner –coffee- is like breathing the culture of good taste…

A friend of mine told me one day that the habano sommelier was born out of the need to narrate the true story of cigars. And he was right because in this realm of the ultimate smoke the knowledge of the finest cuisine is combined since to become a genuine habano sommelier you need first to be a sommelier, a gastronomic and culinary person, a bartender and something else: a refined gourmet person with the habano running in his or her veins.

This figure seeks at all costs to demonstrate that the habano is the extra of the haute cuisine, the real need to show that the conjunction of the habano and the profession (sommelier) is something sublime. If you’re not convinced, then let’s look back into the genesis of this master of cigars and spirits.

As an advocate of food finesse, the habano sommelier shows us what each and every puff on a cigar might mean, that the ring gauge of the vitolas reveals the wrapper of the cigar. And there’s always a ruling word in all these assertions: the “matching” of habano with its peers, either cognac, tequila, rum, calvados, whiskey or just plain cold water.

Let’s bear something vital in mind: like habano, all these products have a common denominator. Like the world-class habanos, all of them have guarantees of origin. So, the relationship among them is on an even par. They are all top-of-the-line items that are subjected to the magical scrutiny of this new credit-giver of the good taste: the habano sommelier.

For those of us who love gourmet or carry a sybarite inside, our hats are off to the habano sommelier because it’s giving legitimate credit to a character who moves far beyond the restaurant to become a guide, a epicurean artist because he or she manages to put together the good taste of a dish, the longing and the chaste of an iconic wine and the amazing and unique smoke wafting away from the world’s best-known cigar.

That’s the same smoke that captures more and more followers with each passing day –regardless of the antismoking campaigns and regulations around the globe. Because more than just love, the cult for these supreme smoke-billowing items has a name: habano.

So then, the culture around it also has a master of ceremony, and that’s no other than the habano sommelier, that monitor of the gourmet subject matters who never stops teaching us chunks of history that rest on the table.

If back in the past, sommeliers or fromallers had the job done in writing high notes associated to a product that caused great sensation and even worshiping, today the habano sommelier, this cultural wizard of the tropic, is the best sign that the habano has to come on strong with a stamp of its own, the one that came into being with the conquest yet it accrues day after day by the hand of this priest of the good taste.

Long before that, Cuban sage Fernando Ortiz had called people’s attention on the close ties among rum, habano and coffee, like a love affair of what he defined as “the island’s three diamonds,” tokens of our identity that have made the rounds in the world’s finest halls and saloons, acclaimed by sybarites and big-time consumers everywhere.

Wielding quasi-scientific arguments, Fernando Fernandez has fessed up his preference for the Cohiba Siglo VI if he’s going to have a drink of Havana Club’s Seleccion de Maestros, a combination equally extolled by Barbaro Edel. In the meantime, Cardenas mentions brands like H. Upmann, Gloria Cubana and Rey del Mundo for medium-aged rums.

“Taste goes hand in hand with preferences,” Fernandez insists, and in that sense he draws a bead on the noble spirit of Romeo y Julieta habanos for having halfway notes that provide adaptability with soft-type rums. For those rums that flex their muscles with an additional kick, Partagas, Bolivar or Ramon Allones are superb matches.

The contrasts of the Cuban spirits allow for a good hookup with habanos and coffee produced in this neck of the woods. In the Caribbean there are different types of rum, like light rums that sway between 45 and 55 degrees of alcoholic content, and others that run between 48 and 58 degrees. Cuba and Puerto Rico are the two leading producers of light rums in the region, while the second tier belongs almost entirely to Jamaica and other small islands of the West Indies.

However, tradition, the tasting of it, its refining, the natural environment, throughput levels and variety, in addition to unique experience and expertise in the hands of Cuban rum makers, have turned spirits hailing from the largest Caribbean island into the best-known brands across the region.

Moreover, these rums share a long common history with habanos that harkens back to little after Christopher Columbus’ arrival in 1492. The fact that both products enjoyed exceptional weather conditions for their development in Cuba, gave way to an industry, a culture and a way of living marked by economic and spiritual features. It’s all about a blend of sweat and pleasure that has lifted itself to the category of identity, and that’s the nitty-gritty of this festival and a good reason to hold this event, by far one of the most important ones in the program.