Habanos, Coffee, Spirits: A Three-Party Marriage


1/07/2014
By Sommelier Yamir Pelegrino

 

 

 

Establishing a «marriage» or «pairing» has always been complicated, since relating tastes and perceptions is highly difficult, even more if a habano is the vedette, combined with coffee and spirits.

 

We have read or heard innumerable times about the complex, mystical and ancestral pairing relations between wines and food (dishes), but the perfect pairing of habanos and drinks has not been tackled in depth. The fact is that habanos can not only be paired with drinks.

 

The first thing to be learned is the position of a habano in dinners, lunches or a simple celebration, its relation with this moment and the time it lasts. That’s when this true marriage of agricultural aces begins, which is unique and distinctive since it stands as the one-and-only three-party marriage.

 

We must not forget that a peculiar and unrepeatable history underlies behind the pleasant tasting of a habano: son of the exquisite terroir of Vuelta Abajo, a product that has been privileged by nature, geography (grounds), climate and the delicate hands that process it. That’s why it is the only agricultural product that goes through 120 hands before it reaches out the final consumer.

 

Let’s point out that Cuban guajiros, just like our grand-parents say «hear through their eyes», because seeing is believing. Those who have had the privilege of spending some time with these farmers (vegueros) that beyond working with tobacco in Vuelta Abajo, pamper it like a child, know that that’s the only way to gain international recognition for a product that was born out of humble hands.

 

This quality marks the relation between habanos and other companions – coffee or drinks (spirits or not), because those products were also born in a terroir, a portion of geographic terrain, where climate, ground and men come together to make true artworks: rum, cognac, whisky, brandy, champagne, cava, port, beer, dessert wines or red wine.

 

Of course, it is very important to keep in mind that habanos can be used or tasted in different moments of the day, but the key to obtain a fine pairing lies with the selection of the right moment and time.

 

It is not the same, nor the same vitola would be used for lunch, dinner or a feast, and it would be different for a 30-minute puff, 45 minutes or one hour.

 

Likewise, the nature and event texture of the food you have eaten would play an important role, since it’s very difficult to modify a palate that has tasted seafood, mollusks, red meat, fish or any other gourmet delicacy, which, like grand wines, stay for longer in sensorial organs and nearly two hours in the post taste.

 

THE PERFECT PAIRING

 

We have read or heard innumerable times about the complex, mystical and ancestral pairing relations between wines and food (dishes), but the perfect pairing of habanos and drinks has not been tackled in depth.

 

The fact is that habanos cannot only be paired with drinks.

 

The first thing to be learned is the position of a habano in dinners, lunches or a simple celebration, its relation with this moment and the time it lasts. That is when this true marriage of agricultural aces begins, which is unique and distinctive since it stands as the one-and-only three-party marriage.

 

We must not forget that a peculiar and unrepeatable history underlies behind the pleasant tasting of a habano: son of the exquisite terroir of Vuelta Abajo, a product that has been privileged by nature, geography (grounds), climate and the delicate hands that process it. That is why it is the only agricultural product that goes through 120 hands before it reaches out the final consumer.

 

Let us point out that Cuban guajiros, just like our grandparents say, «hear through their eyes», because seeing is believing. Those who have had the privilege of spending some time with these farmers (vegueros) that beyond working with tobacco in Vuelta Abajo, pamper it like a child, know that that is the only way to gain international recognition for a product that was born out of humble hands.

 

This quality marks the relation between habanos and other companions – coffee or drinks (spirits or not), because those products were also born in a terroir, a portion of geographic terrain, where climate, ground and men come together to make true artworks: rum, cognac, whisky, brandy, champagne, cava, port, beer, dessert wines or red wine.

 

Of course, it is very important to keep in mind that habanos can be used or tasted in different moments of the day, but the key to obtain a fine pairing lies with the selection of the right moment and time.

 

It is not the same, nor the same vitola would be used for lunch, dinner or a feast, and it would be different for a 30-minute puff, 45 minutes or one hour.

 

Likewise, the nature and event texture of the food you have eaten would play an important role, since it’s very difficult to modify a palate that has tasted seafood, mollusks, red meat, fish or any other gourmet delicacy, which, like grand wines, stay for longer in sensorial organs and nearly two hours in the post taste.

 

Once this pre-marriage stage or stag party is over, always carefully choosing with whom and when to pair our habano, there is nothing better than looking for the best brides for our habano. It seems to be simple, but combining so much effort, geographic privilege and mastery generation after generation, to finally pour it in a glass or a cup; and such a product as the habano, the most perfect natural hygrometer on Earth, that’s practically magical and supernatural. So when it comes to pairing habanos with similar products, we must keep in mind the thickness of the cigar, (ring gauge or diameter), compactness (compact cigar) and capability to return to its normal state after it is pressed, as well as the humidity of the cigar (it cannot be dried-up), draw (capability to absorb smoke when taking a puff) and free combustion (gray-white ash color).

 

After this small radiography, the habano will be ready to receive its suitors that, in order to develop a long-lasting relationship, shall have specific characteristics, just like the ones featured by coffee or aged eau-de-vies or spirits, which range from brown colors to mahogany shades, maybe chocolate-brown.

 

They are also combined depending on aromas, tastes and that far-reaching spirit transferred by the habanos, coffee or spirits, which get mixed and potentiated, just like a subtle perfume that can be smelt blocks away.

 

Just remember, for example, the habano is a hydroscopic product that absorbs every smell around it, and coffee’s and spirits’ go right to its heart.

 

GOURMET INTUITION

 

In terms of the habano pairing, taste, customs and the consumer’s knowledge play an important role, which is complemented by the gourmet intuition that puts on the table deluxe pairings.

 

Our criterion and proposal on this matter might be complex and critic for some people, almost extravagant, but we believe that creativity and audacity are the keys to bring about original ideas that could be successful and stand as rules or paradigms.

 

For instance, we have mostly paired vitolas of large formats and big ring gauges. That is not only about fun. Pairing habanos with smaller ring gauge is way more difficult, since the cigars with the lowest diameter feature higher TAR levels (total of tar and resin) and nicotine, because the smoke gets settled and the main and secondary smoke currents don’t last long and are intermittent.

 

We also suggest to play with the strength of different brands and that aroma that is no longer chorophyllous (green) and becomes a magnesium-rich smoke, thus recalling the characteristics of the ground where it was cultivated, as well as some varieties of coffee related to countries with long-standing coffee tradition, which give life and peculiar elements to this relation.

 

We strongly believe that we cannot forget about more committed or embarrassing pairings, like the one with black beer, where the malting of the barley prevails and the hop sharpens the end of the mouth; or the blend with the crystal-like bubbling of Krug Champagne and the final terroir note left by the prevalence of pinot noir. By following this path, we go deep into a remarkable venture due to its revolutionary essence, pairing with red wines, an unusual thing to do.

 

The fact is that more than once I’ve wondered how would a blend of the Grand Cabernet Sauvignon of the world be like, perhaps those with mineral nuances and that third nose that in the cup, more than dark-roasted, is pure coffee (light but aromatic) that stays in the bottom of the cup when it has been oxygenated for over 45 minutes, the time when the habano already tastes like a piece of Pinar del Río. If it is preceded by a black chocolate-based dessert, then the cup of coffee can be double handed: chocolate and coffee, aromas and tastes that will boost the Cabernet that struggles to tell us that, besides tannins, its oak barrel goes as far as the cedar where habano sleeps.

 

Undoubtedly, these sui generis marriages or pairings have been conceived to please both body and soul, extol the spirit, mind and heart, because tasting a fine habano accompanied by its outstanding partners, eau-de-vie and coffee, is breathing the culture of good taste…