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Conversations with India’s Cigar Czar, Chetan Seth

Cigar Czar of India: Meet the man who brought cigar culture to India

By EESHAAN KASHYAP, Lifestyle Asia Asia

The charm and mystery surrounding cigars lend them a certain intrigue that’s enjoyed by very few things in the world. Paired with food, drinks, or dessert, or relished on their own, cigars are not a habit but a lifestyle. With some of the best in the world hailing from Cuba, we get talking with the man who brought cigar culture to India, Chetan Seth, on all you need to know about the Habanos, one of the best cigars in the world.

The Habanos have retained their crown as the best cigars across the world for several decades. What makes these the king of cigars?
You are right, Habanos continues to be the King of Cigars and has been like that for over 100 years. There are three pillars which help Cuban cigars retain this status:
Tobacco: Grown in the Caribbean environment of Cuba which includes the seeds and the red soil, their tobacco leaf is unique and not found anywhere else in the world.
Curing: The art of curing the tobacco in the Barns (Casas de Tabaco) and the fermentation in the Sorting House (Escogida) are all processes that need to be carefully monitored, sometimes for three-five years, something that cannot be reproduced in a modern temperature control warehouse. The leaves have to be felt, smelled, the colour analysed and the years of experience of the specialist decide the perfection that reflects in the product.
Torcedors: These skillful cigar rollers have a magic in their hands, and years of training and experience as they roll each cigar to the same Ring Gauge as specified, without machines.

You brought Habanos to India 15 years ago. How has the cigar landscape here evolved since then? And how does the future look for this industry?.
From a handful of patrons then, today we have over 5,000 across the country. Not only individuals, the cigar culture has also grown in terms of cigar lounges, such as The Safari Cigar Lounge at The Lodhi, New Delhi, and the ones at The Oberoi New Delhi, Gurgaon, and Mumbai. And soon our e-commerce portal will bring cigars to second tier cities, to create more informed and educated connoisseurs of the Habanos. We also plan to make it more accessible by introducing cigar clubs, which would cover not only cigars but also single malt whiskeys, fine wines, gourmet food and luxury travel.

Which cigars work best for the Indian palate?
Habanos have developed shorter cigars (Short Churchills, Monte Cristo Petit Edmundo and Petit Nbr 2, Hoyo De Monterey Petit Robusto), as well as a range of limited editions (Edicion Limitada) that are aged with normally dark oily wrappers which give them a unique taste, specially for the Indian palate. What also works well in India are the Reserva and the Gran Reserva. The Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure no. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2012 is a hit that uses tobacco leaves from 2012. Lastly, in recognition of India’s prominence in every aspect of today’s world, Habanos, in association with Cingari has developed a Limited Edition cigar exclusively for the Indian market, the Punch Platino.

Which cigar would you recommend from someone who is starting out?
Since cigars are made solely from aged and fermented tobacco leaves, they tend to be significantly stronger than other tobacco products. Therefore, it is imperative to start off with a light yet flavourful Habanos. A few of my recommendations are:
H Upmann Magnum 46: A sweet, creamy smoke which is light in strength but full of flavour.
Montecristo No. 4: With its fine construction and even-burning, this petit corona size cigar provides for a great cigar experience.
Cohiba Siglo I: The Cohiba Siglo I cigar is a tiny Corona so the smoke itself is short. Siglo I’s flavour profile mainly consists of creamy sweetness.
Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robustos: It is a light cigar that has great earthy flavours, making it ideal for beginners and connoisseurs alike.

What are your favourite Cigars for morning, noon and evening?
After lunch, I diligently go to my humidor in office and select my favourite after-lunch cigar. With time constraints, this is normally a Robusto size and I have many favorites including Hoyo De Monterrey Epicure No 2, Partagas Serie D No 4 and the Cohiba Robusto. For the evening, I love the limited editions. Currently, I am enjoying the Cohiba Talisman and the Partagas Serie No. 1, but every once in a while I will revert to a Romeo Y Julieta Churchill which is an all-time favorite with me.

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