HWC: Inside the mind of a Champion prior to the winner’s announcement

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“-Passion-, I am thinking to myself. I cannot seem to get the word out my mind, as I await a jury to announce a winner. I bring the Habanos to my mouth, take another gentle draw, and slowly close my eyes.

 

Passion. It is not something that can be learnt from a book. It is not taught in the classroom. Passion is created, from a series of events, dots that are connected, awakening a feeling hibernating inside. It is different to love, because love is fleeting. It is different to curiosity, because curiosity can be satisfied. A journey has a beginning and an end. A story has an opening and closing sentence. A day has the sun and the night to confirm its cycle. Passion has no start. It is always there, awaiting discovery. And once found true passion has no end.

When it comes to the moment of choosing a Cuban cigar, a Habanos, whether it is looking at the closed humidor about to be opened, or glancing at the walk-in humidor that is about to be entered, the senses are already tingling – the passion inside is understanding and is screaming to be let loose, like a chained beast fighting for its freedom – yet the noise, the stress and the anxieties surrounding me disappear, and I am transported to a different world. Sometimes there are friends here, in this alternative dimension, sometimes there are loved ones, sometimes new persons, at times this new world is set in a place with sea, sand and a gentle refreshing breeze, or locked within the mountain green. Whatever the scene, the common ingredients in this moment is me, and the Habanos…

Whether it is a lighter shade claro or a darker matured maduro, the wrapper of the cigar is pleasing to the eye, tight, with a beautifully uniform color. The feel is firm but springy with beautiful natural oils present. The smells associated with the aged leaf, drifting around me, call to me. I proceed gently, savoring the moment, and cut one end of the cigar, whilst slowly placing the other close to the fire of my gas lighter. Slowly burning the outer edge, where the naturally combustible binder leaf hugs the wrapper leaf, I then turn the flame in a circular motion towards the centre of the mouth of the cigar, until it is beautifully red in glow.

Upon the first draw, the smoke carries earthiness, spices and creaminess around my palate, dancing around as if performing their own spectacle. In a split second I see the farmers, the vegueros, ploughing their fields, growing the seedlings and planting them out; covering entire fields with muslin cloth to filter the sun, trap the heat and promote the condition necessary for the wrapper leaves to grow big and delicate; whilst parallel to this, guiding the plants that will produce the binder and filler leaves to develop in the sun, with the volado leaf, important for the combustibility of the cigar, growing at the bottom, the medium strength seco leaf, important for the aromas, developing in the lower middle and the ligero and rare medio-tiempo leaves which are the driving force of the strength, proudly dressing the top of the plant. I see them cutting the top bud from the plants when they have achieved a desired height, and then dealing with the side shoots that develop as a result – desbotonado and deshije. I see them meticulously harvesting, from the bottom-up, 2-3 leaves at a time from a single plant, allowing days between pickings to allow the rest of the leaves to fully develop. I see leaves being aired in curing barns. I see them being fermented. I see them being aged. I see them being moistened, aired, sorted and classified. I see the master blender, the ligador, mixing different strengths of aged leaf, preparing them in accordance with which Habanos will be produced. I see the torcedor making the cigar, wrapping the mix of filler leaves into the binder leaf, tightly and securely from the foot upwards. I see her placing the result in a wooden press to take shape. I see her then rolling the pressed binder into the wrapper leaf, placing the flag around the mouth of the cigar, and finally placing the cap on the end using natural vegetable gum. I see her cutting the Habanos to length. I see it then moved to the escaparate room, to rest, alongside thousands of others, as if to allow each Habanos the opportunity to consolidate internally the entire process from start to finish. And the thousands of human hearts involved in this process share my passion. They live it. I do not know them. I do not know their names, or how many children they have. Yet I know they form an integral part of my passion – interconnected like a series of waves riding one another across the oceans until one finally breaks against the shore.

I open my eyes. The president of the jury just announced the winners. I am celebrating. And my passion is congratulating me.”

 

– by Alexis Tsielepis

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