Best Cigars and Tea Pairings with World Habanosommelier Champion 2018
H. Upmann No.2 Cigar - a light smoke with powerful flavours
CUBAN CIGAR EXPERT. AWARD WINNING PAIRING. MUST-READ ADVICE
Darius Namdar – London’s Mark’s Club director, Annabel’s expert cigar sommelier, Master of Havana Cigars and Worldwide Habanosommelier 2018
When we think about cigars and drinks, we tend to picture rum, whiskey and cognac. But this year at the World Habanosommelier 2018 contest, Darius Namdar proved our thought-process wrong. He paired his habano with tea, a move which helped him win the competition and beat the odds of a man in the UK accepting first place. (It’s been eleven years since the previous UK winner). In his charming and eloquent tone of voice, Darius talked us through his award-winning cigar and tea pairing, along with his advice on how to choose your own pair and what particular tea he believes matches our Cuban cigars online superbly.
TEA AND CIGAR PAIRING AT WORLD HABANOSOMMELIER CONTEST - “What we had to do for the som [sommelier] competition in Havana, was come up with something that was unusual. I’m almost certain that the entire panel probably still go to their favourite pairing, which is you know, a type of rum and their favourite cigar, rather than taking these quite elaborate pairings that we’ve spent a lot of time putting together”. The elaborate coupling involved an El Rey Del Mundo Choix Supreme cigar with a Grand Marnier liquor, as Darius explained he was advised to add some sort of liquor with his tea, otherwise his pairing might not get the attention it deserved. “We had to be quite clever about how to still incorporate tea into the pairing, but not make it thee main attraction”. The inspiration came when considering how black tea is used to cleanse a palette before testing a cigar. “We called the pairing – I say we, because I worked very closely with our tea supplier, the Havanan afternoon tea, because I wanted to bring something British to Cuba and say, this is my take on something very traditional that we do and something very traditional that you do. We started with tea – as you would in afternoon tea, and then we worked onto the cigar [Choix Supreme] – quite similar size to a robusto, but light to medium in strength, and paired that with a Grand Marnier – a commemorative edition that came out in the twenties, and it’s a serious cognac – a touch of orange liquor to balance it out – together it really worked.”
Inside the luxurious private members' club Annabel's, where we spoke to Darius Namdar about his legendary tea and cigar pairing at the Habanosommelier 2018 contest
"That story being told to me, that's what I tasted"
TELLING A STORY WITH HIS PAIRING – “What I love about the pairing, what’s so difficult for me to find – a completely third identity which isn’t involved whatsoever. When I smoked the Choix Supreme and I drank the Grand Marnier with it, I tasted panetone, I tasted brioche, I tasted candied almonds, I tasted that clementine peel, and so it was easy for me to say right, I taste this, I started with tea, we’re having this liquor and I’m smoking; that’s how the afternoon’s tea’s going to work. We served panetone at the end of the pairing, and it was a nice compliment”. Despite his cigar accolades and success, Darius remains humble and conscious of how many cigar connoisseurs are out there in the world with decades of experience. His eyes lit-up when discussing the genius of chefs who plate and present their food like crafted art, as he then spoke of the story his habanosommelier pairing needed to tell. “I needed to really tell it as if it were a story, and tell them little bits and pieces throughout the entire presentation that they would then remember later. They may not have picked up on the fact that I said Christmas, brioche, almonds, honey, they may not have registered that I’d said that along the whole speech, so that at the end when I say – now all of those come together like panetone, they’re like oh yeah, of course it’s panetone. Genuinely, that story being sold to me, that’s what I tasted. I just needed to convince other people as well, and I really believe in that pairing”.
"there are so many different options"
WHAT TO CONSIDER FIRST – “Pairing is a really, really big question, because there are so many different options and different permutations”. More and more luxury establishments are providing lounges and terraces for cigar smokers to unwind and appreciate their smoke with a perfect drink. With all the possibility to choose, it seems chaotic and confusing for someone not behind a bar to know where to begin. As an obvious beginning, select your cigar first. “I think because it’s about cigars, you need to choose your cigar first. I think you’re genuinely steered down a path by what you’ve eaten already that day, unless you’re a really experienced smoker and it doesn’t affect you. Genuinely speaking, on an empty stomach, a strong cigar is a difficult beast to wrestle with”. Darius explains that depending where you are on your food timetable – in-between lunch or in-between dinner, what you smoke will be very different, meaning a very different drink and cigar pairing.
Darius is smoking a Por Larranaga Montecarlo Cigar - made with the finest tobacco leaves grown in Cuba's Vuelta Abajo region
"There are some key indicators"
CHOOSING WHAT CIGAR AND WHAT TEA – “It sounds obvious – you’ve just got to try it. There are some key indicators which will and won’t work. If the liquor of choice, or the spirit or the tea/coffee of choice is too strong, and it’s going to overpower the cigar, it’s going to be much harder to make a pairing with that. And it works conversely to – if you choose a very light tea, and you’re smoking it with a Partagas, the cigar’s going to completely overpower that tea.” Partagas Cigars are known for their full flavour. The brand own some of the best tobacco plantations in Cuba’s Vuelta Abajo region. We call our Partagas Serie D No.6 Cigar one of the finest. The full bodied flavour of the habano is full of delicious tones and works well when you have limited time. “I think you start from an education starting point of – I need to choose something that’s like for like, or at least something that will stack up to its counterpart in the pairing, and then start to play around a bit. Discussing our mutual adoration for tea, Darius expressed how fun tea is to experiment with, as the drink allows for more creativity – “you can steep it a little longer, you can serve it at different temperature, you can serve it on ice…”
FAVOURITE TEAS TO PAIR WITH CIGARS – There’s always that joke when it comes to our wine knowledge – we know there’s white and we know there’s red. That’s similar to how some of us I’m sure, recognise our tea – regular or herbal. Darius mentioned a few interesting choices. “Oolong tea I think is a great tea to pair with.” Specifically, an Oolong tea called Spring Smoke, which is delicate and light in flavour. “The tea I use is actually a black tea. It’s called Himalayan Imperial Black – it’s a slightly smoky, dark, black tea. It has the smoky quality to it because they accidentally over-roasted the tea originally”. The accident ended up being the solution, as they realised the beautiful aroma from over-roasting worked impeccably. During out meeting, Darius smoked a Por Larrangna Montecarlo Cigar – 159mm in length and by a 33 ring gauge. He recommended the delectable habano goes finely with Oolong. When summarising what tea he prefers to drink, he emphasised a combination of mood and meal choices – after food or before being a deciding factor.
With all knowledge shared by Darius Namdar, we hope you buy Cuban Cigars from us and test them with some excellent tea choices. However, we have also published blog posts on Best Cigar and Coffee Pairings, and A Guide to Pairing Cuban Cigars with Beers.