Master of Havana Cigars: What it Takes to Receive the Qualification
Lighting a Hoyo Epicure No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2012 Cigar
DEDICATION. HARD-WORK. A LOVE FOR HABANOS
There are less than 30 Masters of Havana Cigars working in the UK. While cigar aficionados may claim to know everything about Cuban Cigars, only an elite few have the prestigious qualification to prove their knowledge. Hunters & Frankau – UK importers of habanos, developed the Masters of Havana Cigars certificate, which consists of an exam covering everything from vitolas, culture, history and brands. Additionally, candidates are required to know how to recommend and serve habanos.
The exam has five categories, including ‘Agriculture’, ‘Production and Presentation’, and ‘Brands & Specialities’. In total, there are around 190 questions with an oral and practical exam. We had the pleasure of meeting two cigar sommeliers who have earned this tremendous qualification. Darius Namdar – group cigar sommelier at private members’ club Annabel’s, who looks after cigar procurement for all Birley Clubs, and Adam Lajca, head cigar sommelier, who we interviewed for our feature Where to Smoke: Corinthia Hotel London.
S.T Dupont Lighter for Corinthia Hotel London
"you actually have to work for it"
TRAINING PREPERATION – The training itself is done at Hunters and Frankau headquarters, where they can see people are developing. Once they believe someone is ready, they are allowed to take their masters. Discussing his training preparation, Adam Lajca said, “it’s not something that comes easy – you actually have to work for it. To get that and everything from history, to Cuban brands and agriculture, sizes – it’s pretty much a little bit of everything. To be able to recommend a cigar as well. It’s very important to actually do that in the correct way, and we have to be comfortable with it."
Darius Namdar felt the same; “It’s a tough test. I mean, Jimmy [head of Hunters & Frankau communications] made it really difficult deliberately because it shouldn’t be something that can [clicks his fingers] be done easily. You need to put the time in”. We interviewed Darius at Annabel's for our editorial Where to Smoke: Mayfair's Luxurious Annabel's. When contemplating how much time to devote before taking the exam, that is up to an individual to deliberate. Adam remarked, “I heard it took people a couple of months. Talking about myself, it was around 6 months for me to actually prepare myself and take the exam”.
Adam - head cigar sommelier at Corinthia Hotel London
"critical to a career"
QUALIFICATION BENEFITS – After gaining a certificate and receiving the rights to call yourself a Master of Havana Cigars, you are gifted a silver lapel badge, which you can proudly adorn as part of your uniform. In an article on The Rake, written by Mike Choi, he said the qualification has been going for approximately six years, with “a pass mark of 75%”. On the piece about how to select your first cigar, Choi acknowledges that when seeing a sommelier or member of staff wearing the Master of Havana Cigars badge, you “are in good hands and should trust their advice”.
London is vast becoming a type of ‘cigar capital’ – countless lounge bars and members’ clubs are facilitating cigar smokers. Darius believes the uprising of cigar establishments is partly due to the certificate itself. “a large part is because of the work of Hunters & Frankau. Particularly Jimmy McGhee who is the head of their communications. He started this higher certificate which is this accreditation that is given if you pass their exams – since then it’s been growing gradually”. For cigar workers in the UK, the accreditation adds a reputable layer to your career. It symbolises a level of trust and excellence in your understanding of Cuban Cigars, and can be critical to a career.
Darius Namdar - Director of Mark's Club, a private members' Club in London
"Cuban Cigars is varied and complex"
INTERESTING INSIGHTS IN THE EDUCATION – Despite the hard-work and commitment needed in order to pass, the fantastic benefit of the exam is learning intriguing habano insights. For Adam, history and agriculture interest him most. “knowing what has to be done, to make the Cuban cigars. From the little seeds – back-breaking job of the farmers, that was really interesting”. We equally agree that the history of Cuban Cigar brands is remarkable to discover. Our post on Partagas Cigars: Dramatic History Behind the Brand, shares how a tobacco dreamer, created one of the most successful cigar brands in the world, only to be murdered on his plantation.
When speaking to both Darius and Adam, we found ourselves hanging on the edge of their every word. Their unique wisdom – somewhat gained from their Masters of Havana Cigars exam, made them talk about habanos as though they have studied them their entire lives. Darius – World Habanosommelier Champion 2018, mentioned a Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 Reserva Cosecha 2012 Cigar – 124mm by a 40 ring gauge, as “an all time classic for any cigar smoker”, which is funnily enough what Adam gave us to smoke at Corinthia Hotel London.
With such a wide range of Cuban Cigars online, and new vitolas being crafted, the world of Cuban Cigars is varied and complex. Though most importantly, marvellous and exciting. For your next smoke, why not consider a Montecristo Linea 1935 Dumas Cigar, or a Montecristo Linea 1935 Maltes Cigar. Made totally by hand with long-filler, they make for a delightful piece of luxury.