I am not a cigar smoker but I have always been interested in the hedonist process of smoking a cigar. I must admit that my feeling of being a free woman of character attracts me to enter in a world that was in the past reserved to men.
I had the chance to meet Manu Harit at the occasion of a wine and cigar diner. While we were preparing the bottles, he started to share with me his enthusiasm and passion for cigars. I discover a world where passion, excellence of products, tasting and moments of sharing are so similar to the wine world that I am passionate for.
During this night, I have tried fantastic cigars with the best guide to help me to open my sensations to the tastes in my mouth, the after-taste, the length… It is a big chance to discover the excellence of a product with the right people even if I was able to catch only 30% of the moment due to my inexperience. It could be comparable to a person who has never tried a Burgundy wine and you serve him a bottle of Chambertin Grand Cru from Jean-Marie Fourrier!
Cigar is so connected to the wine, Champagne and spirits that I was very curious to interview Manu about his passion and job. If you want to go deeper in the subject, you can discover his trésors of cigars on his website : ManuH Cigars.
How did your passion for cigars start?
Everything started when I was studying hospitality and management in Switzerland in 2011. We had a course about wines and spirits and I was learning everything I could. One of my teachers introduced us to the world of champagne and I started to do contests with him with a big focus on Champagne. We did les Ambassadeurs des Vins de Champagne in 2011 and my passion for Champagne led me to the world of cigars. I met by coincidence Eddie Sahakian at the Edouard Sahakian lounge cigar at the Bulgari Hotel. Due to my passion for Champagne, the connections with the world of cigars was easy as the two products have similarities about fermentation and ageing process. Eddie shared a huge part of his knowledge about cigars with me. Everything I learnt about Champagne with the CIVC helped me a lot to enter the world of cigars because I was talking about cigars, the way we use to talk about Champagne. It was very unusual and this is something that pleased my clients.
You are the youngest Havana cigar master, which doors this title opened you?
Actually, I am not anymore the youngest as the operational director of my company Martin, who is working with me for 6 years is now the youngest one on the market. This title doesn’t really open doors. When you are under 25 years old and you are working very hard , the title of Master of cigars brings you credibility regarding your clients and the industry.
In my company, we are a very young team and we started to work in the tobacco industry very young – for myself at 20. This Master degree is more a confirmation that what you are doing, you love it and you do it correctly.
Can you present your company “ManuH Cigars” ?
I have created my company in 2019 after several years working for luxury places in London. ManuH cigars is divided into three main activities. The main activity is cigar trading. We provide to our private clients cigars from all over the world. We are specialized in limited editions and vintage cigars. The second activity is the event management as we organize many events related to cigars. It could be a wine trip in the vineyards such as we did last year with the Château Léoville Barton or events during the Monaco or Abu Dhabi Grand Prix so that people can watch the race while enjoying nice cigars. For us, these events make part of the hospitality sector and it is our DNA. We are not just cigars providers, we are experience providers. The last activity is consulting for creating cigar places. We have few places around the world asking for support about the feasibility, the commercial strategy.
As an “experience provider”, what was your first memorable cigar experience?
June 2012, I was with my very close friend, Eric Chalvin who is also in charge of the branding of ManuH cigars. He took me to the Bulgari hotel for a smoke, while I never smoked cigar before, and this is where I met Eddie Sahakian. We were supposed to go there for a few and we stayed for almost four hours. We smoked the Bolivar Britannica 2011 limited edition for the UK and we spent time with Eddie, the smartest gentleman I have ever met in my life. So, that was a special moment and cigar.
How do you like to introduce people to the world of cigars, especially people with an interest in wine? Which parallels can we make between the two products?
I like to make comparaison with the wines of Champagne as we are dealing only with Cuban cigars in the company. There are good cigars all around the world such as Dominican Republic, Nicaragua … but Cuban cigars have something different in terms of soil, terroir and climate. You have good sparkling wines all around the world but Champagne remains Champagne for its soil, terroir and climate too.
First of all, we have a similarity with the terroir effect on those two products and the protection of an appellation of origin. Habanos is a DOP such as Champagne is. Then, both come from a plant with a growing period before the harvest. For tobacco, from the time you harvest it and you put it in a box, there are two fermentations and two periods of ageing. You first cure then ferment it, age it, ferment it a second time to make it very small and remove all the impurities and nicotines. The leaves of tobacco behave the same as a compost where humidity and the fermentation allows the leaves to remove all its impurities. In the making process of Champagne, we have two fermentations and periods of ageing too.
For both products, there are minimum required months for fermentation and if you want to make a vintage Champagne, you have to age it longer in the cellars. If you want a limited edition with cigar, you need to age it an extra two years.
Could you explain in more details the process of fermentation for cigars?
All the leaves that you can see hanging and drying are part of the curing process at the farm. At this step, the leaves turn green to gold. When it comes to fermenting, it is really binding the leaves on the ground and because of the natural humidity and the heat in Cuba, the leaves will start sweating, fermenting and decomposing such as a compost at home. This is why it is very important to control this step because you can destroy all the perfumes if it is not made properly.
Are there different plants of cigars such as we have different wine grapes?
The black cuban tobacco is the major plant used over the world for producing fine cigars.
After in the fields, there are types of production. One for the inside of the cigars and the other one for the wrapper leaves which correspond to the robe of a cigar. These leaves have to be soft, without veins and clean. So, for these wrapper leaves, the production is made under a canopy that protects them for the sunlights.
What makes the value and the uniqueness of a cigar?
First of all, the rarity. There is a very small quantity of Cuban cigars produced every year and only 20% of this production is sold as a specialty cigar as high end products where cigars have already been aged in Cuba such as a vintage Champagne… It represents a very tiny production.
When you understand that a cigar evolves during its life such as a wine, you understand why we will store and age cigars in perfect conditions to offer a special experience to our clients. For the moment, we are buying vintage cigars to trustful partners to sell them to our clients. It is very important for us to have a warehouse and to start having cigars that will be aged by our care and that we will be able to sell in the next few years.
How would you recommend a cigar to someone who wants to experience smoking a cigar such as a sommelier could recommend a bottle of wine?
First, I ask if the person is a cigar smoker. If not, I will recommend a cigar not too strong or complex to appreciate. And the second very important question is how much time do you have? If you have 20 minutes, don’t go for a cigar because you won’t have time to appreciate the blend made by the cigar blender that requires a complete cigar experience.
After, I ask the personal preferences in terms of wine or food so that I can pick up a cigar close to it. For instance, if you tell me that you prefer Burgundy wines, I won’t choose a powerful cigar. On the contrary, I will choose a cigar with finesse and elegance.
The key question is : how much time do you have?
How do you train in the cigar industry?
Pretty much the same than in the wine industry. Every year, there is a competition in Cuba with a blind smoking section. I remember training smoking cigars without the band and trying to memorize every part of the cigar, flavors, aromas, burn.. the more you consume, the more you know. Afterwards, I will never promote smoking hard core because at the end of the day, it is not good for your health. When I started, I was so excited that I was trying many cigars. After a few years, I started to select them but every single cigar I smoke, I remember and focus on the palate experience. Within my selection, I want to try the new releases. Every year, you have around 10 new cigars of limited edition released from Cuba.
On the parallel, we take notes of the experience. I have found my first notes from 2012 when I was at the Sahadian cigar lounge. It is very funny to see that I was coming from the wine world because I was taking a lot of notes. Today, my notes are not so deep in details but I keep the habits to take notes.
What is your dreaming cigar that you would love to smoke?
It is hard to pick up only one! But if I really have to choose only one, it will be Trinidad Fundadores 1998. I had the opportunity to smoke and it was so great… This cigar has been designed for Fidel Castro and 1998 is the first release, so the first vintage of this edition. I still have a few boxes but I won’t smoke them now.
Which kind of emotions smoking cigars will provide you?
The very fascinating part of smoking cigars is the great social network that it is coming with. Wherever you go in the world if you light a cigar next to another person lighting a cigar, you will connect naturally with this person. Even if you are coming from a different background, the passion of cigars will connect you. This is something very fascinating and this is why we love hosting events.
You are in a very special mindset when you light a cigar because you decide to take the time, at least one hour in front of you. Even if you are alone, you are in a very chill mood smoking cigars, you enjoy it. But most of the time, you are with friends, you meet people and the time stops. Time is a luxury especially in our society where we always run after time. Cigars are all about investing your time.
What are you the most proud of?
The pride is to have built amazing relationships. Anywhere around the world, I meet amazing people thanks to our shared passion for cigars. It is very exciting and at the end of the day, I really love what I am doing.
Stream of consciousness
- Movie : La vérité si je mens
- Book : Around the world in 80 cigars, Nick Hammond
- Music : Better together, Jack Johnson
- Memorable cigar : Bolivar Britannica 2011
- Memorable bottle : Dom Pérignon P3 1985 at Dom Pérignon
- Best combo : Champagne and cigars
- Colour : Red
- Smell : tobacco
- Sport : surfing
- Destination : Hawaï
- A perfect sunday : A very nice rôti de boeuf with great bottles and good friends
All the photos are from ManuH Cigars and are kindly shared for illustrating the article due to the social distance period time. Thank you for that.
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