So often the best things in life come to you by being at the right place at the right time. Yesterday morning turned out to be just that…right place, right time. As usual, we’d finished brunch (the same brunch we’ve attended for years at Cigar City Brewing) and moved over to the tasting room to check out what was new on the tap board. And as usual, I’d picked out a new-to-me stout and began wandering around the building, where I met Danny, a third generation tabaquero (cigar maker) from Havana.
We’ve known Cigar City since they were a folding table and two taps at a charity beer festival in 2010, and we’ve been visiting the tap room since it was a single room with a small bar and a handful of taps. When the taproom was expanded in 2012, a small cigar sales area and rolling table were set up, and from time to time, when we’ve been in the taproom on the weekends, there’s been someone selling cigars.
Daniel, or Danny as he asked to be called, is a third generation cigar roller working for Tabanero Cigars in Ybor City. His father, grandfather, and uncles were all cigar rollers in Havana. Danny explained that everyone he knew in Havana rolled cigars, but that there wasn’t money to be made. I guess that goes back to the principle of supply & demand. If everyone can do it, no one can make money doing it. So Danny left Cuba and moved to Mexico, where, again, there was no money to be made rolling cigars. Tampa, however, with its history of cigar production in Ybor City, was his destination.
Danny explained that the cigars he rolls are as high quality as the cigars he rolled in Cuba. The tobacco he was using on Sunday was grown in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Columbia with Cuban seeds, which to me seemed perfect, but according to Danny, it’s the Cuban soil that makes the difference. Having not been to Cuba YET, I’ll take his word for it. He was the expert…not me.
I sipped my beer and watched Danny work, gathering a handful (bunch) of tobacco leaves, stripping the center vein, measuring and tearing the leaves before smoothing the delicately thin wrapper to roll and cut each cigar. Once rolled and cut, Danny placed each cigar in a mold and screw press that would form the body of the cigar. Danny’s devotion to his craft was nothing less than exquisite. There is no way a machine could have made the intricate cuts trimming the end to perfection.
Tampa, may no longer be home to 150 cigar factories from its hay-day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but the desire for hand-rolled Cuban heritage is still in high demand. The popularity and admiration of hand-rolled cigars versus the cheaper, more economical machine-produced version keeps a handful of cigar factories in business in Ybor City and artisans like Danny working.
**Thank you to Danny for sharing his craft and his story. Here’s to a living a Gourmet Life, even when all I thought I’d be doing yesterday was eating brunch and drinking beer!