The Tabacalera de Garcia factory stands as a powerful fortress in the lush La Romana region of the beautiful Dominican Republic. It is home of some of the best, and most renowned cigar brands, including Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, and H. Upmann.
If there is a Heaven on Earth for cigar enthusiasts, this may very well be it.
Tabacalera de Garcia’s Grupo de Maestros are simultaneously geniouses of their craft and the kind of men who are more than willing to share their love for tobacco with anyone and everyone.
They are the next evolution of artisans, seamlessly marrying their artistic conceptualization of cigars to flawless hand-made production. They are the best in the business and are well-deserving of the title of “maestro,” – or master.
Every team needs a captain, and for the Tabacalera de Garcia, Javier Elmudesi is the man at the helm of this epic ship. He is the factory manager, a tall man whose booming voice echoes throughout any room he is in. But the moment he shakes your hand, you immediately feel at ease. Javier speaks highly of his team at the factory, praising them for their experience and ideas in blending and conceptualization.
“Everyone can get together to smoke and share ideas. It is a helpful tool that we have in the factory,” says Elmudesi. “For us, it’s a very important part of the business. They not only provide quality control, they also help us with the development of the new blends.”
But each week these six men undertake a process to ensure that their cigars remain among the industy’s elite. It is the taste test, a meeting of the venerable maestros where they will endevor to create some of the best cigars in the industry.
The Grupo de Maestros file into a comfortable, well-lit room inside the factory, a “war room,” of sorts. It is unassuming, yet with a feel of intimacy; coffee, water, and other refreshments line a small table at the back of the room. They seat themselves at a long wooden table. A few of the Maestros sport guayabera shirts with their cigar brands emblazoned upon them, with the pride of an athlete wearing their team’s jersey. Each man prepares himself, bringing out papers, some laying their eyeglasses on the table. Trays filled with freshly made, unbanded cigars are passed around. They choose a stick from the trays and examine it thoroughly. They feel the wrapper with their fingertips, inhale the aroma of fresh tobacco, take a cold draw.
Each man begins the smoke with his own unique ritual.
One may use a guillotine cutter, another simply takes the cap off with a quick flick of a fingernail and lights his cigar.
In the beginning the mood is light. As the smoking continues it will become more intense. Focused. Silent. Each Maestro takes his first draw allowing the smoke to flow slowly from his mouth, the notes of the cigar settling on his palate. When the clouds of smoke billow through the room, the men begin to debate the cigar in hand.
They talk about the cigar’s burn.
They look for imperfections: longitudinal fissures, tunneling, and flakey ash are unacceptable. They hold the cigar upright to keep the ash from falling. They use keen eyes to look for the slightest defect in the cigar’s burn line. Each Maestro is given a turn to talk about his likes and dislikes of the particular blend in question. All opinions are valued equally here, reguardless of seniority.
Though each Maestro has particular tastes (for example: Candido Rosario, the production manager, is quite fond of a strong cigar), they are all focused on creating the best cigar for their consumers. They put aside their personal preferences to make a cigar that their customers will love. During this dialogue, comparisons to the cigar are never made, as Maestros are focused solely on the cigar they hold in their hand.
Uniformity from ash to wrapper is the hallmark of superior quality that can only be achieved through high standards and supreme craftsmanship. This is what the Maestros hope to discover with each new cigar. Nestor Rodriguez, the factory’s Manager of Tobacco Operations, finds beauty in the percision of the process each cigar goes through.
“The perfect cigar is that to which you carefully apply all of our processes.”
The smoke begins to clear, the tasting session nears its end. Each man now satisfied with the discussion, finishes his notes. Those notes are then collected and compiled, the details to be analyzed and applied for the next tasting. From an outsider;s perspective, these sessions may seem mysterious, even wondrous; but for the Grupo de Maestros, it is just another day’s work.
Many cigars have been born in this room. The Maestros sit, smoking, talking like the old friends they are, and work to create some of the best products consumers smoke today. The Montecristo Epic, for example, is a creation of which the Maestros are particularly proud: “Well-balanced,” and “Strong,” are just a couple of the terms the Maestros use to describe their prized cigar.
Their cigars are consistently judged among the industry’s best.
And because the Maestros are responsible for the development and creation of so many, their passion for the creative process is on display in their tasting sessions. Their dedication to the process is one they take personally.
Cadido Rosario sumes up the importance of their work with one simple scentance: “You tend to look at (the cigar) like your child.”