On her return to India, Ms Stevens, the self-educated cigar specialist, found that she was quite good and that her skills warranted a job as a cigar expert at Le Royal Meridiens cigar diwan and walk-in humidor (the room where cigars are stored).
Its not easy to stop Ms Stevens talking once shes got going on her favourite topic. A cigar is made of pure tobacco. There are cigars and cigars, says Ms Stevens. And every one of them is expensive, whether it is handmade or machine made. The tobacco in a machine made cigar is not of good quality. That is why these cigars start in price at Rs 100, whereas a handmade cigar costs upwards of Rs 300.
A handmade cigars price should not be grudged, explains Ms Stevens, for the process of making it is most tedious. It takes nearly a year and a half to make one. The leaves are specially selected and the tobacco is of premium quality. Do you know a handmade cigar is rolled on the inner thigh of a woman Even the box in which the cigar is finally kept is carefully chosen. The cigars length varies from three inches (a half Corona) to an astonishing seven and a quarter inches (a Churchill). There are cigars bigger than these, too, but they are made only on special occasions.
Most classy cigars with long filters have long, firm ash at the tip that doesnt fall off easily. The whiter the ash, the higher the quality of the tobacco, denoting ideal soil conditions and better flavour, points out Ms Stevens. Besides even smoke and good flavour, a good cigar must possess certain qualities such as structure and construction, which can determine the measure of its appreciation.
You start by rolling the cigar between your thumb and index finger near your ear and listening to the sound it makes. Ms Stevens explains that a crackling sound means dryness or moisture brought about by improper storage or a low quality wrapper. A quiet and smooth roll on the fingers shows good moisture, especially if the wrapper has a tan, oily sheen to it. Keeping cigars at a correct 70-72 per cent humidity brings out the best in them.
A good draw means the cigar is not too tightly rolled and can draw the smoke with relaxed ease. Too loose a draw, on the other hand, could be too hot on the palate. There are several kinds of cutters that affects the burn and flavour of the cigar. A rounded edge of the closed tip of the cigar slightly above the tapering on the edge has to be cut with a cigar cutter.
For Ms Stevens, a personal favourite where cigar cutters are concerned is the Zino double-edged cutter, which has two blades that meet and provide a clean cut on the tip. She recommends the V-cutters that create a German cut or a V or diamond kind of hole, that concentrates flavour and smoke.
Lighting a cigar is a ritual that must not be taken lightly, cautions Ms Stevens. There is an art to lighting your cigar, she says. One must never let the flame of the lighter touch the tip nor should the chemical fumes of a newly lighted match start it either. Patience is needed in holding the cigar and lighting it with the other hand. To eliminate the hassle, buy a mini butane torch. The flame should be held away from the cigar and it should be charred. Then, light it again. The smoke must be swirled in the mouth and then breathed out.
A cigar is not as harmful as cigarettes, says Ms Stevens. The best time to enjoy a cigar is either well before dinner or after it. A cigar is also an excellent stimulant of thoughts when one is alone, she says, with a grin.
Big cigars are stronger than the smaller, thinner ones. The taste of a cigar varies from sweet, bitter, acidic and dry to herbal, spicy, peppery, coffee, woody, etc.
Ms Stevens cautions you against stubbing out a cigar. That would be an insult, she exclaims. A cigar should die with dignity. Let it die on its own. And when you want to relight it, cut the lit end out. But it wont taste the same as now, air has passed through it. Fidel Castro of Cuba, who is known the world over as a cigar lover, smokes the Trinidad Fundadores cigar made specially for him. It is now available in the cigar markets. In Mumbai, aficionados like Prahlad Kakkar and Anish Trivedi know their cigars. But otherwise, there is a lack of education where cigars are concerned, laments Ms Stevens..