Editor’s note: Congratulations to Takashi, a Washington. D.C. chef who won Monday’s Cigar Hunter prize giveaway. He’ll receive a box of House Resolution by JC Newman cigars and a Thunderbird torch lighter from Corona Cigar Co. “I usually never enter contests,” the lucky winner emailed on Tuesday, “but since I like the articles and the prize was nice to say the least, I said why not? … Keep up the great work!”
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Today’s photogenic guest smoker — and guest columnist — is journalist and filmmaker Charlotte Metcalf, an Englishwoman known for her travel and culture writing and for making documentaries on challenging subjects. She’s been published nearly everywhere in England that counts, including the Spectator, the Daily Mail and the Financial Times. Her short film “Globalisation is Good” is well worth 50 minutes of your time on YouTube. Please give her a warm Cigar Hunter welcome as she explores Davidoff’s London Ladies’ Masterclass, and manages to write about it without spelling “flavor” with a “u.”
In terms of breaking new ground, whether smashing the glass ceiling or choosing to live without men, we Brits have always looked to American women to see what they will do next. We tend to follow, and it seems cigars are no exception.
Across the Pond, you already have a website entirely devoted to women and cigars. A plethora of female celebrities (Madonna, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg to name but three) have graced the covers of some of your most prestigious cigar magazines. (RELATED SLIDESHOW: Smoking hot famous women smoking cigars)
When it comes to inventiveness, though, Brits can sneak up on you. I attended an event in London that suggests we may even be nosing ahead in the race to create the perfect, comfortable environment where women can learn about premium cigars.
I arrive at the MayFair Hotel, just behind Piccadilly in London’s West End, one dingy Thursday evening in October. Draped in steel chain mail curtains and doused in pink and blue light, the MayFair’s sleek, contemporary Cigar Room with its louvered walls and canopied day beds is the antithesis of the wood-paneled, leathery environments traditionally associated with cigars.
It’s more zen retreat than gentlemen’s club.
Since England imposed a smoking ban in July 2007, an increasing amount of energy and design have been channeled into dedicated smoking environments: Smoking terraces and cigar bars are now sometimes primary destinations, even for those who don’t smoke.
Tonight, courtesy of Davidoff, 20 of us have gathered at the MayFair Cigar Room for an initiation into the mysterious — to us, anyway — world of cigars. My fellow adventuresses include an architect, a City manager, two actresses, a film producer, the Events Manager at Prada, and a jewelry designer and her daughters.
We are greeted with chilled champagne and a Davidoff Exquisito Longfiller Cigarillo, the smallest ever hand-rolled cigar. I gave up cigarettes 18 years ago but Vincent Kremble, Davidoff’s international brand ambassador who has flown in from Switzerland for the event, assures me that one does not “smoke” a cigar; one “enjoys” it.
Rule One when you pick up a cigar: Never inhale.
Waiters circulate with exquisite canapés and chocolate, or lychee and rosewater Martinis, before we are invited to take our seats to learn how to choose, cut, light and enjoy a cigar.
“You could make a dress out of it,” the interior designer next to me enthuses, stroking her face with the silky piece of brown fabric before passing the cigar wrapper on to me to have a feel.
It’s lusciously supple, more akin to satin than paper.
I learn that Davidoff’s fine cigars come from the Dominican Republic nowadays (though there are still plenty of Cuban cigars for sale in England), that a “premium” cigar is made entirely of tobacco leaf and that the tobacco in a good cigar is, on average, five years old.
I learn that the ring on a cigar was originally there to protect the fingers from staining (particularly in the days of white gloves). I learn that it’s not the size that counts but the tobacco blend. I learn that you must not cut more than a millimeter from the end.
You must, I learn, use an odorless flame: no sulfurous matches, candles or gasoline lighters. (Plain wood, especially cedar, is lovely.)
Don’t relight a cold cigar. Don’t stub a cigar out or tap off the ash.
“Aren’t cigars bad for you?” one woman, a screenwriter, asks.
“What do we usually die from?” is the question in response to the question. “Stress! Enjoying a cigar is a moment of intense relaxation. You calm down, your heart rate is slower and your blood pressure drops.”
It was when Edward and Eddie Sahakian, the father and son who run the prestigious cigar store Davidoff of St. James’s at 35 St. James’s Street, squared up to the fact that their customer database was 100% male that they decided it was time to reach out to the fairer sex.
And the first ever London Ladies’ Masterclass was born.
That night we tried five cigars and I was surprised by how much I relished the taste and the sensation, though we were told to take our time with each one. Each cigar needs to be savored individually.
By the time the tapas and wine were served, Kremble was having so much fun that he got positively sappy.
“There’s nothing so beautiful as a woman’s eyes glimpsed through a blue haze of cigar smoke,” he said dreamily.
“There’s nothing I enjoy more than powerful ladies breaking down male bastions,” added the manager of the MayFair, whose wife was on hand to participate.
By the end of the evening nearly all of us agreed that cigar smoking is a habit we would readily embrace. Edward Sahakian describes the cigar as an “instrument of pleasure,” and perhaps he’s right. The evening was lovely, the company charming, and the cigars relaxing.
Editor’s note: Due to high demand, Davidoff will continue running Ladies’ Masterclasses in London — by invitation only. Your regularly scheduled Cigar Hunter will return Monday with more tales from the tobacco world and another prize to give away.