For a while, until Covid intervened, there was a very popular Cigar Sommelier competition organized by Habanos SA, the finals of which were held at the Habanos Festival each year. Competitors would be tested on their knowledge of marques and vitolas across the entire Habanos portfolio and would also be scrutinized by a panel of judges while performing a “live” scene of hospitality–meeting a “customer” and serving up the ideal stick for the concocted occasion. This performance even attracted an audience as part of the annual Habanos Festival in Havana.
I have conflicting opinions when it comes to the term Cigar Sommelier. On one hand, some of the most exacting and knowledgeable cigar people I know carry the title. On the other, companies boasting “qualifications” are churning out “sommelier” with little more knowledge than having learned how to cut and light a cigar. Let me assure readers that if the life of a cigar sommelier appeals to you–first do some homework of your own for free.
“The role itself is quite niche,” says Syafiera Rosidi, Cigar Sommelier at the world-famous Annabel’s of Mayfair, London, and a Master of Habanos in her own right.
““Where there are many voices, many teachers and many students, the cigar world is far smaller in comparison. You need to open dialogue with those who work and thrive within the industry, find your way and understand how the market works. It’s all a learning curve at the end of the day, but what a pay off! You become part of a tight-knit community. Those that appreciate cigars come from all walks of life, and it’s with hard work that you become part of that.”
It’s easy to be seduced by the apparently glamorous lifestyle of a sommelier. Imagine, lighting cigars for interesting and important people! Working in fabulous surroundings! Getting great tips and free cigars! And getting paid for it!
If this is your view of the job, let me sober you up at once.
To become a seriously good Cigar Sommelier (What’s the point of being any other kind?) you need to immerse yourself in your subject like a professional chef would in food, flavors, textures, colors and tastes. Here in the UK, Hunters & Frankau, the sole importer of Cuban cigars, runs a prestigious qualification known as the Masters of Habanos. It’s a seriously strenuous thing to pass. Would-be Masters must learn a bewildering array of sizes (the actual sizes in millimeters, not just a “robusto extra” type hazarded guess). They must know, by size, shape, look and taste, all the current production and Limited Editions likely to be found in their market (and very often in others, too). They must know and understand the strength and flavor profiles found in each different brand and size. And, on top of that, they need to work in an industry that’s known for its grinding pace, hours and relentlessness.