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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Culture

Rolling Cuban cigars

Posted March 14, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Culture.
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Jean Patteson | Sun Sentinel

Something happens to a guy when he puffs on a cigar. He becomes, well, puffed-up.

It’s a subtle change, but real. His chest swells, his chin lifts. Even his voice seems to take on an added resonance as he makes his pronouncement: “Hmmm. Nice draw. Very smooth.”

It’s as if the cigar bestows upon him—or her, if a woman is doing the puffing—a certain elan, an insouciance, that wasn’t there before.

Cigars also lend a special ambience to an occasion, an air of opulence and celebration. That’s why the Sosa family, which has been making and selling cigars for generations, decided to go one step further. The family now hires out their cigar rollers to perform their time-honored craft at conventions and theme parties, weddings and anniversaries.

That is what 80-year-old German Sequeda is doing on the patio at Bongo’s Cuban Cafe at Downtown Disney West Side, where an after-hours party for a group of conventioneers from Philips Medical Systems is in full swing.

Sequeda sits at a small table against a backdrop of palms and banana trees. A desk lamp casts a circle of light on the tools of his trade: a chopping block, a pot of odorless paste and a chaveta, a broad, curved blade.

On his right is a stack of unwrapped cigars. On his left, a pile of golden-brown tobacco leaves, each as supple and paper-thin as prosciutto. A half-smoked cigar juts from beneath his crisp, white mustache.

He places a half-leaf of tobacco on the block. Trims the curled edges with his chaveta. Lays an unwrapped cigar at the leaf’s tip. Wraps the leaf around the cigar. Dips a fingertip in paste and seals the cap—the end that is clipped before a cigar is smoked. Adds it to the collection of Sosa “Old Man” cigars lined up along the edge of the table.

It’s a technique he learned as a 12-year-old boy at the Romeo y Julieta cigar factory in Havana, Cuba, and has perfected through almost seven decades.

Sequeda now wraps cigars for the Sosa Family Cigar Co., which has two stores in Downtown Disney and a third in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. The cigar company was founded by Juan Sosa, who fled from Cuba to Miami in 1962, and now operates the Fuente cigar factory in the Dominican Republic.

Visitors to Downtown Disney can watch Sequeda ply his craft at Sosa West Side store on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. And he works at events such as the convention party at Bongo’s.

Forget, for a moment, darker sides of cigar smoking: the aroma that some find nauseating; the tiny carcinogens released along with the mellow flavor. As Sequeda wraps, conventioneers from across the country press close, captivated by the mystique of the cigar.


Artisan German Sequeda
(PHOTO JACOB LANGSTON/ORLANDO SENTINEL)

“Ready to try one?” asks Michael Cherowitz, Sosa’s sales manager, who fields questions about cigar-wrapping.

“Are they Cubans?” asks a conventioneer.

“Rolled by a Cuban, which is about as close as you can get,” responds Cherowitz.

The man grins. “Sure,” he says, stepping forward.

With a flourish, Cherowitz clips the cap from a cigar, warms the tip with his lighter and passes the fresh-wrapped tube of tobacco to the aficionado.

The man places the cigar between his lips, leans into the flame, puff-puffs. The flame flares, smoke billows. He steps back, examines the glowing tip, replaces the cigar between his lips.

And then it happens: His chest swells, his chin lifts. Suddenly, he’s a man of style and substance.

“A cigar says you’ve arrived in life,” says Robert Kaftan, 47, a conventioneer from Seattle standing near Sequeda’s table. “It’s fascinating to stand here and watch your cigar being wrapped.”

A woman pulls out a camera, flashes a picture. Sequeda smiles around his stogie but doesn’t look up. He sips from a small white cup of Cuban coffee, then keeps trimming, wrapping and stacking cigars.

Having a cigar roller at an event “provides a unique and different entertainment,” says J. R. Silva, owner of Silva Entertainment, a special-events business in Longwood.

He hires Sequeda, or one of Sosa’s other three rollers, for events ranging from Havana Nights parties to weddings.

“I’m doing a wedding in June where the bride’s asked for a cigar roller,” he says. “She says it’s for her father and his friends, something special for them at the reception.”

Engaging a cigar roller “sets the tone for a party,” says Silva.

“It engages guests. It’s interactive. It says, ‘Let’s celebrate.’ “

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