Die Faszination von und zu Alejandro Robaina machte ich auch schon zum Thema. Wer sich «The Godfather of Cuban Cigars» mal aus malaysisch-journalistischer Sicht annähern will, kann dies mittels gleichlautendem Artikel in der «New Straits Times» tun.
The Godfather of Cuban Cigars
By Anthea De Lima (The New Straits Times Press)
Don Alejandro Robaina is synonymous with the best Cuban cigar there is. ANTHEA DE LIMA is a little awed as she speaks to the 85-year-old owner of the finest tobacco estate in Cuba, who had his first cigar at age 10. IT isn’t an easy task to be assigned to interview a man who has been described as a national treasure of his native land, a living legend and the “godfather” of Cuban cigars, a subject I know little about. Such was the case when I met Don Alejandro Robaina, a Cuban tobacco grower, cigar maestro and a man that a cigar brand has been named for.
Robaina was in the country to attend a gala charity cigar auction ball, with proceeds to be presented to the Yayasan Raja Muda Selangor, and to share his knowledge of cigars with the growing number of cigar lovers in the country.
Every line and crease on the 85-year-old Robaina’s face bear testimony to the time he has spent in the sun while overseeing his beloved tobacco crop. His face lights up when he talks about cigars and the land he hails from.
His love for cigars began at an early age. “I come from a family of tobacco growers and I remember that I had my first cigar when I was 10. My love for cigars began then partly because my brother, who was a sportsman, was not interested in the family business. As for me, even at that age, I thought constantly about tobacco. I guess you can say I have dedicated my life to it,” he said through an interpreter.
Robaina, who was accompanied by his grandson Hirochi, the fifth-generation Robaina in the tobacco business, said that he still smokes at least four cigars a day when at home, or two when he is travelling. “I used to smoke 14 cigars a day but I have had to cut down because of my age,” he said.
He has a favourite time of day for his first cigar and unlike the majority of cigar lovers here, it is not in the evening over a cocktail. “I wake up very early because the plantation workers begin their shift at 6.30am. I have my first cigar, usually a small one, over breakfast and it’s the perfect way to start the day,” he said, adding that the cigars tended to increase in size and strength as the day progressed.
When asked if he is still actively involved in the tobacco-growing business, Robaina said: “We have an engineer who looks after the nitty-gritty of the business but because of my years of experience, I have the last word when it comes to decisions about the plantation,” he said.
That it is a world-class business is apparent. Robaina’s estate is seen as the master producer of the finest cigar wrappers from the best tobacco in the Vuelta Abajo district of Pinar del Rio in Cuba. His father, Maruto Robaina, was considered the finest tobacco grower in the country, a reputation the son strived to maintain after his father’s death in 1950. That he has succeeded is obvious. Robaina has continued his father’s tradition of producing cigar wrappers for Habanos cigars, the best cigars in the world.
The Vegas Robaina brand of cigar was launched in 1997 as a tribute to Robaina in particular.
“Our brand is perfect for the novice — someone who wants to cultivate a love for cigar smoking. It’s a medium-strength cigar and you can be sure that your interest in cigars will grow from there,” he said.
Robaina has, of course, met Cuban president Fidel Castro on numerous occasions. When asked what they talked about on their encounters, Robaina said simply: “We talk about tobacco of course. What else would we talk about?”
Robaina enjoys the privilege of being the only Cuban alive to have a brand of cigars named after him. He is proud of it, but says that it is a result of hard work. “I live for what I do and growing tobacco has been my life. I try to do everything in the way that it should be done so I suppose I am reaping the rewards now,” he said.
He had once said: “The tobacco plant is very beautiful and easy to grow. It is a living thing that one watches grow. As it grows, it scatters seeds that are smaller than the head of a needle. It is a creature that later becomes a great flowering plant, with those leaves and that beautiful smile.”
He is proud of the fact that Cuban cigars are acknowledged as the best in the world and proud of his country. “I believe that Christopher Columbus put it best when he said that Cuba is the most beautiful land in the world. I have travelled a lot as an ambassador for cigars but I could never live anywhere else although I must say that I find Malaysia very similar to Cuba because of its climate,” he said.
What of his role as a cigar ambassador? “It’s wonderful to be in this position. I am an old man who has been blessed because all my dreams have been realised. In my travels and even when tourists visit my plantation, I get to share what has been a life-long passion with them and and tell them about the joys of cigar smoking. It’s a role that I relish,” he said.
Robaina is also proud that his grandson, Hirochi, is committed to continuing in the ‘family’ business. “As old as I am, he knows even more about cigar wrapping than me because he studied the subject in college and worked in a factory before joining the family business. If you are not a cigar connoisseur, you may not realise how important cigar wrappers are but in laymen’s terms, it is like the clothes you choose to adorn your body,” he said.
I asked if he could explain, in simple terms, the difference between a good and bad cigar. As may have been expected from someone who has devoted his life to his craft, Robaina said: “There is no such thing as a bad cigar although it is important to choose the right one for you. Start with a cigar meant for beginners and proceed from there and you can be sure that if you do it right, you will be a cigar man for life.”