Livan Garcia Quintana requests you to pose for a picture with him. "I want to take my experience back in images for my daughter," he says with an irresistible smile. As you stand next to this smart suited Cuban, the strong smell of an authentic hand-rolled Cuban cigar wafts through to your senses.

By Moiz Rajkotwala (Contributor)

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Published: Mon 5 Jul 2004, 2:24 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 12:46 AM

No wonder, considering Livan spends most of his time hand rolling the luxurious cigars we buy from the market. Livan is in Dubai courtesy La Casa del Habano, who brought him in for a cigar rolling demonstration at Awtar at the Grand Hyatt, Dubai. For that one night, diners at Awtar could choose from three set meals, all accompanied by two complimentary Cuban cigars.

The concentration was difficult to break, but we managed to corner Livan for a chat later. Some excerpts:

At what age did you get interested in rolling cigars?

I was about 10 or 12 years old at the time, when a friend of mine, who was already training for the job, took me to see how it's all done. I was fascinated by the technique and wanted to know more about it. At my expressed interest, he recommended I join him at the company he worked for, and I did.

What was your first experience with cigar rolling like?

To be a cigar roller in Cuba, you have to go through rigorous training. So all prospective rollers have to complete a nine-month course, where you are taught the intricacies of cigar rolling. It's a tough school, and you are old in the first couple of months whether or not you have the qualities required to be a good cigar roller.

What are those qualities that make a good cigar roller?

It's essentially your mental set-up. To be a good cigar roller, you have to be passionate about it. Cigar rolling is an art form that not everyone can master. You need to be quiet for a while, and you have to be able to stay focused on the task at hand. Cigar rolling requires a great deal of patience and concentration, which, if broken, can reflect on the quality of the cigar. Not everyone can maintain that kind of focus.

At the end of your course, you are tested and awarded a grade, which you can update later when experience makes you better.

How long did it take you to master the art?

I have been rolling cigars for 13 years now. And it is only now that I am at the uppermost level of rolling cigars. There are basically three levels of mastery that you can achieve, and each level determines the type and size of cigar that you can roll. I can proudly roll a Grand Corona, the most exclusive kind of cigar available.

Can you describe for us the steps involved in rolling a cigar?

First, you have to cut and gather in your hand the various types of tobacco leaves that go into the cigar - the combinations are kept secret, so the ready ingredients are handed down to you. You need three types of leaves, as each has a different function, from adding the flavour, to facilitating combustion.

Once done, you have to roll these leaves in a binder. This leaf does not serve any purpose other than to hold the other leaves together. Once rolled, the ends are pasted together with glue - natural, edible glue is generally preferred, but Livan uses a chemical glue specially made for cigars.

The ends are then cut and trimmed, following which, the cigar is rolled in the final, outer cover that gives it the soft, smooth look. This is the most difficult part as the leaf has to be stretch enough for the cigar to look smooth, and yet, stay intact. Once done, one end is folded in, and the other is cut to achieve the desired size for the cigar.

How long does it take to roll a cigar?

It depends. A small cigar can be rolled in three minutes, while a larger one can take up to four or five minutes.

Which cigar do you enjoy rolling and smoking?

I enjoy smoking the Panatella and Rovusto, but as far as rolling is concerned, nothing beats the Gran Corona.

Did you enjoy the demonstration, and what was the response like from the Dubai audience?

It was great. At first, I didn't see too many people around and was a little disappointed. But as I started rolling the cigars, the crowd grew. They asked me a lot of questions, and that made me a little nervous. But I loved answering them and interacting with them. It would be difficult for me to come back here, but this experience was so amazing, I'll never forget it.

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