In an increasingly technologized world, Talavera de la Reina in Toledo, Spain, is one of the few places in which romance is still alive. Technology may be able to virtually eliminate human error, but at the same time it has also destroyed the authenticity of the one-of-a-kind, handcrafted product. That is the magic of Habanos. They are 100% handmade, each one the same and yet slightly different – and the same goes for the time-honored Talaverana ceramics that house the new Habanos Vintage Collection.
In Alfar El Carmen, where the traditional ceramics have been produced since 1849, Francisco Agudo sits at his potter’s wheel, proud like a cigar roller in the El Laguito factory. Day after day, he works the clay of the Tagus River, well aware that Talavera de la Reina is to Spanish pottery what the Habano is to tobacco. It’s the designation of origin with the highest prestige and he, the craftsman, is its most important representative.
While the potter’s wheel is no longer powered by foot (it is electric), everything else harkens back to earlier times. Francisco speaks of his profession as the cigar rollers of Cuba might: “I started at age 14 and I have been doing this for 22 years.” All the while, he moves his hands over the clay with such adeptness that, although you are listening carefully, you can’t help but follow his fingers with your gaze, like a cobra surrendering to the snake charmer’s flute.
He speaks without stopping his work, which he does with a completely natural ease, as if it were the simplest thing in the world to form a jar. His ability calls to mind that of Lazarito from Partagás, who can roll a perfect Salomon without ever taking his attention from you.
“How much clay do you leave at the base of the jar?” I ask him. “ Three millimeters,” he replies, with Cuban precision. Francisco makes the jars by hand, one after the next, much like the Havanas that will soon fill them. They are all numbered pieces, each one the same and yet slightly different. “ This is natural clay, not industrial clay. You have to keep in mind that the piece will later shrink by 10% … or so.”
After drying and firing, each piece is individually glazed white and painted by hand using a stencil technique. As preparation for the painting, a sheet of micro perforated carbon paper is applied to the surface and carefully covered in charcoal dust with a kind of small sponge, leaving behind a design. The design is then painted on. It is only after ring that the piece gains the famous blue color of Talavera ceramics.
These are the jars that Habanos has chosen to use for its new Vintage Collection. They rely completely on the good eye and expert hands of the master potter.
The most recent issue of jars included 700 containing Trinidad Robusto Extra, 15 cigars per jar; 800 containing 19 Partagás 8-9-8s each; 860 containing 19 Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 1s each; and 1,100 pieces containing 19 Magnum 46s from H. Upmann each. All were numbered and the cigars were specially cured. The new editions will be launched in October.
For the newest edition of jars, Habanos collaborated with one of Spain’s most renowned porcelain manufacturers, La Cartuja de Sevilla, which had a history of working with Partagás and Ramón Allones in the middle of the last century. The “Sevilla Series,” exclusive to the Spanish market, features 2,000 numbered jars containing 27 Montecristo no°3s each that have been aged for five years under optimal conditions. La Cartuja de Sevilla used English porcelain to make these jars in a historic recreation of the pieces it produced a century ago and which are museum pieces today.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2016. Read more