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Mesa cigar maker is on a roll

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Posted: Saturday, February 21, 2009 6:21 pm | Updated: 12:38 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

A luxurious smoking jacket and supple leather club chair don’t make you a fine cigar smoker. Neither do a snifter full of cognac and a fat bank account. That’s all window dressing.

VIDEO:Watch Tim Torres create a fine cigar from scratch

A luxurious smoking jacket and supple leather club chair don’t make you a fine cigar smoker. Neither do a snifter full of cognac and a fat bank account. That’s all window dressing.

The secret to being a fine cigar smoker is in your mouth, says Timothy Torres.

“It’s all in your palate. Do you have the taste for tobacco? Do you have a hunger to find new blends? You don’t have to be rich to be a fine smoker; you just have to truly savor the tobacco,” says Torres, owner of Habanos Torres Cigar Club and Factory in Mesa.

A fifth-generation “tabaquero,” or tobacco blender and cigar roller, from Cuba, Torres has been creating his own brand of cigars for almost five years at his shop at Southern Avenue and Extension Road. This month, he moved the operation to a dim, cozy lounge in the city’s downtown district.

At the new location, customers may smoke indoors as they relax on cushy black sofas and watch Torres roll cigars in a cedar-walled humidor.

“This is what I’ve always wanted. I’ve been planning it since I was a little kid — a place for the true fine cigar smoker,” he says.

Diminutive and energetic, Torres is passionate about bringing back the tradition of what he says “used to be” fine smoking.

Based on zen-like enjoyment of an occasional high-quality smoke rather than frantic consumption of stick after nicotine-fixing stick, it’s a way of smoking he grew up around in Cuba, where his cigar-puffing grandmothers could hold their own against their cigar-making husbands.

“I started playing with tobacco before I even went to school,” Torres recalls. “That’s how it begins. You have to like it, to love it before you ever see a dime from it, before you even know you can make a dime from it.”

Taught the art of blending tobacco leaves from different plants and rolling cigars by his grandfather and father — who were taught by their grandfathers and fathers before them — Torres makes every cigar he sells. He carries no commercial varieties, nothing you’d be able to buy in a store or smuggle in from a banana republic with a black market connection and a briefcase full of money.

He fills, binds and wraps each “puro,” or cigar, by hand, using only a tabletop guillotine and press, a “cheveta,” or steel knife, and cedar molds — including one passed down through his family since the 1840s.

It’s a process that takes time. But, says Torres, “when a roller loves what he does, time is no problem. It’s not even in his mind.”

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Time is a factor again when it comes to the tobacco in the cigars. Imported from farmers in Nicaragua, Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Peru and Colombia, the delicate brown-to-deep-red leaves must be at least 8 years old. That’s the only way, Torres says, to ensure a smooth flavor without the harsh, bitter notes of chemicals that occur naturally in the tobacco plant. His pre-rolled cigars contain tobacco at least 8 years old.

Cigars rolled on the spot can contain tobacco aged 30 years or more.

“This is why it’s so important not to rush, to take time and appreciate a cigar, not only for the time and craftsmanship it takes to make it, but because the man who grew this tobacco may be dead by now. And you’re going to rush through his cigar?” says Torres. “No. That is not the way.”

At the club, a humidity-controlled case displays up to four dozen types of cigars, from “coronitas” and “robustos” to “cuavas” and “maduros.” Some are infused with flavors like vanilla or rum. If nothing suits a customer, Torres will roll a custom blend on the spot.

“There are princes, dignitaries, presidents who don’t have the honor of one person rolling a single cigar with a special blend just for them. Their cigars may come in a golden box and cost a lot of money, but they weren’t made just for them, based on their preferences. To see that kind of satisfaction on someone’s face, to know they appreciate something I have made for them — that’s what I love,” says Torres.

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