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Thu 26 Mar 2009 04:00 AM

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Coffee break

Caterer takes five with Burj Al Arab Skyview Bar manager Felix Hartmann and finds out why cigars are such an important element of the Middle East's bar and lounge culture.

Caterer takes five with Burj Al Arab Skyview Bar manager Felix Hartmann and finds out why cigars are such an important element of the Middle East's bar and lounge culture.In what capacity do you work with cigars in your role?

At Burj Al Arab we offer an extensive selection of cigars, at our Juna Bar and at the pool and beach areas.

What percentage of your outlet's revenue comes from cigars?

As a privately-owned company we cannot disclose any financial figures I'm afraid, however our cigars are very popular with our guests.

How did you train to become a ‘cigar sommelier'?

As a cigar sommelier, you work with, recommend and sell cigars as part of the daily work routine. You are also involved in the purchase and selection of cigars from the supplier directly. In order to do this, you just have to practice and be around cigars, learning as much about these processes as possible. It is also equally important to study cigars themselves to understand the production process and the methods used to create such masterpieces.

Tell us about the competition you are going to.

The Habanos Sommelier World Final is held every year as part of the Cigar Trade Show ‘Habanos Festival' in Havana, Cuba. Cigar sommeliers from all over world are competing against each other in a competition of two phases.

Firstly, the cigar sommelier has to introduce and serve his pre-selected cigar along with an accompanying spirit to the panel of ten judges (all from the cigar industry and media) and describe the corresponding match.

In the final, the sommelier has to identify 12 cigars from a humidor and present them to a mystery guest. The size, name, taste and aroma of the cigar have to be identified and explained to the guest before a recommendation is made.

Why do you think cigars are so popular in Middle Eastern outlets?

Smoking is an essential part of Arabian culture and cigars have become increasingly popular over the last few years in the Middle East, with the openings of dedicated cigar bars and lounges and ‘La Casa Habanos' - the only shops where Cuban Habanos cigars can be bought.

If a total smoking ban for public spaces is brought in, how do you think the region's cigar culture will deal with this?

Cigar connoisseurs tend to smoke their cigars either at specially-designed smoking outlets or in the comfort of their own homes, therefore cigar culture is not much affected by smoking restrictions.

What is the most expensive cigar you have ever sold?

I have sold quite a few rare vintage cigars in Europe before, mainly from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. In the Middle East, the rarest cigars are cigars of the ‘Edicion Limitada', which is yearly available for a short period of time at La Casa Habanos - in fact, the Edicion Limitada 2008 has just recently arrived in the UAE.

Did you know?The indigenous inhabitants of the islands of the Caribbean Sea, Mexico, and Mesoamerica have smoked cigars since as early as the 10th century. Early records suggest smoking has been an integral part of Arabic culture from around the 16th century.

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