“Believe in your dreams and you’ll achieve everything if you pursue it,” said Rakesh (Rocky) Patel, who launched his cigars at Badmaash Café, Vagator, last month. Born in Mumbai, his family moved to California when he was 14.
Attaining his law degree from the University of Wisconsin, USA, he moved to Hollywood and represented the heavy hitters of movie town, who smoked cigars and acquired a taste for it in the town’s smoking club, Grand Havana Rooms.
HOW IT BEGAN
He sold his law practice to start manufacturing cigars in the early 1990s. The company, founded in 1995 as Indian Tabac Cigar Co began in California in partnership with Phillip Zanghi III, who ran the company's growing and manufacturing operations in Honduras.
He moved to Florida in 2006 and renamed the business Rocky Patel Premium Cigars.
Initially run by Rocky, it is co-managed by his brother who heads the sales section and major client relations, while his cousin, Nimish Desai, heads production which is based in Bonita Springs, Florida.
“Twelve years ago, we thought we’d never make it. Five years later, with stringent smoking laws and taxes, we thought our company wouldn’t last. Now, we’re right where we belong, in your hand!” Rocky reflects.
HOW THEY’RE MADE
Cigar making is a specialized industry transacted over generations. From the nursery until the cigar is boxed, it takes 4 to 5 years, 300 hands touch the tobacco on the way.
Two types of tobacco go into constructing a cigar. Shade-grown tobacco (grown under cheesecloth which blocks out 65% of ultra violet rays) and sun grown. The basic recipe consists of three long-filler leaves, the binder leaf and finally, the wrapper leaf, which is also the most expensive of the leaves. Again, depending on the blend and size of the cigar, more or less of the three filler leaves are used.
Seeds are planted in trays with small squares. After 45 days, the seedlings are transported to the fields, which have soil tested for magnesium, potash, boron, nitrogen. A full grown plant is 5½ - 6 ft tall, broken down into three sections.
The bottom leaf is the thickest, used as the wrapper, and delivers the most flavour and character. The third section with the thinnest leaf is used as the filler. Every brand has the same leaf from the tobacco grown in either Nicaragua, Honduras or Costa Rica.
The harvested leaves go to the fermentation room for 6 months to a year, where each grade leaf is sorted out and bunched with coloured threads to distinguish them from the wrapper, binder and filler. They are hung on racks to dry with the aid of a temperature-controlled system called Carista.
After 40 days, the leaves turn golden brown and are sent to the sorting parlour, where they are checked for moisture content.
Later, a team of 240 bunchers and rollers fold the graded leaves. It takes years of experience to get perfectly rounded heads and evenly rolled caps.
They are then put into a mould in a press. After that, every cigar is tested and finally banded, wrapped in cellophane and boxed.
Around the world – from truckers to corporate heads, a cross-section of society is hooked on cigars. The rich, balanced nutty and chocolate aroma of Rocky’s cigars is distinctive. In India, smoking cigars is a privilege affordable only by the upper class, like wine was several years ago.
The cost of cigars can vary due to multiple reasons. You pay a price for quality. The most expensive cigar is Gurkha Royal Courtesan Cigar at $1 million, infused with Remy Martin Black Pearl Louis XIII, gives the high in luxury.
The Rocky Patel 50 is the most expensive cigar line he's ever put out, limited edition or otherwise, and on an average, it costs from $ 5-50.
At the launch in Goa, after the presentation by Rocky, selected guests indulged in Single Malt whiskey and cigars.
Rocky’s cigars are available at Champagne & Cigars, Magsons Towers, next to Starbucks, Miramar, Panjim, Goa