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Stogie Commentary: A Good Cigar and a Cup of Joe

16 Nov 2010

Choosing a drink to accompany your cigar is about as individual a choice as selecting what you’re going to smoke in the first place. The drink choice can also be greatly influenced by where you happen to be smoking. A cigar bar that features only beer and wine obviously isn’t the spot to enjoy a single-malt Scotch, for example, while smoking at home offers nearly endless possibilities.

I’ve never been an alcohol drinker. Though I’ve tried almost everything, I’ve  failed to develop a taste for it. My choice of a drink to pair with a cigar is almost always coffee. Early, late, it doesn’t much matter to me. And while I prefer good coffee, I’ll usually settle for mediocre and, on occasion, choke down a cup of black swill. I drink it without cream or sweetener.

I’ve never truly gotten beyond simply preparing ground coffee at home, these days using a manual Melita drip system. While I think I’d enjoy trying lots of different roasts and regions, I have to admit I’m too lazy to go to the trouble, particularly of roasting my own beans. About as far as I’ve gone is buying beans from some of the country’s top coffee roasters, such as Intelligentsia, and grinding them myself. I do try to sample coffee anytime I see an interesting looking shop. But, nowadays, I usually settle for Starbucks (Charbucks to real coffee aficionados) that I have ground at the shop because it’s so much easier

My biggest coffee move recently has been the purchase of a two-cup Bialetti Brikka stovetop “espresso” pot. I haven’t actually gotten it broken in yet (they recommend at least three trial runs for seasoning and to make sure you’re doing it right), so I can’t comment on how the end product turns out. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy it. Even for me, it looks pretty simple.

I’m guessing that when you ask most cigar smokers what they would light up with a cup of coffee, they’d answer, “a maduro.” The dark richness of that tobacco appears as a natural complement to coffee. I wouldn’t disagree. However, I also find a mild to medium stick with a Connecticut shade wrapper can be an even better fit. Something about that fine, smooth zip in the wrapper sets off the coffee taste exquisitely. Spicy cigars, like many of Don Pepin’s creations, also suit me with coffee. The contrasting tastes and textures react pleasantly on my palate.

If you haven’t had coffee with a cigar, I’d suggest you give it a try. And if you’re already a regular coffee-drinking cigar smoker, please let the rest of us know what you recommend.

George E

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Drew Estate

22 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: A Good Cigar and a Cup of Joe”

  1. Brian E Monday, November 15, 2010 at 11:15 pm #

    Ha! Funny enough I also recently bought one of these stove top coffee makers (a stainless Primula) in search of better home brew. So far I have only tried it once. Contrary to the instructions I think I should not use low-med heat but a much higher heat to blast the water through faster. I think I had too little pressure going and the water was just "percolating" before slowly dribbling out, resulting in obviously over-brewed, bitter coffee. Mind you, I have an electric stove, not gas. Anyone have pointers to share?

    As for cigars the only thing that I can really think of for pairing is that the cigar has to have enough flavor/body to stand up to the coffee, regardless of what wrapper I'm in the mood for. Sometimes I find some of my milder cigars (usually cheaper ones) are fine with lighter drinks but can taste a bit washed out with coffee.

  2. gagy Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    I am more a connoisseur of coffee than cigars. We have several italian coffee makers at home, ranging from 1 to 10 cups. Generally, we use a gas stove, but occasionally we use the electric burner. In this case it is best to use a high heat. On an increasing scale of 1 to 6, the number 5 setting works the most efficiently.

    There is also a german company that makes an italian type coffee maker with its own electric base.

    We never travel without it. Great to use in hotel rooms.

  3. Nick M. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 2:58 am #

    George,

    I suggest you try a French press with a nice dark roast to start off. It isn't much more work than a drip coffee maker and you don't lose any of the precious oils from your beans. Best cup of coffee I've ever had.

  4. dmjones1009 Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 3:17 am #

    Agreed that coffee is one of the best accompaniments to a cigar. My favorite pairing is strong black coffee with some sweetener along with a flavorful, mild-to-medium Connecticut Shade wrapped cigar such as a CAO Gold Vintage, Oliva Connecticut, or Xikar HC Connecticut.

    I usually drink coffee only in the morning, though, so I have to look elsewhere for something to drink later in the day. On warm summer days, I love unsweetened iced tea with a cigar.

  5. George E. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    An update: The Brikka has turned out to be easier than I ever imagined. It produces crema and the espresso is, to me at least, first-rate. One tip I read somewhere that wasn't in the directions: heat the water before pouring it in the pot. Not only does it speed the process, it seems to thicken the crema.

    Gagy – I'd be curious if you have any coffee recommendations.

  6. Cadillac Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    Agreed. High heat to perculate. French press is also very good. My go-to smoke would be a RASCC. The earthyness of the cigar just explodes with the taste of coffee. A close second would be an El Principe.

  7. gagy Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 10:45 am #

    @ Goerge E.

    The brands of coffee we prefer tend to be from Italy (although we live in France). The nec plus ultra is without doubt the Illy brand. Close after would be Lavazza. Please, you must understand that we drink our coffee without milk nor sugar.

    To our taste, coffee should not be over roasted (Oh no, I would not want to point a finger at a "S" brand in ever present in North America). We like a high content of Arabica in our coffe, preferably lightly roasted.

    Like cigars I suppose, it is all a matter of trying and finding what suites you best.

    I have a long way to go with cigars, but my next one will be enjoyed with a good cup of qahwah (as the North Africans call it).

    Gagy

  8. George E. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 10:57 am #

    Gagy – Nice to hear from an international reader. For the Brikka, I don't think true espresso grinds like Illy or Lavazza will work because they are so finely ground. Now that I'm typing, though, I wonder if either (or both) produce a grind suitable for Bialetti pots. It would seem to be approriate, given the ubiquity of Bialetti on Italian stovetops.

  9. gagy Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Georges – We only (almost) use Bialetti pots with the Illy or the Lavazza. The fine grind is perfect.

    The "almost" is because our electric espresso pot is not a Bialetti but a german brand called WIK, but it works on the same principle.

    Oh boy, we are getting far from cigar tasting…

    My question would be what should I try with coffee next time.

    Just to show how neophyte I am, I was thinking of a Trinidad Reyes. I know, I know it's a cuban, but I live on the other side of the pound remember!

  10. George E. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    I have had an occasional RyJ with coffee and found it to be a very, very nice combo. And thanks for the info on Illy and Lavazza. I'll give 'em a try.

  11. Angelo Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 11:50 am #

    The only way I drink my coffee…Cafe con Leche to be exact. Put some Bustelo coffee in the Moka pot and that's as close as you are going to get to a Cuban cafe con leche without it being hand strained

  12. Tommyzman Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Coffee is by far my favorite drink with a premium smoke. The two flavors just pair so well together. I especially enjoy adding a 3rd element – a glass of port wine. No need for sugar in the coffee as the sweetness of the wine takes its place. That's just livin' larger if ya ask me.

  13. George E. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 12:46 pm #

    Angelo – No doubt that Cuban coffee — in any of its variations — is a traditional pairing with a cigar. Do you use the brown sugar as well?

  14. DeadGuy940 Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm #

    I apologize for the length of this comment, but this is my favorite subject. I consider myself a coffee and tea connoisseur. I've researched both beverages and tried to learn everything about their history, production and preparation. I know much, much more about coffee and tea than I do about cigars. As proof, I will fully confess my ignorance – my favorite cigars are the Gurkha Legend and Onyx Reserve, I remove the rings, use a punch and use a double flame torch lighter. There must be a sin in there somewhere.

    Much of the flavor of coffee comes from the oils and gases created during roasting. Storing finished beans too long will allow them to sublimate and evaporate, leaving the coffee tasting stale and burnt. The shortest time between picking, roasting, grinding and brewing gives the most natural flavor. Beans should be ground while still warm from the roaster. Grinding will reheat the roasted beans and may alter the flavor profile of the coffee, although some people swear it gets altered for the better. Coffee is considered to be a sweet drink, in line with hot chocolate. Properly roasted and brewed coffee will have a vaguely sweet aftertaste and no bitterness. Starbucks doesn't make coffee. I'm not sure what that swill is, but it's taste is the furthest possible thing from coffee. Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds do a better job.

    The French Press is considered to be the best brewing method, though the Espresso type pots are a close second. The worst method of brewing is the American percolator. Water temperature is very important. Grounds added to 195 degree water and steeped for about five minutes will give you a strong and flavorful coffee. Other commenters are correct that when using the espresso stove-top models, more heat is better. The two biggest enemies of brewed coffee are heat and air, so you should put it in a pre-heated thermos as quickly as possible. Drip coffee maker paper filters will absorb and stop the oils that are so important to taste, but using a brass screen filter will let the oils through and vastly improve the performance of the machines.

    I buy from The Coffee Fool website because they turn around the beans the fastest. They grind and package the beans while still warm from the roaster which creates a natural vacuum inside the bag as they cool, preserving the gasses and oils. For commercial coffees, Folgers has the fastest turn-around time, though the beans are often fairly old prior to roasting and the finished product can sit in a warehouse for months before hitting the supermarket. Beans purchased in bulk from supermarket dispensers are often surprisingly fresh and when mixed and ground properly, they are an inexpensive and tasty alternative to fancier coffees.

    I prefer tea with my cigars. I've found that Darjeeling goes very well with a Maduro – the light tea flavor and rich cigar taste really contrast nicely. A medium bodied cigar will pair nicely with Oolong, English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast for the reverse reason. I recommend against Earl Grey, Lady Grey or Orange Pekoe with a cigar due to their citrus flavor element. I've also found that green tea goes with pretty much any cigar you are in the mood for.

    I hope you found this useful and helpful information.

  15. George E. Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm #

    DeadGuy – Thanks for taking the time to post all that. Lots of info. And let me say that there's absolutely nothing wrong with your cigar choices. The best cigar is the one you enjoy the most!

  16. Patrick S Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm #

    George-

    Excellent article. I think coffee is ofter overlooked as a cigar pairing.

    The biggest improvement in my coffee drinking experience came when I bought a burr grinder to grind beans. Fresh ground beans bring out the best in good coffee beans and a burr grinder doesn't create the friction that a blade binder does which can leave a slight burnt taste.

  17. DeadGuy940 Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 7:51 pm #

    Thanks George E., I'm glad you liked it. I LOVE coffee and tea.

    I forgot to mention my "secret blend" of coffee. Use equal parts of an Arabica or Cuban French roast, a Columbian American roast and a Kona American roast. American is a down the middle medium. This blend creates an excellent flavor profile for the coffee – strong, robust and faintly sweet. While I drink my coffee black, the best part of the blend is you can add cream, sugar, both or a flavored creamer and it still holds up. Give it a try sometime, you won't be disappointed.

    I second Patrick S in his support of burr grinders. They are by far the best way to grind your own beans. The low speed and crushing action don't heat the beans like blades will. However, the Magic Bullet does a really good job too and doesn't seem to alter the flavor. I had to use a friend's in a pinch once and it convinced me to buy one. I think the super high speed does the job so quickly, there is no time for heat to build up. I should find a way to prove that, over the winter, drinking a cup of coffee and smoking a Gurkha, in the wood shop! Now that is what heaven is like.

  18. Brian E Tuesday, November 16, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    Wow, lots of good info given here… thanks to everyone.

    Can't wait until the weekend rolls around again to try some of these tips out. Might pick up a can of Illy too… we'll see.

  19. Will Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 8:04 am #

    Being from the Northwest coffee with a cigar is something I do often. You have to try Stumptown Coffee in a french press. Stumptown is a small batch coffee batch roaster and distributor in Portland, Oregon. They make some of the best coffee in the country. And I'm not an employee if that's what you are thinking.

  20. Angelo Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    @George E.

    No I don't, I use Splenda (trying to watch the waistline!). Not sure what grinds you use. Never tried Illy but for $10 a can, I will pass. You can get Bustelo and Pilon at most Wal-Marts for about $3 a brick/can. My opinion…best coffee out there…

  21. George E. Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Will – Stumptown does, indeed, have a great reputation. I've tried some of their coffees and found them excellent. Stumptown also has a small operation nowadays in Manhattan for those living/visiting there.

  22. Cody Friday, November 19, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Coffee has always been my beverage of choice with a cigar. In particular, a nice Cuban Espresso. I brew it in the old stove top Bialetti. I don't sweeten it as much as a traditional Cuban Espresso. I find that coffee enhances the taste of the cigar. It clears the olfactory palette and allows you a fresh taste each puff of the cigar. If you go to any fragrance shop, on the counter, they have a container of coffee beans. It is used to clear the olfactory palette so you can continue to smell the different fragrances as they are intended individually. It does the same for tasting the cigar. Very relaxing and a nice old world experience.