“Enjoy The Adventure With Don Rafa Cigars”
(Don Rafa Cigars)
What Makes It Special
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Rafael Jaca of Don Rafa Cigars, live on the Great Lakes Smoke Show, with GLSS hosts Ronnie Pecorini and Kyle Jesso. On another very “happy afternoon”, at his Burning Leaf Cigar Lounge, Rafael shared his own personal favorite cigar, the Don Rafa Box Press Habano. This was my first time lighting into this amazing cigar, and I immediately noticed there was something deep going on. Rafael confirmed that the deepness comes from within the quality tobacco packed into this zen-like experience.
Don Rafa cigars are hand rolled at Rafael’s “Tabacalera La Familia” factory in Esteli Nicaragua, but his cigar roots trace back to his great-grandfather, Antonio Martinez, who grew tobacco in Camuy Puerto Rico. While making a living as a truck driver, Rafael noticed there were never any premium cigars in gas stations. In 2014, Rafael started selling bundles of cigars in gas stations, and now sells his own Don Rafa cigar series, at his Burning Leaf Cigar Lounge, located in Aurora, Illinois.
This box pressed cigar features an Ecuadorian Habano wrapper, which gets its varying spicy and sweet flavors from the rich volcanic soil and minerals in Ecuador. The soil from the Ecuadorian volcanoes is ideal for growing the most oily and pliable tobacco. The cigar’s filler and binder is a combination of Nicaraguan tobaccos from Esteli and Jalapa. During the live GLSS broadcast, I mentioned my initial love for box pressed cigars. Viewer Anthony James confirmed my nostalgic excitement by commenting: “Amen brother, a good box press is truly a thing of beauty”.
Box Press Habano
Brand: Don Rafa Cigars
Wrapper: Ecuadorian Habano
Body: Medium Boldness
Age: 3 years
Visual / Pre-light Draw
Sweet hay on the exterior odor. The red, black, and gold band displays “Don Rafa” over “Nicaragua”, with a gold crown on top. The sides of the band display “1998”, the year Rafael started smoking cigars, and “2015”, the year Rafael started his company. The rear of the label displays his initials “RJ”, with the same gold crown on top. The rear circular back seam is easy to grasp for an obviously easy removal. The chocolate colored cigar is very oily with smooth veins, it is very soft, and has a nice decorative gold ribbon on the foot. It appears to be packed well and I can already tell this is a quality cigar. The dry draw is perfect, with creamy notes of hay and oats, with a hint of berries on the finish.
BIG BOLD FLAVOR that packs a nice spicy punch! Immediate notes of cinnamon, baked bread, and chocolate covered marzipan. This is a medium bodied cigar with a very smooth draw. The flavor becomes more prominent in the easy going inoffensive retro-hale. The cigar also becomes creamy and mouth coating. The ash holds perfectly with a nice even burn, and the flavor of the cigar begins to change a bit. Experienced cigar aficionado and GLSS host Ronnie Pecorini emphasized that “you’re not going to be disappointed by no means, it’s a fantastic smoke, lots of flavor throughout the smoke, it’s not just your steady Eddie, it’s not boring, you’re going to get a lot of flavor, your palate’s going to be like wow!”
The ash fell off with dignity approaching the second third, but the burn remained nice and even. There is definitely something deep going on in this cigar as the flavor changes and becomes creamier. My thought process became deep as well, almost taking me back to childhood. The bold flavors have meshed together and a nice fresh and spicy hay note reveals itself. The retro-hale has become spicier, yet still inoffensive, like catching a whiff of someone grilling nearby. This second third experience is both deep and unique, and the flavors of the cigar begin to change yet again.
Time to remove that awesome label and keep it going! The label came off like water and some fresh deep dark tobacco notes started coming through. There’s no need to work this cigar, you just let it ride as the cigar’s burn keeps self correcting! Big marzipan notes become prominent and the cigar takes the smoker on an exciting yet meditative journey. Just let the smoke settle over the palate and experience the changing flavors right there inside your mouth, incredible! Then comes more awesome notes of perfectly grill-charred meat, maybe a nice rack of ribs. The cigar burn slows and the mellowing flavor transitions into a deep dark chocolate flavor, before revealing big vanilla notes glazed over delicious grilled carne asada. Time for another glass of the Kamet. The level of meditation this cigar produces, especially in the creamy calmness of this final third, makes it seem as if Rafael is trying to tell you something, but leaves it up to the smoker to determine the message. I truly enjoyed the unique and meditative adventure of this Don Rafa cigar!
Sipping the Kamet during this cigar experience is like washing down your barbecue grilled steak with a fruit bomb old fashioned, or even a glass of vanilla cream soda that has been aged in oak. This cigar and pairing definitely taps into your emotions, but in a very pleasant and relaxing way. When I finished, I had to sit back, close my eyes, and take it all in, with some meditative deep breaths!
As a world whisk(e)y drinker, the decorative green and gold non-age stated Kamet canister, featuring a trippy looking parrot, caught my eye on the shelf. The demineralized water and malt spirit, used in this newer Indian Single Malt Whisky, is matured in ex-bourbon, ex-wine, and ex-sherry casks. The back label explains “it’s a story of love, romance, of six row barley and of whispers blowing in the wind, told by a parrot, the traditional messenger of the Himalayas”. Bottled at 46% ABV, the nose and palate has a zesty orange sweetness to it, among other exotic Indian fruits. WBSE member Ray Pope said “sipping the Kamet is like having an old fashioned”. Paired with the Don Rafa Box Press Habano, the Kamet mellows those incredible and intense flavors of the cigar. Sipping the Kamet during this cigar experience is like washing down your barbecue grilled steak with a fruit bomb old fashioned, or even a glass of vanilla cream soda that has been aged in oak. This cigar and pairing definitely taps into your emotions, but in a very pleasant and relaxing way. When I finished, I had to sit back, close my eyes, and take it all in, with some meditative deep breaths! I thoroughly enjoyed this barbeque party-like pairing, until my fingertips no longer could. I highly recommend this zen-like pairing, which allows you to get your barbeque meditation on, without the hassle of actually grilling. Be sure to explore the adventure of the entire Don Rafa cigar line by visiting Donrafacigars.com.
Acknowledgment & Live Pairing
Thank you GLSS hosts Ronnie Pecorini and Kyle Jesso for hanging out with us, live at the Burning Leaf Cigar Lounge. My next quarterly Great Lakes Smoke Show “Whiskey Week” appearance will be on Tuesday May 10, 2022.
Thank you Rafael Jaca, for taking the time to introduce us to your favorite cigar. The live pairing and Rafael’s interview can be viewed here:
Photography by: James Archie