Appearance and construction are considered extremely important for the final experience that Altadis want to provide to their end consumers. We went through an Altadis quality control evaluation sheet that Travis W. Pappenheim repurposed for marketing presentations. This is an extract of the full Cigar Sense Parlor meeting, which took place on 31 July 2020 with a number of Cigar Sense members.
The education program that Travis manages includes a lot of details on potential flaws in appearance and construction. We learnt a lot about these technical aspects and want to thank Travis and our members for the quality time we shared together.
Travis has been in the Cigar business for over 15 years. He is the national education manager with Altadis U.S.A. Being the only dedicated education manager in the Cigar business within the United States, Caribbean, and Central America it gives him the ability to teach about his passion for premium cigars.
He is also on the Altadis tasting panel and advisory group for new blends and re-insuring that current blends have the same flavor and body level year after year.
And finally with his team he developed extensive educational tours of the farm in Connecticut, tours through the largest cigar factory in the world in La Romana Dominican Republic at Tabacalera de Garcia, and a linear tour to the factory in Santa Rosa region in Honduras.
Podcast episode 27, “Appearance and construction in quality control”
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We also interviewed Travis W. Pappenheim on 20 July 2020. Here is a transcript:
Q: How did you get started in the cigar world?
A: I used to work in Las Vegas as a butler. I was introduced to cigars as part of the butler training program about 23 years ago. I became very intrigued about wanting to know more about tobacco, its growing, curing, fermenting, what chemically and molecularly changes in the tobacco. And then in the tobacco factories I got to see the passion and the love in the eyes of the people putting the cigars together or moving them around. I wanted to learn more and more. Our retailers told us “we need to have education out here, not only for staff in the store, but also for consumers”. So they created the position and I was lucky enough to get it and I have been having a blast ever since. I go wherever I feel the need for education.
Q: What are the biggest challenges that you see consumers face when they approach the cigar world and they want to learn more.
A: There is a lot out there on the internet and thousands of cigars on the shelves. It is overwhelming. By finding the right retailer who can coach you through it and give you the basis on how to cut and light. It’s all about the comfort for them, you need to make them feel comfortable.
Q: What is the type of information that you think helps people most?
A: Me! I see a lot of people going to YouTube. We have a channel, The Cigar Life, and you can learn a lot of the basics. When you walk into a humidor for the first time. I help people a lot, but I say “just ask the question”.
Q: What is the role of all these cigar reviews that are available to consumers?
A: If you see consistently high reviews across the board among all major players, I would say it’s a pretty good cigar. When someone reviews a cigar, it’s based on their personal experiences to create what they look for as an enjoyable cigar. We all have different palates and likes. You can see it as a guide, but you really have to experience some for yourself to see if it’s a style that you may like.
Q: We smoke cigars for different reasons. Most of us in general say they like cigars for the flavors (80%). At Cigar Sense that is 99%. Are the sensory aspects of cigars important for you and for the training programs you deliver?
A: I couldn’t agree less. A cigar is an experience, we need to enjoy the moment. When it comes to the senses, you use them all to enjoy your cigar. You hear and see your cigar, touch it, smell it, taste it,… Even if people don’t realize it, they use all their senses for their experience. So it’s really important to sit back and enjoy the experience. Very important even if people don’t realize it.
Q: You have different types of consumers and their approach can be very different. Many consumers are affective smokers, they get bored when you start to talk about the sensory aspects of cigars. They either like the cigar or not like it. It’s fascinating to be able to offer education at different levels of the “consumer career” and when you educate people you wear a different uniform: you teach the professional technical tasting… Do you adopt any scientific method for your tasting panel? First thing that comes to mind is sensory analysis, which is what we adopt at Cigar Sense.
A: At our factories we go through construction, burn, a full evaluation from pre-light to the final burn in the final third. We just go a bit more into detail because of the construction side.
Q: What is quality to you?
A: Quality has a vague interpretation. We want the finest leaves, aged properly, performing in the way we want to. The high quality is what we want to use for Montecristo. Saint Luis Rey wants quality leaves, but doesn’t need the same level as Montecristo, it also has a different price point.
Q: Would implementing sensory marketing communications (communicating the cigar flavors of the packaging for example) be beneficial to consumers? If marketing teams provided such information, based on scientific base, consumers could find those characteristics back when smoking the cigars.
A: In addition to appearance and construction, which are very important for our panel evaluations (you can listen to the episode “Appearance and construction in quality control” above), we evaluate strength level and taste profile. We can all taste different things and we use the top 3 tastes the panel identified. We go on the upper end of the “body” because there are people smoking less or with less experience. If this is done in the right way, it is good for consumers. Hopefully others will learn not to tell consumers what is not true, else they’ll bite back.
Q: Where do you think there could be more or better education for consumers?
A: Many retailers only provide bullet points for the blend (wrapper country, binder country, filler country). We could do better at letting consumers know what is, for example, Ometepe, the fact it’s an island in the middle of Lake Nicaragua and there’s only one manufacturer there. The other part is the historical stories connected to brands.
Q: How do you see the future of the premium cigar in general? Are you in fear, angry or optimistic about regulations?
A: I want to bring our premium cigar experience to everybody. But I have seen ebbs and flows and it’s about the recovery. What can we do to get through this and continue providing premium cigars to the market? We’ll still bring our cigars out, but they will be made differently. We have to move forward, it’s part of our new goal.
Keep an eye out for the forthcoming “Know your wrapper” project (planned end of October 2020), where you can learn how to identify flavor notes in the wrapper leaves alone.
Q: Are the binders and fillers all the same in the various “Know your wrapper” project cigars, or do they change depending on the wrapper? Would you find those cigars in the real life of retail shelves?
A: Binders and fillers are from the same country and same seed, just different primings. Only in one case we needed to change binder leaves because the leaf varietal was not going to work with the rest of the blend. These were just built for the training kits, you may find retailers who will host the project. It’s a tasting and there is a digital version of it. The cigars have a 38 x 5 1/16 size.
Q: What is the opportunity for the consumer when looking for a cigar with that wrapper when the rest of the blend is not the same as what they taste with your project?
A: If you love filet mignon, depending on the chef preparing it, you will get a different experience. With cigars it’s the same thing. When I created the project, it was more to provide the experience of the wrapper. It’s up to sales staff to guide you to the cigar that delivers you the experience you want.