Smoke: African Queens

  • Brent Butterworth

The scarcity of unmistakable sensations can make connoisseurship a challenge. Espouse too loudly the superiority of Bordeaux, and someone will surely slip you a Napa Valley wine that you cannot reliably distinguish from Château Margaux. This may be why aficionados often gravitate toward clearly identifiable tastes, sights, and sounds: the trademark roar of a Harley-Davidson, for example, or the intensely peaty character of Islay single-malt Scotches.

Perhaps the sole truly distinctive flavor available to cigar smokers is that of the Cameroon wrapper. The West African nation’s presence in cigar production may seem insignificant compared with that of the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua. However, because Cameroon’s tobacco tastes so different from that grown on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, its influence on the cigars we smoke belies the country’s size and location.
I have heard Cameroon tobacco described as sweet, smoky, and smooth, and disagree with none of those adjectives. But to me, Cameroon’s most identifiable trait is its feel, a slightly slick sensation on the tongue. Besides being pleasurable, this characteristic alerts me to the presence (and amount) of  Cameroon tobacco in a cigar. Other tips are the wrapper’s medium brown color and, sometimes, relatively crude appearance; a Cameroon wrapper often exhibits more veins and blemishes than a Central American or Connecticut wrapper.

Cameroon tobacco is almost always used for wrappers, supported by binder and filler tobacco from Central America or the Caribbean. Most cigar makers use it to create a variant of an existing cigar, although it is occasionally used throughout an entire line. Notable examples include Partagas and Arturo Fuente Hemingway.

Despite the Cameroon wrapper’s readily identifiable character, the cigars that wear it reveal myriad tastes and aromas. Perhaps the best place to begin a sampling is with the Hoyo de Monterrey Excalibur 1066, one of the purest examples of Cameroon flavor. The cigar’s Connecticut binder and Dominican, Honduran, and Nicaraguan filler step out of the spotlight and allow the wrapper’s sweetness to shine through.

However, my favorite Cameroons are the ones whose wrappers play in concert with the other tobaccos to yield a more complex taste, which you can experience in the H. Upmann Vintage Cameroon and two other relatively recent releases.

The H. Upmann Vintage tones down the wrapper’s idiosyncratic flavor with a balanced blend of Dominican, Nicaraguan, and Peruvian filler tobaccos and an assertive Nicaraguan binder. A jar of 25 makes a welcome gift for any smoker—and a perfect accessory for any desk.

The Flor de Oliva Grand Cameroon adds spicy overtones and a hint of cedar to give the flavor more depth and avoid the blandness that afflicts some Cameroon-dressed smokes. Like Miles Davis’ jazz-rock recordings, the Grand Cameroon may not offer the purest experience, but it is thrilling in its own right.

Although I have lauded La Tradicion Perdomo Reserve Cameroon in a past article, it merits a second mention. This is the heaviest Cameroon I have tried; the wrapper seems to fight against the cigar’s powerful Nicaraguan binder and filler. But I find the conflict exhilarating, a safari of flavor that echoes the intrigue and mystery of the wrapper’s home continent.

H. Upmann

Hoyo de Monterrey

Oliva Cigar Family

Tabacalera Perdomo

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