Developing Fratello

The selection of single origin coffees and Fratello cigars.

I've enjoyed cigars long before I was "into" coffee. Starting around 1993, I thought cigars would be a good way for me to meet interesting and successful people and a long-standing brotherhood, united by the tobacco leaf, been a part of my world ever since. The cigar introduced me to friends who have become lifelong friends and solidified friendships I've had since my youth.

Coffee became a part of my cigar world when I moved back to Baltimore at the end of 1995. The old Rolling Road Tobacco Warehouse was a place of camaraderie and friendship - and the owner was a coffee lover who bought his beans from White Coffee in New York. Back then, I knew absolutely nothing about coffee. To me, it had always been this nasty drink that my father enjoyed in the morning when he would prepare his daily Taster's Choice with sugar and Coffee Mate creamer. I could barely stomach the taste of coffee ice cream.

Honestly, I always preferred Coca-Cola. Everyone at the cigar shop seemed to prefer coffee and eventually I caved in. Like I said, the owner, Jim Gilpatrick, was a coffee lover. He had a special small batch brewer that brewed half-gallon airpots at a time and offered six coffees a day. I really started drinking the coffee because every once in a while, he would "buy a cup" for "the regulars" - and I sometimes didn't feel like walking the 50 feet to the deli a couple doors down to buy my Coke.

The White Coffee at the cigar shop was something different. Something better than Taster's Choice, but the only way I could drink it was by filling that sixteen ounce paper cup with hazelnut coffee and adding six packets of sugar and a very liberal dose of half & half. But it was good and would eventually become my gateway to specialty coffee and where we are today.

Since I've been in the coffee business, I've toyed with the idea of recapturing that young fascination of coffee and cigars, but nothing really came of it. Again, if I was going to enjoy a cigar, I would prefer a Diet Coke (I stopped drinking regular Coke years ago, mainly because of the HFCS - high fructose corn syrup). It wasn't until March 2011 that the idea of developing a coffee blend for cigars started to become a possibility.

I was visiting Pete Johnson and his major domo Andy at the Tatuaje Cigars headquarters in Los Angeles when we got to talking about coffee and how well it could pair with cigars. Pete already had another guy licensing the brand for coffee use but the conversation had got me thinking about what flavor notes would go well with cigars and how it might be crafted.

Then, about nine months ago, I was hanging out with Rahul of Tobacco Leaf in Jessup and we started discussing the possibility of doing a joint Spro/Tobacco Leaf event with a coffee blend for cigars. The only thing we hadn't figured out was which cigar to develop a blend for.

Like coffee, cigars are widely varied, can be very nuanced and tend to be very specific in their flavor notes. Trying to develop a "one size fits all" blend would result in something relatively bland and uninteresting. To do it right, we would want to develop a blend suited to a specific cigar.

That's where Omar de Frias comes in. 

On Friday nights, I can usually be found hanging with the guys (and the occasional woman) at Fader's Tobacconist in Towson where my dear friend Tony Musotto works and holds court. On a fateful night in May, in comes Omar promoting the new cigar company he's launching called Fratello.

Originally from the Dominican Republic and in an industry dominated by Latinos, an Italian name for a brand is just odd. Turns out that as Omar was growing up in Santo Domingo, every called him "Fratello" and his company is named in that honor. Meaning "brother" in Italian, the name captures the essence of camaraderie and brotherhood that embody the typical cigar shop community.

Omar "breaks" the crust during the initial cupping.

 As we got to talking over one of his cigars, a friendship developed and we started talking about developing a blend for Fratello cigars. The cigar itself is really quite lovely with notes of chocolate, a medium but steady body, some sweetness and a lingering, slightly woody aftertaste that really is delicious. So much so, that I introduced him to a couple of cigar shop owners I know in the area and out in Honolulu.

Today we finally sat down with Tony at Fader's for a coffee tasting and blending session. We set up samples of our Rusty's Hawaiian Ka'u Typical Sun Dried Natural, Las Mercedes Pina #74 El Salvador, Cafe Organico Marcala Honduras, El Socorro Matazano #41 Guatemala and Lekempte G4 Natural Ethiopia and started tasting each one individually. Once we familiarized ourselves with the individual coffees, the blending began. First, with simple spoonfuls of the samples mixed in glasses to get a general idea and then once we targeted a ratio, measured brews of the blends in various amounts until we developed on that paired nicely with the cigar.

The Fratello line consists of four sizes: Corona (5 1/2 x 46), Robusto (5 1/2 x 52), Toro (6 1/4 x 54) and a Timacle (6 x 60) in a ring gauge size that recognizes the current trend in the cigar world towards larger ring sizes. Rolled in Esteli, Nicaragua, a typical cigar is comprised of three components: filler, binder and wrapper. Filler and binder comes from Nicaragua and Peru, and the wrapper is made from Nicaraguan Habano broadleaf.

While the coffee selection doesn't represent the entire line of coffees currently in inventory, I thought these would be some of the better ones for blending. One of the favorites of the tasting group was the Rusty's Hawaiian Typica Natural but the difficult part is that it's extremely limited in supply. That said,the Rusty's is a truly exquisite coffee and the entire production wouldn't be enough for even just the first run.

The finished blend offers beautiful floral and jammy aromatics with hints to chocolate with deep bass notes, nuts, dark chocolate tones, sweetness and berries in the mid-range and a smooth, spritely brightness in the highs, while finishing with a lingering aftertaste that we think compliments the Fratello cigar wonderfully.

The Fratello line debuts in September and we expect the Fratello Blend to debut around the same time. More to follow...

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