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Kauai farm pursues puff perfection

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 3:44 p.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011

Like fine wine, coffee and cigars are meant to be savored — their aroma as important to the sensory experience as their flavor.

That's one of the things visitors will learn on a tour of Blair Estate, which cultivates three acres of coffee and two acres of tobacco in the lush hills of Kapaa, Kauai. Observing its 10th anniversary this year, the farm sheds light on the coffee- and cigar-making processes, from tending the plants to enjoying the final product.

Last summer a family of 10 from Arizona took the tour — a must for the young man in the group, who was a longtime cigar aficionado.

"He wanted to learn as much as he could about cigars, and the rest of his family tagged along with him," recalled Tai Erum, Blair Estate's operations manager. "At first the others seemed a little reluctant and unsure of what they were getting into, but by the end of the tour, they were all saying it was the highlight of their Kauai trip. I aim for that kind of reaction on every tour."


» Meet at the farm: Directions will be given at the time of booking.

» Tours offered: 9 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, rain or shine. Reservations required.

» Cost: $60; free for children under 13 accompanied by a paying adult

» Information: 822-4495 on Kauai or toll-free 800-750-5662; email; visit the website

» Notes: Tours limited to 12 people. Recommended for adults, although children are welcome. Private tours and cigar-rolling events can be arranged; call for prices.


The visit starts with a stroll through the coffee orchard where Erum describes Blair Estate's organic farming methods and explains how coffee is harvested, pulped, fermented, dried, hulled, classified, roasted and brewed.

Attention then turns to tobacco. "We grow it in the summer, cure it in the late summer and fall and ferment, age and roll it year-round," Erum said. "It takes about 21⁄2 years for our tobacco to go from the field to a finished cigar."

During harvest season, usually mid-August through September, workers pick the tobacco leaves by hand, starting at the bottom of the plant. They're so selective, only three leaves per plant are picked each week.

"We use the volado, bottom leaves, as a mild filler for our cigars," Erum said. "The seco, leaves from the middle, provide texture and taste. Ligero, the strongest tobacco, comes from the top of the plant. To be chosen, each leaf must be mature and intact; it mustn't have any tears or blemishes. About 18 to 21 leaves per plant are harvested over six to seven rounds of picking."

Tour-goers might see leaves being strung in climate-controlled barns for curing, a process that takes four to eight weeks. Heat and humidity are carefully monitored so the leaves remain pliable for the fermentation, aging and rolling stages of production. The finished cigars are sold under the Kauai Cigar Co. brand.

Throughout the tour, guests can snack on fruit they've plucked off trees in the orchards, including avocado, papaya, lychee, mango, soursop, orange, tangerine and grapefruit. Their visit also includes a cigar-rolling demonstration, a free cigar, coffee and samples of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and chocolate-covered peaberry coffee. Cigars, coffee, macadamia nuts, honey, chocolates, jams and jellies can be purchased at Blair Estate's store (otherwise, they're available only online, at select retail outlets and via phone and mail order).

"Most people — even coffee and cigar connoisseurs — don't know how coffee and tobacco are grown and processed," Erum said. "After visitors take our tour, they say learning about all the work that's involved makes them appreciate a fine cigar and cup of coffee so much more."

Grand Alii Cigar is on its way

Tobacco thrives in Kauai's warm climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil. That's the happy discovery the Kauai Cigar Co. made when it started cultivating the plant in 2006. Among the varieties it grows are Habano, Corojo, Criollo and Pinar del Rio from Cuba, all prized in cigar production.

Initially the company grew and cured its tobacco on Kauai, then shipped it to Nicaragua for fermentation, aging and rolling. Over the years it has done more work locally; its goal is to eventually handle all the processing on the island.

The company's Grand Alii Cigar will be the first cigar to be entirely made in Hawaii in 150 years. To put your name on the waiting list for the Grand Alii, email Tai Erum at

Kauai Cigar Co. manufactures three sizes of cigars (each available in light and dark wrappers), including the big Bumboocha, which measures a little more than 6 inches long and has a 52-ring gauge (about three-fourths of an inch in diameter). For information about the cigars and a list of licensed retailers, visit

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Advertiser have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.

"The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce."
-- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

"If it weren't for coffee, I'd have no discernible personality at all."
-- David Letterman

"Over second and third cups flow matters of high finance, high state, common gossip and low comedy. (Coffee) is a social binder, a warmer of tongues, a soberer of minds, a stimulant of wit, a foiler of sleep if you want it so. From roadside mugs to the classic demitasse, it is the perfect democrat."
-- The New York Times, 1949

"Eating and sleeping are the only activities that should be allowed to interrupt a man's enjoyment of his cigar."
-- Mark Twain

"I drink a great deal. I sleep a little, and I smoke cigar after cigar. That is why I'm in 200-percent form."
-- Winston Churchill

"There's something about smoking a cigar that feels like a celebration. It's like a fine wine. There's a quality, a workmanship, a passion that goes into the smoking of a fine cigar."
-- Demi Moore


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