Feature: Rolling cigars captivate fans at Cuba's Habanos festival

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Barzaga has over 150 years of experience in the field and is known as a master cigar roller. He has taught hundreds of people from many parts of the world, who attended his classes on how to roll a cigar, a difficult art for many.

Barzaga believed the class was popular because it brought cigar fans closer to the industry while being entertaining.

"I think it's a very fun and educational initiative because it teaches us about how difficult it is to make a cigar entirely by hand. It never comes out perfect, but we have a good time," said Airim Marquez, a Cuban cigar fan.

The participants enjoyed every second of the master class, making mistakes and correcting them, in a bid to learn the true essence of this fascinating art.

"This class is something that everyone likes each year, there is always a full room of participants," said Barzaga.

"I'm a cigar lover and I'm really happy to be able to participate in learning the techniques of cigar rolling. By experiencing the process I also get to know the art of making a cigar," said Wei Yang, a visitor from China.

The festival is organized by Habanos S.A., a joint venture between Cuba's state-owned Cubatabaco and Altadis, a French-German subsidiary of the British multinational Imperial Tobacco, which markets the cigars worldwide.

Itay Vodovoz, a young visitor from Israel, was also among the approximately 2,000 people attending the festival.

This was one of this year's highlights at the festival which kicked off on Monday.

This was Wei's second time to attend the Habanos Festival. Wei said he would try to take the experience back to China and share it with other fans of Cuban cigars.

"This master class has been a wonderful experience. I am not an expert yet but I tried and I was able to roll my own tobacco. It is my first time at the festival and this was really one of the highlights of the program," Vodovoz told Xinhua.

"I think this practical class teaches them how hard it is to hand-roll a cigar. ... It is truly an art and one must be an artist to make one," Barzaga told Xinhua.

HAVANA, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- At the ongoing Habanos Festival in Cuba on Wednesday, Miguel Barzaga guided some people in making a "figurado," a type of cigar with rounded tips on both ends, step by step.

A growing number of women are drawn to the annual event. In fact, at the rolling demonstration, most of the participants were women.

"I think it's great; I hope to have more opportunities in the future to come to Cuba and continue to learn about this industry that represents a passion for millions of people around the world," he added.

The festival, which will close on Friday, also features tours of tobacco plantations in western Pinar del Rio province, where the world's best tobacco leaf is grown, and blind taste testing competitions. An auction of exclusive humidors will be held to raise funds for the Cuban healthcare system.

"For good tobacco leaves to reach the hands of rollers, we must consider the farmer's effort, the selection and drying industry, and the workers in the factories that separate them to produce the different types of cigars and their brands," he said.

"In addition to teaching them the technique of how to make a Cuban cigar, it is also fun," he said. But a lot of classes were needed to make a great cigar, he admitted.

by Raimundo Urrechaga