What’s In Your Humidor?: Jara “H-Town Cigar Babe”

What’s In Your Humidor?: Jara “H-Town Cigar Babe”

There seems to be a growing segment of women cigar smokers, so it seemed only night to feature a women running a cigar shop in our What’s in Your Humidor? series. For the first woman to feature I turned to my friend Jara (@htowncigarbabe) from Houston’s Briar Shoppe. Like many women in the cigar industry, Jara is more that just a pretty face, having worked for both manufactures and retailers, and is a Certified Retail Tobacconist from Tobacconist University.

So without further ado…

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What’s currently in your personal humidor?
I’m a big collector of rare and limited edition cigars. I’m really a bit of a nerd about it. I love to see how each cigar ages in its own way. I have a little bit of everything in my humidor, from my everyday smokes to my prized possessions like Fuente Opus X, Anejo, and Unnamed Reserve’s, TAA cigars, limited edition boutique blends and Limited Edition Davidoff.

What kind of humidor (and size) do you use for personal storage?
My favorite humidor is a 160ct Diamond Crown Peabody. It was a gift from the owners of The Briar Shoppe. I have a deep affection for accessories that are “tastefully tacky”, so they even had a plaque placed on the front engraved with “Her Majesty”. Here, I keep all of my most prized possessions. I have two other 160ct humidors, one Savoy and the other a Craftman’s Bench that are packed full of my everyday smokes and samples that I receive. I ran out of space about a year ago and now I stash cigars literally wherever I can find the space. I have a large stockpile that I keep at The Briar Shoppe as well as two Xikar travel humidors. I always keep my custom, pastel pink, crocodile, Brizard & Co. pocket humidor in my purse so that I have something to smoke wherever I go.

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About how many cigars are in your humidor?
I could easily run a store out of my house. I lost count after about 1,000 sticks. I’m afraid it is becoming more of a hoarding situation, but don’t submit me to any A&E shows just yet…

Are there any brand or cigars you find yourself smoking a lot of lately?
I’m not a brand loyal person to be honest. I find myself smoking a little bit of everything. I typically go for anything from Nicaragua. I’m also not a fan of the stereotypical “feminine” flavors- I smoke more of medium-full strength cigars with an earthy and spicy profile. I do still enjoy a good mild cigar, especially in the morning. In my opinion, it is a lot harder to make a milder cigar have a lot of flavor, I think AJ Fernandez does a great job with their Connecticut Oval line; it has a great salty, buttery flavor that I truly can’t resist. 

Do you have a favorite size or vitola of cigar that you tend to gravitate to?
I am a Lancero, Panatella, Corona, and Double Corona whore. I could literally talk all day about this, but I’ll keep it short. When I smoke a cigar, I want the most important and expensive leaf to shine. I really don’t understand the draw to large ring gauge cigars. Who wants to smoke all that filler tobacco? I want to taste all three parts of the cigar- wrapper, binder, and filler. Second, how on earth do these guys smoke something that big and not get lock jaw? (They must have a lot of practice…)

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There seems to be an increasing number of women cigars smokers at the shops I visit. Briar Shoppe is known for being staffed primarily by women. What are you thoughts on the growth of female cigar smoker?
I love the increasing amount of women but hate the trendiness of it. The modern cigar trend is over-sexualizing the female consumer and makes it gimmicky–discouraging most women from enjoying these magnificent products. The Briar Shoppe takes women smokers very seriously–in fact, we don’t treat them any differently from the men that come in; as a woman, I appreciate that. Perhaps this is because of the long history of sophisticated, graceful women in the Briar Shoppe. In the four years that I have been with The Briar Shoppe I have seen a pretty dramatic increase in female cigar smokers. I hope that it continues to grow; I love to see more women taking an interest in something that I, myself, am so passionate about.

I’ve also seen an increase in women working in shops around the country. There are different challenges facing women in the cigar industry today, not because of sexism, per se. Instead, it is a problem with customer trust; male and female customers alike often assume that women universally smoke flavored or mild cigars and they don’t trust our recommendations. The fact that we hire mainly women is based around approachability and comfort; we want our first time smokers to feel at home when they come to visit our shop. Too often cigar shops value regulars over first time smokers and all of us ladies– a mistake, since they are the future of our industry and deserve respect.

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With limited shelf space, how do you decide what is right to carry and what doesn’t belong in your shop’s humidor?
There is really no exact science to this. I try very hard to stay active on social media and watch what is trending; but trends come and go very quickly. We try not to carry cigars which none of the employees like, or anything with discernable quality deficiencies (flaws in construction, lack of balance, lack of age, etc.). But, our customers are the most important gauge, of what we bring in. No matter how great a cigar is, if it doesn’t sell, takes up too much space, or if the company is particularly difficult to deal with, it isn’t brought into inventory. This requires a massive amount of dedication. We do product research, we test (almost) everything, and we handpick everything. When I’m smoking something new the first thing I think about are our customers. Who will like this cigar? Does the price point reflect its quality? How is the packaging? I like to also reach out to friends in the industry whose palates I respect to hear their thoughts.

How many cigars do you smoke in a typical day?
I’ve really cut back on how many cigars I smoke in a day. For a while there I was smoking 5-6 a day and it really took a toll on my palate. I smoke maybe 1-2 cigars a week now so that I can really appreciate what I’m smoking.

What are some of your all-time favorite cigars?
The most difficult question of all! It’s almost like asking which kid is your favorite. Some of the cigars that have really stood out to me over the years would have to be the Tatuaje TAA from 2012, L’atlier 38 Special, Opus X Petit Lancero, and Illusione Fume d’amor. The Padron 1926 Principe will always be near and dear to my heart, as it was the first cigar I ever smoked; given to me by Jorge Padron.

Is there anything else about Briar Shoppe or yourself that you think our readers would be interested in? 
The Briar Shoppe was founded by Texas native, Alice Amason, over 50 years ago. Because she was a woman, none of the banks would loan her the money to start her business. In fact, prominent Houston lawyer, “Racehorse” Haynes, loaned her the money to establish The Briar Shoppe. Today, it is the oldest tobacconist in Houston, the largest pipe store in the South, and is now owned and operated by the third generation. We are a Davidoff White Label retailer, a TAA store, and specialize in rare and limited smokes.

I have had the honor of being a part of The Briar Shoppe family and history since 2012. I have a deep passion for cigars and I love to share that with my customers. I’m a total nerd about what I do! In fact, I am one of the youngest Certified Tobacconist in the industry. In 2014, I was sent down to Nicaragua to learn how to roll cigars. I worked with the head Torcedore all week until my new skill was perfected.

Shout out to one of my favorite customers, Russell, for helping me come up with the things that are interesting about me… lol.

Wait, I’m not your favorite customer?
Really?