Some sixteen years ago, as California cumulus clouds drifted above the venerable county clubs of the Sonoran Desert, Mel Shah decided that it was time to exit the high-pressure, dog-eat-dog world of Information Technology. Armed with an M.B.A. in Marketing from North Maharashtra University, Shah opened the upscale Fame Wine and Cigar Lounge in downtown Palm Springs in 2001. Initially, the store’s humidor was stocked with several dozen boxes of cigars which he had purchased from JR Cigars in North Carolina.
Over the course of the next decade, Mel began to establish relationships with tobacco dealers and growers throughout Central America. As his knowledge about the industry increased, Shah gradually developed a vision for a line of boutique, super-premium cigars. After being rejected by over twenty manufacturing facilities, Mel finally found a small company in San José, Costa Rica that would roll cigars to his demanding specifications while utilizing his carefully-selected and specially-fermented selection of tobaccos. In 2014, Shah launched Bombay Tobak. Within a short time, his meticulously-crafted MBombay vitolas were embraced by both smoking enthusiasts and the press—including the KeSara Vintage Reserve Nikka, which received a very respectable 91 point rating on the Dojo.
Immediately before this year’s IPCPR trade show in Las Vegas, Bombay Tobak introduced a new brand addition to its portfolio—the Gaaja. The name derives from the Sanskrit word meaning “elephant” and is pronounced “Guy-yuh.”
*Images provided by Bombay Tobak*
- Wrapper: Ecuadorian Connecticut Hybrid Mejorado 2004 Desflorado
- Binder: Ecuadorian HVA Mejorada Seco
- Seco: Peruvian Hybrid Habano
- Viso: Ecuadorian Criollo 98 | Dominican Criollo 98 | Paraguayan Hybrid Habano 2000
- Ligero: Dominican HVA Mejorado
- Factory: Tabacos de Costa Rica (Costa Rica)
- Production: Small Batch
- Vitola: 6″ × 54 box-pressed toro
- Price: $15.50 (MSRP)
The Gaaja is the sixth and most recent line in the Bombay Tobak portfolio of cigars, joining the MBombay Connecticut Classic, MBombay Corojo Oscuro, MBombay Habano, MBombay Mora, and MBombay KeSara. Initially rolled in only one size—Toro (6” x 54, $15.50)—the Gaaja is the company’s first box-pressed offering. The vitola is shipped in cedar-lined, wooden boxes containing twenty-four cigars.
Five filler tobaccos are used in the construction of the Gaaja, including rarely-used leaves from Paraguay and Peru. In addition, all three divisions of the plant are represented in the cigar—ligero (strong flavor top leaves) from the Dominican Republic; viso (medium flavor middle leaves) from Ecuador, Paraguay, and the Dominican Republic; and seco (mild flavor bottom leaves) from Peru. The cigar’s Ecuadorian HVA Mejorada binder is ensconced with an Ecuadorian Connecticut Hybrid Mejorado 2004 wrapper, which was cultivated in the desflorado fashion where the buds are clipped before they flower to force the plant to focus on leaf production. This method results in tobacco that is stronger while also being sweeter.
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The Bombay Tobak Gaaja is a beautiful example of a super-premium cigar in the toro size, its slightly larger than normal ring gauge conveying a hefty and luxurious allure when resting at the edge of a porcelain ashtray. While the cigar is described in the literature as being box-pressed, the Gaaja is actually an unusual combination of both a box-pressed and a Spanish-pressed shape—the bottom of the toro is ruler-flat, while the sides and the top of the cigar are slightly rounded. The cigar was rolled in this manner to maximize combustion qualities which, in turn, produces more flavor and a fuller draw.
The cigar’s Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper is extremely smooth—with only one visible seam, almost imperceptible veins, and zero tooth. Its color is an equal mixture of sandy brown and smokey topaz, with contrasting splashes of papaya whip scattered across the face. A light oiliness produces a phantasmagoric sheen in cloud-covered sunlight, like a distant mirage at the outer edge of the Mojave.
The Gaaja is encased with a traditional band, containing an embossed oval logo in blue, gold, red, and seafoam. At an arm’s-length distance, the logo resembles an Art Nouveau interpretation of an elephant’s face. To the left of the logo, “Bombay Tobak” is printed in cursive typeface while on the right “GAAJA” is printed in block capitals. Firmly packed from the foot to the cap—bordering on the edge of sun-dried papier-mâché—the wrapper aroma is a delicate combination of natural tobacco and saddleback leather, while the open foot smells of cedar, dried earth, and barnyard flatulence.
After the cap of the toro is opened with a double guillotine cut—to ensure the maximum amount of taste from the wrapper, binder, and filler—the initial cold draw is open with a desirable touch of resistance. Flavors of finely-aged tobacco and toffee immediately touch the palate, while a delicate tingle of spice spreads across the upper lip.
After toasting and lighting the cigar with a soft double-flame lighter, the first few draws produce the smooth and velvety taste of Oolong tea with a dollop of cream. The initial flavor is quickly enhanced with touches of bread, honey, and assorted spices—quite similar to home-baked honigkuchen (honey cake) served in a German kitchen during wintertime. This combination quickly culminates in a mouthwatering flavor profile that attractively coats the entire tongue and the roof of the mouth, while producing a lingering finish. The draw of the toro is a tad on the tighter side, generating a respectable amount of smoke output. Aromas and flavors of cake, hardwoods, light pepper, natural tobacco, rawhide, and tea mingle together in an ambrosial balance, while cedar and white pepper are dominant on the extremely smooth retrohale.
As the Bombay Tobak Gaaja enters into its second third, the strength gradually increases from its initial mild profile toward the medium range, while the body of the cigar becomes fuller and rounder. The aromas and flavors present in the first third of the cigar continue to build, while the initial Oolong tea note shifts toward crisp Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee brewed in an Aeropress. Flavors and aromas of almond, banana, creamy salted butter, dried herbs, Graham cracker, and assorted spices flirt in and out of the mix, adding to the overall complexity of the cigar.
Room aroma is reminiscent of a beachfront meeting of the Slackistan Cigar Society at sunset—enkindled quarter-cut hardwoods in the fire pit, fistfuls of smoldering cigars, charred marshmallows pressed upon semisweet chocolate atop a biscuit, and the bracing smell of the Pacific Ocean. The burn line is razor sharp, holding over one and one-half inches of Ghostwhite and silver ash, highlighted wth streaks of black between the tightly-compressed stacks. On the silky retrohale, the white pepper present in the first third is replaced by a mixture of red and black pepper with trace amounts of assorted nuts, cedar, and spices. The cigar is firmly in its sweet spot—delicately dancing between an overall sweetness and an underlying spiciness.
As it burns through its final third, the Dominican ligero tobacco in the filler blend begins to assert itself, transitioning the Gaaja from medium to medium-full in both body and strength. The draw becomes very open, requiring light puffs to produce enough smoke to single-handedly increase the patina on the ceiling of a Parisian café in the Marias. Aromas and flavors continue to be a complex and smooth combination of practically every category on the cigar tasting wheel—nuts, dried fruits, herbs, spices, and earth—while an increase in minerality produces a desirable amount of saliva on the palate. The burn line remains unwavering, with the ash naturally falling off in two inch clumps. It is an outstanding cigar.
Would I Smoke This Cigar Again?
The answer to that question is, “Without question.” The Bombay Tobak Gaaja is an excellent cigar which provides a very flavorful and complex smoking experience. With its three distinct transitions, this toro-sized cigar will entertain the palate of the attentive and retrohaling enthusiast for over two hours. My only complaint is that the Ecuadorian Connecticut wrapper is quite thin and easily damaged—requiring a very sharp instrument to clip the cap. Use your Xikar XO cutter or cigar scissors.
- Smoking Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
- Pairing Recommendations: Double espresso, Chimay beer, Manhattan cocktail, Scotch and Soda
- Purchase Recommendation: Full box
- Outstanding construction
- Distinct transitions
- Price Point
- Delicate Wrapper
- Difficult to find