1. What are the ideal conditions for cigar storage?
Cigars are affected by light, temperature, humidity, and friction. Cigars should never be exposed to ultraviolet light (especially directly). Light will bleach the cigar wrapper, making it less elastic and more likely to tear or rip. Ultraviolet light also changes the molecular composition of the wrapper leaf in a rolled cigar. Direct light will also likely raise the temperature in your humidor.
Temperature is an important factor in cigar storage for two reasons: it affects humidity, and higher temperatures may make tobacco beetles active, allowing them to devour your cigars. Try to avoid temperatures above 24° C or 75° F in your humidor. (See below for more information on this dreaded pest.)
Humidity is relative to temperature, thus the term “relative humidity” (RH). Most people prefer their cigars at about 70% RH; however your cigars will not be harmed at levels ranging from 65% to 75% RH.
Warm air has a higher moisture capacity than cold air. All hygrometers measure the moisture content of the air at a given temperature. If you change the temperature in an enclosed space without changing the amount of moisture, the RH will change. For example, in the morning the hygrometer in your humidor indicates 70% (if it is a round, brass analog unit it could actually be between 60% and 80%) and the room temperature is about 22° C or 72 °F. As the day progresses, the temperature in the room rises to 26.5° C or 80° F. If your humidor follows the room temperature, you will see that the hygrometer will indicate that the relative humidity has dropped to about 60%. Where did the moisture go? It didn’t go away; rather, the elevated temperature has changed one of the criteria (temperature and humidity) that the hygrometer uses to indicate the Relative Humidity. The actual humidity or moisture content on your humidor is unchanged.
Friction will cause more damage to cigars than most of the other factors. For proof, just take a close look at some of the loose cigars in the walk-in humidor of your tobacconist. When loose cigars are moved, they can become scuffed, rubbed and jostled so that the wrapper tears. Once a tear starts, it’s hard to stop, however there are several vegetable-based adhesives on the market that will allow you to repair small wrapper tears.
2. What are tobacco beetles and how do you combat them?
Better known to entomologists as Lasiodorma Serricorne, the tobacco beetle strikes fear in the hearts of cigar smokers.
Beetle infestation happens when cigars are rolled. While cigar manufacturers have made tremendous strides in fighting the tobacco beetle with pesticides and other organic methods, there’s a chance that your cigar, especially if it’s Cuban, will have beetle larvae rolled into it. The larvae remain dormant and are undetectable until they become active and decide to eat their way out of your cigar. Exposing your cigars to temperatures of 26.5° C or 80° F for extended periods of time (more than a week or two) at 70% RH can create the conditions for the larvae to hatch.
The beetle usually makes its appearance known by the destruction it leaves behind, but it’s rare to actually see these little critters. When the 1/16″ larvae hatch, they’ll eat continuously and grow to three times their original size. The carnage may be tiny pinholes in the wrapper or visible channels along the exterior of the cigar or small pieces of tobacco littering the area.
If you recognise beetle infestation, you must act quickly and decisively. You’ll need to freeze your cigars immediately or risk losing your entire collection. Determine how extensively the beetles have infested your humidor. If the infestation appears to be isolated to a single box of cigars, then you can take a risk to freeze only those smokes. We recommend that you treat all the cigars in the humidor. There is a chance; however, that some of your cigar wrappers may burst when the moisture expands in your cigars as they freeze. Here’s how to do it:
• Take all your cigars and place them in airtight containers to keep in the moisture of the cigars. Ziploc bags and Tupperware work well.
• Leave them in the freezer for 48 hours. The cold will kill the beetles and make the larvae dormant again.
• Next, wipe your humidor down thoroughly with rubbing alcohol (which is safe on wood), to kill any remaining beetle larvae.
• After 48 hours, take out the unopened containers of frozen cigars and let the containers and the contents return to room temperature.
• Once they are warm again, return the cigars to your humidor.
• Some people even repair the damaged cigars by grafting wrapper leaf from other cigars. If you decide to go this route, you’ll need an Exact-o-knife, a vegetable-based adhesive and lots of patience.
If you collect Cuban cigars (the country from where these beetles generally originate), the key to preventing beetle infestation is:
• Buy from a reputable source
• Eliminate temperature extremes by protecting your cigars in a temperature-controlled humidor
• Check you cigars regularly for signs of beetles to prevent their growth
3. Can dried out cigars be salvaged?
The answer is a qualified yes. If the outer wrapper is intact, you have a chance to get your cigar back to good smoking condition. It also depends upon how long the cigars were dry and what temperatures they were subjected to. Regardless, it’s worth a try to save almost any good cigar. Whether it will return fully to its pre-damaged flavor depends upon the cigar, the extent of the damage, and the method of rejuvenation. Most cigars are damaged because they have dried out. Lack of moisture has a major influence on the taste of a cigar.
In drying, cigar tobacco shrinks as the moisture from the leaves evaporates. This not only changes the composition of the tobacco itself, but it also changes the structure of the cigar. If you are lucky enough to have the wrapper stay intact, you still have to deal with the problems with the filler and binder tobacco. This tobacco is what makes up most of the bulk and flavor of the cigar.
The moisture in a cigar is contained in the tobacco leaves of the filler, binder and wrapper. When the filler and binder tobacco becomes dry, it shrinks, leaving air spaces between the rolled leaves. It begins with the wrapper and progresses to the center of the cigar. As the tobacco dries it shrinks and becomes brittle and may even begin to tear or unravel. Dry cigars smoke cool and burn fast. They also produce a more intense smoke to the mouth because the air space left by the shrinking tobacco creates a conduit for smoke to travel directly to the foot of the cigar.
4. How do I salvage dried out cigars?
The key to rehumidifying dried out cigars is to do it very, very slowly (about a month) so the cigars do not swell up and crack (much like a boiled hotdog that splits open). Start at a low humidity level of around 50 % RH and increase it by 3% each week until you get to around 70% RH. If you have a passive humidification (sponge) device, this can be challenging since they are difficult to monitor. Electronic systems will give you more accuracy so you can control and monitor the humidity.
5. How long will cigars last if properly cared for?
Cigars are biodegradable and won’t last forever (although there are stories about the 100-year-old cigars). However, cigars, if properly cared for, will last for a long time and will actually improve with age. Tobacconists and discerning cigar smokers says that cigars generally get better with age for at least 5 to 10 years. After 10 years, assuming ideal conditions, the cigars won’t get any better or worse. After 15 years, many cigars begin to lose some of the intensity of flavor, but that isn’t always bad. While a mild cigar will probably lose character, a cigar that may have been too strong for your tastes years before may, with time, mellow and soften to your liking.
6. What happens to a wet cigar?
When cigars are subjected to extremely high humidity (+75% RH), depending on the severity and length of the exposure, the structure of the cigar and/or the tobacco leaves may be affected.
Wet tobacco leaves will swell as they absorb moisture and the wrapper may split. A split wrapper spells the end for most cigars. (We’ve seen some unique shapes and sizes after desperate people have cut the ends off of their damaged sticks.)
Moderate over-humidification may result in interior swelling, the appearance of plume and possibly mold. If you catch the problem before mold appears, you should be able to fully revive your smokes without permanent damage. If mold appears, you should take immediate action.
7. Do all cigars like the same conditions?
Generally, the 70/70 rule (70 degrees/70% RH) will apply to most cigars. However, we’ve noticed over the years that not all cigars like the same conditions, probably because of the wide variety of tobacco leaves and rolling techniques employed by different cigar manufacturers. For instance, while most are perfect at 70/70, Hoyo de Monterey (Cuban), Partagas (Cuban) and Macanudo (Jamaica) cigars feel and smoke dry at these levels and seem to like it better with the humidity at 72% RH. We keep these types of cigars in an area of our cigar cabinet where the humidity is slightly higher. Tastes vary. You should keep the cigars at the level you desire as long as it doesn’t impair proper aging.
8. How can I tell if my cigars are too moist?
Examine your cigars and look for the appearance of mold or plume on the wrapper or swelling at the end. A wet cigar will smoke hot, give you a sour taste in your mouth, a hard draw, and won’t stay lit. The wrapper may be slightly split at the end and it won’t bounce back as fast when squeezed between your fingers. It may actually feel soft. If you light a wet cigar, it will burn hot. The heat is from the steam created at the lit end, which travels through the cigar and into your mouth. It may also be hard to draw such a cigar and equally difficult to keep it lit.
9. Can I save wet cigars?
It depends on how wet they are.
If your three-year-old son used them as props in the aquarium, then you probably should call your insurance agent. If the cigars have plume or mold, gently wipe them off with a dry paper towel, being careful not to tear the wrapper. Immediately place your cigars in a humidor that you know has 70% RH. If you don’t have a reliable humidor, take them to a tobacconist in a sealed box and plead with him to let you keep your cigars in his walk-in humidor for a month.
It’s important that you don’t dry the cigars at room humidity for even an hour. This may cause rapid evaporation of the water from the tobacco, causing the leaves to shrink. Tobacco leaves that are exposed to repeated changes in humidity will eventually lose all their elasticity, resulting in a permanently damaged cigar.
10. Why is distilled water recommended for humidors?
Distilled water is usually recommended for most cigar humidification systems because it has no minerals, chemicals or bacteria. Minerals and chemicals can clog the absorbent materials of most passive systems and can add unwanted flavors into your cigars. While your cigars contain their own natural varieties of bacteria, foreign bacteria in tap water can contaminate your cigars. Distilled water is sold by the gallon in most supermarkets for about a $1 per gallon.
11. How accurate is my hygrometer?
If it is an analog (dial-type) hygrometer, it’s next to useless. If you care anything about your cigars, you should own a good digital hygrometer.
Most digital hygrometers are accurate to +/-5-7% RH, which means the 70% reading on your display, could translate to 65% to 75% in actual humidity in your humidor. Even if the manufacturer specifies your humidor is accurate to +/-5%, it doesn’t tell you the calibration of your particular hygrometer. A difference of 5% will make a big difference to your cigars, so you should calibrate your hygrometer annually.
12. How do I calibrate my hygrometer?
To calibrate, use plain table salt (NaCl). A saturated solution of table salt and water will maintain 75% RH in a sealed environment at room temperature.
• Tablespoon of salt
• Small bottle cap-sized container
• Ziploc bag
Place a tablespoon of salt into the small container and add a few drops of water so you have a wet pile, not dissolved salt. (If you add too much water, just add some more salt.)
• Place the wet salt solution and your hygrometer into the baggie, making sure not to spill the solution on your hygrometer.
• Press most, but not all, of the air out of the baggie and seal it (make sure that the bag is well sealed)
• Leave it for a minimum of five hours at room temperature before checking the reading.
• After five hours, read the hygrometer through the baggie. It should read 75%. If not, note the reading and repeat the procedure.
• Take the average of the two readings for a good calibration figure. For instance, if you have readings of 70 and 72%, your calibration figure should be- 4%. When checking your humidor using that hygrometer, always add 4% to get the accurate reading.
13. Should bare cigars be mingled with one another?
Cigars do impart flavor to each other when they are touching. We recommend separating loose cigars in your humidor if they’re not covered with plastic wrap. When possible, keep cigars in their original box for as long as possible. This will prevent flavor mingling and wrapper damage.
14. What is bloom and what is mold?
Bloom (often called plume) is the slow rising of essential oils to the surface of the cigar. It first appears as tiny crystals and will eventually make the cigar appear dusty. A more advance bloom gives an opaque white look to the entire cigar. Bloom isn’t harmful to cigars. It’s an indication that the cigar has been maintained at a 70+% RH for a long period of time. Many smokers prefer a cigar in the bloom state.
Mold is a fungus. It appears on the surface of cigars when the relative humidity in your humidor exceeds 80%. It looks like blue/gray fuzzy patches on the surface of the wrapper and will spread by producing spores. If mold appears, you should remove the affected cigars and check for any mold on the wood of your humidor. It’s important to separate the affected cigars immediately and to wipe down the interior lining of your humidor with isopropyl or denatured alcohol. This will kill mold and may leave slight stains on your humidor’s interior wood.
Gently wipe the mold off of your cigars and leave them at room humidity for 36 hours, then place them back into your humidor (obviously after addressing the moisture problem that caused the mold in the first place). Check these cigars every few days to ensure that mold growth has stopped. Some people recommend more drastic measures such as placing your cigars in the freezer to kill the mold. Try our method first before going to such extremes. If your problem continues, you may need a new humidor.
15. My cigars have whites spots on them. Is that Okay?
The white spots on your cigars may be a very good sign that things are going well. Not all cigars need to be at 21° C or 70° F. White powder on cigars is called “bloom” and it is a sign of a well-aged cigar. Bloom is what happens when the oils in the tobacco disperse throughout and reach the wrapper. The oils then dry to create a white power on the outside of the cigar. Some avid cigar smokers prefer to smoke only cigars that have aged to bloom.
16. Do you need to keep the box opened or closed inside the humidor?
It’s really a matter of personal preference. Either way, as long as the plastic is removed from the box, the humidified air is able circulate whether the box is open or closed.
17. When cigars are individually wrapped in cellophane, how does that affect the humidity of the cigar? Should I remove the cellophane?
You can leave the cellophane on since the humidified air will still get to the cigar. However, if you don’t like the idea of the cigar aging next to a man-made material, you can certainly remove the cellophane.
18. How do I store cigars for a short-term period if I don’t own a humidor?
Try keeping the cigar(s) in a Ziploc bag. If it gets a little dry, add a couple drops of water to a very small piece of paper towel to get the humidity back. If it’s a box you’re storing, use Tupperware.