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What’s the best way to keep my cigars fresh?

Once you find your perfect cigar, you want to do everything possible to ensure that it’s ready to smoke when you are.  To retain freshness, cigars need to be stored properly in a controlled environment.  In the case of cigars, that means a humidor. 

Below, you’ll find a complete section on cigar storage, explaining why cigars need to be humidified and providing some simple rules and guidelines for proper storage.

Why do cigars need to be humidified?

Tobacco is a tropical plant.  In order to maintain the characteristics that make it such a joy to smoke, tobacco’s native environment must be recreated and maintained. 

Canada doesn’t have the natural ambient humidity of Cuba, Honduras, the Dominican Republic or Nicaragua, so we must resort to artificial means to keep tobacco moist.  The solution?  A humidor.

What is a humidor?

By definition, the term ‘humidor’ can be applied to any box or container utilizing a device that increases the levels of moisture or humidity within.

Humidors come in a staggering array of sizes, ranging from small desktop models holding 25 cigars to giant freestanding cabinets capable of storing hundreds of boxes.  Prices are just as varied; the use of exotic hardwoods, custom designs and sophisticated humidification systems can push the cost of even a small humidor into the thousands of dollars. 

Regardless of the size or price, all humidors have one single purpose in common: to provide a humidified environment that will keep cigars fresh and ready to smoke.  Maintaining that environment is critical towards ensuring that your cigars are always in good shape and ready for sale.

Humidifying devices

To add moisture to the environment, humidors employ a wide range of humidifying devices.  Large-capacity cabinet-style humidors usually use an industrial humidifier similar to the kind people use in their homes; these units continuously pump moisture from a self-contained water reservoir into the air, turning off automatically once humidity reaches a pre-programmed ideal level.

Smaller units will generally feature a bottom- or top-mounted tray that contains a slab or disk of absorbent material such as a sponge, porous clay or a substance similar to that used by professional florists.  Once saturated, these materials release the water back into the humidor through natural evaporation. 

Both methods work extremely well in their respective environments provided they are regularly maintained and monitored.

Humidity and temperature – The perfect balance

For a perfect smoke, cigars should be maintained in an environment that approximates their tropical origins - a temperature of approximately 21 degrees Celsius and a humidity level of between 67-71% is the generally accepted standard.  Maintaining these levels is very important for several reasons. 

Humidity

Humidity is essential to keep a cigar fresh.  A properly humidified cigar will burn slowly and evenly, remaining cool on the palate and allowing the smoker to taste the full range of flavours in the cigar.

If a cigar is allowed to dry out, the tobacco becomes very brittle; it will burn very quickly and will taste harsh and unpleasant.  If a cigar is too moist, the tobacco inside will become soggy; it will expand and plug the cigar, making it almost impossible to smoke.  If the tobacco expands too much it can cause the outer wrapper to split or break, ruining the cigar.  Last but not least, excess moisture can make the air inside the humidor become stale (affecting the taste of the tobacco) and in extreme cases can lead to the growth of mould on the cigars.

To prevent the buildup of stale air, it is important to ensure that air is allowed to circulate.  This is done in a few ways.  Slotted shelves ensure that moisture is allowed to circulate freely throughout the entire humidor.  Shelves should never be completely blocked, as it prevents moisture from reaching shelves above or below. 

It’s also important to ensure that the humidor is opened occasionally to ensure that the air inside is exchanged with fresh air from outside.  Usually, the normal opening and closing of the humidor as it occurs during a regular business day is sufficient.

Temperature

Temperature affects a cigar in many ways.  Heat combined with excess humidity can cause mould to grow and can also cause the air in the humidor to become stale and bitter.  It also has a direct impact on the life of the infamous tobacco beetle (lacioderma). 

Native to most tobacco-growing regions, this microscopic insect reproduces by laying its eggs on tobacco leaves.  Although manufacturers regularly fumigate their tobacco to control these pests, an occasional egg will survive on a leaf that is rolled into a finished cigar.  Once hatched, the bug immediately starts digging its way to the surface, leaving behind a tunnel and a pinhole-sized exit hole that ruins the cigar.  Fortunately, the eggs only hatch within a narrow range of temperatures.  At temperatures below 73 degrees, the eggs will never hatch.  If the humidor is allowed to get too warm, however…

Consistency is key

The key to maintaining your cigars in perfect condition is not only the rules you follow, but the consistency with which you apply them.  Cigars should never be subjected to sudden shifts of temperature or humidity (such as storing them near heat vents, air conditioning ducts, etc.).

You should monitor your humidor on a daily basis to ensure that everything is in order.  Here are a few simple rules:

Measuring moisture levels

To measure the moisture content in the humidor, use a hygrometer; these small gauges are used to measure and display the amount of humidity in the air.  Most humidors come with a hygrometer included; if yours does not, they are very inexpensive and can be purchased at almost any cigar store.  It’s well worth it.

How do I tell if my cigar is fresh?

Constantly monitor your cigars for freshness.  Use sight and touch to do this.

When you visually inspect the cigar, look for evidence of cracking or splitting.  Check the cigars for ‘mushrooming’ at the foot of the cigar (the end you light); if the end of the cigar is expanding outwards, it’s an early sign that there may be a little bit too much humidity.   A quick visual inspection can also detect signs of mould, an indication of far too much humidity.

There’s a quick test you can use to check them, commonly referred to as the ’pinch test’.  Simply take a cigar between your thumb and forefinger and squeeze lightly.  A properly humidified cigar should feel slightly springy and should regain its shape after you release it.  A cigar that bends, sags or remains dented after squeezing is too moist; if you hear a cracking sound, the cigar is too dry.

What not to do

Never store your cigars in direct sunlight; prolonged exposure to direct sunlight will cause cigars to dry out and become brittle.   Sunlight will also cause the cigar’s wrapper to fade or discolour.

If your humidor has built-in fluorescent lights, don’t store your cigars directly beneath them.  As with sunlight, fluorescent lights will cause fading and discolouration.  Use the shelf directly beneath the lights to display cigars in tubes or packaged products.

Never store flavoured cigars in close proximity to non-flavoured cigars; the air will circulate the flavours throughout the entire humidor, permeating the non-flavoured products.  If you absolutely must store them alongside each other, make sure that the flavoured products feature a double wrapping (cellophane sealing the cigars AND the package) or make sure that the flavoured products are in a tightly sealed tin (i.e, when you hold the tin under your nose, you can’t smell the flavour of the cigars within.

Storage - Myths and miscellanous

There are a lot of myths and miscellaneous information regarding cigar storage.  Here are some of the major ones.

It’s OK to store cigars in the refrigerator/freezer: despite the large number of people who swear they’ve heard this somewhere, no expert tobacconist has EVER advocated this as a long-term storage solution.  Remember, refrigerators keep food from growing mould by whisking moisture AWAY from them – the exact opposite of what cigars need to stay fresh.  While a fridge has more moisture than the average room, you shouldn’t store cigars in them for more than a few days at most.

Apples keep cigars fresh: some people advocate putting a slice of apple in a Tupperware container with their cigars as a substitute for a real humidor.  Don’t even think about it – first, the taste of the apple will alter the flavour of the cigar.  Second, apples grow mould within a few days – enough said.

Dry cigars can be reconditioned by adding lots of humidity: yes and no.  Remember, tobacco is slightly elastic, meaning that it expands as it absorbs moisture.  However, it also has a breaking point – if you add too much moisture too quickly to a cigar, the inner core of leaves will expand much more quickly than the outermost layer, causing the wrapper to split (known as ‘wrapper shock’).

If you really want to rehumidify dry cigars, you must introduce moisture to the cigars gradually. Start by placing the cigars in a resealable bag with just a bit of the end open.  Monitor the cigars every few days and gradually move the cigars closer to the humidification source over the course of several weeks.

Cedar keeps cigars fresh: most humidors are lined with some type of cedar or similar wood.  Some connoisseurs claim that the wood enhances the aging process and improves the taste of the cigars.  While the jury is still out on that one, what’s undeniable is that cedar serves a very practical purpose in that it serves as a natural deterrent to many types of insects.

What are those white spots on my cigars?  From time to time, you might see white spots or a fine white powder appearing on your cigars.  While it might look like mould, it’s not.  It’s actually a phenomenon called ‘plume’ or ‘bloom’; it occurs when a cigar is rolled or packed while still slightly moist..  To get rid of bloom, simply mix 1 part white vinegar with 4 parts warm water – use the solution to lightly dampen a cloth, and gently wipe away the bloom.  The diluted vinegar mix will not affect the taste of the tobacco, and your cigars will look as good as new.

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