Cigars come shrouded in a cloud of pomp and ceremony. Cutting, lighting and inhaling the cigar are matters of etiquette more than anything else, but the rituals extend far beyond the crispy tobacco leaves. Even cigar humidors are subject to some degree of decorum, and these essential cigar accessories have become symbols of status, perhaps just as much as the iconic cigar, itself.
The importance of humidors lies mainly in the delicate nature of the tobacco leaf. Cigars are made of organic matter, and are therefore prone to deterioration, but if stored appropriately, they are generally better with age, just like wine. Yet, it’s not only the perishable leaf that makes it absolutely essential to store tobacco carefully. The natural oils which keep the leaves moist, tender and fragrant, will eventually seep through the leaves or evaporate, unless a humidor is used. Not even your finest cigar will escape the dreadful fate of turning into a bitter, dry, dull hulk of tobacco rolls, if it hasn’t had the pleasure of settling inside a humidor.
Cigars will typically start yielding their best flavors after about 5 years, provided they have been stored adequately. Unless they are stored in a humidor, they can dry, rot or become infested in a matter of days, depending on the type of temperature and sunlight they are exposed to. It’s ultimately up to you to decide how long you should store your cigars, but it’s always a good idea to buy larger boxes and to take the odd cigarette every few months to sample and test for optimum flavors.
A good cigar should not be moist or dry, but somewhere in between. In other words, the essential oils shouldn’t seep from it, nor should the leaves crackle under pressure. A good rule of thumb is to press the press the cigar gently with your thumb and to check that the leaves regain their shape. A dry cigar will take weeks and considerable effort to revive, and the results are not always satisfactory.
There are a few factors to consider if you’d like your cigars to be at their best for years on end. How long you can store your cigars for optimum flavor is a matter of how much you like the tobacco to mature, what you consider the best age for a certain brand to be, what other cigars you’d like to marry them to in time, your particular storage conditions and how diligently you perform your regular check-ups.
Before they can be relished, cigars need to mature over the course of six months before being shipped to tobacco shops, but some producers and distributors bypass this stage for obvious reasons. Because cigars develop a more refined and balanced flavor during the aging process, cigar enthusiasts should store cigars for at least 3 months in a cigar humidor, before they can draw their first smoke.
Some people like to keep the cellophane wrap on cigars when storing them, but this is somewhat counterproductive. The whole point of using a cigar humidor is to have the air circulating freely around the cigars. The cellophane also tends to create a greenhouse effect and slightly raises the temperature within it. When there are no dividers, however, wrapping is quite effective in keeping the original flavors pure. Premium cigars will be delivered in wrapping made of Spanish cedar, to intensify the aroma. It is ultimately up to the owner to decide how to store the cigars.
Cigars have an unlimited lifespan, and if stored properly, can outlive even the most hardened centenarian. Premium cigars are cherished particularly because their tobacco flavors unfurl after many years or decades of storage. But a cigar’s longevity ultimately depends on your personal preferences, because each cigar brand will age differently.
As you store your treasured tobacco rolls, keep in mind that cigars seem to thrive on the fragrance of their environment, so surrounding objects will eventually impart their scent onto the cigars. To minimize the tendency of cigars to have their aromatic qualities tainted, dividers are used in cigar humidors. However, it’s recommended that different cigar brands be stored in their original boxes and that these boxes should not be opened in the humidors. This is especially important for cigars that have different countries of origin, and therefore, altogether incompatible flavor strengths.
Some cigar aficionados like to experiment and to marry various types and brands of cigars, and to store them for several months in unusual arrangements to obtain a certain flavor.
Cigar enthusiasts will tell you that the best humidors are made of mahogany, which is much more resilient to warping than most types of wood. The ideal lining is Spanish cedar, which doesn’t spoil the tobacco’s aromas, like other types of cedar could, and it keeps tobacco beetles at bay.
There’s nothing like that Spanish cedar aroma to bring out the best in your robust cigars, but you shouldn’t settle for classic mahogany boxes just because it’s common practice. In fact, even thermoelectric cigar humidors can be made with Spanish cedar. What’s more, they can be much more affordable than regular cabinets and boxes because they can hold hundreds of rolls. Besides enjoying a temperature controlled environment, silent operation, adjustable relative humidity levels and Spanish cedar shelving, your electronic cigar humidor brandishes a ‘Made in the USA’ stamp that gives you added peace of mind.
It’s common practice for cigars to be turned every 1-3 months because humidity levels inside a standard cigar humidor tend to peak in proximity to the humidifying system and plummet in the small recesses at the base of the dividers or trays. This is especially important with humidors that are filled to the brim. You should be looking out for three important factors: air supply, temperature and humidity levels.
All cigar humidors should be aerated at least once every fortnight, unless they have built-in ventilators. Of course, they must also be air-tight to ensure a constant internal humidity level. It’s also best to have a humidor with thick walls and seamless joints, so that the chambers stay airtight and shielded from sun-rays.
With contemporary cigar coolers, though, the thickness of the box walls doesn’t really matter, because they are equipped with tempered glass, stainless steel doors, shelves that lie flush with the front edge and specially coated interiors which simply do not allow air to escape through the walls.
It may not have crossed your mind, but the size of your cigar humidor does matter when it comes to the longevity of your cherished cigars. Humidor ads will typically state a capacity based on the number of Corona or Corona Extra cigars it can hold, but if you prefer larger ones, you may be in for a bit of a shock. Therefore, as you scout the market for that perfect humidor, look for something a little bit larger than what you’d normally use, just so that you can have a bit of leeway if a friend turns up with a gift of cigars that are slightly larger than your own. The humidor needs to be practical and spacious if you want your cigars to enjoy a carefree life. Moving them about from one compartment to another or from one shelf to the other may not seem like such a big thing now, but if you carry on like this for days on end, you will eventually notice a change in the taste and feel of your cigars.
After you’ve bought your cigar humidor, you can use the extra space as an excuse to expand your collection. Remember, though, that it is extremely important to make sure that the cigars you have at the moment can enjoy ample space for the humid air to flow freely between them.
You’ll need a cigar humidor large enough to accommodate two essential cigar accessories: a humidifying device and a hygrometer. These are useful accessories, but they’ll need to be replaced regualrly in order to keep protecting your cigars. The lift-out trays, dividers, and shelves should create stable, generous compartments that facilitate air-flow and allow the right levels of humidity to reach the tobacco leaves; no more, no less.
The optimum temperature ranges from 64 to 70°F, or 18 – 21°C. Lowering the temperature to less than 54°F (12°C), can seriously impair the natural aging process of the cigar. Cold wine cellars are, therefore, not suitable for extended periods of time. Going any higher than 75°F (24°C), will, on the other hand, lead to tobacco rotting, as well as worm and tobacco beetle infestations. The mold that settles on cigars is usually crusty, blue-green in colour, and extremely harmful. Hence, humidors should never be exposed to sunlight.
You don’t find much mention of the noise that some electric humidors can generate, even though it can have substantial negative health effects. According to dangerousdecibels.org, anything above the 85dB benchmark is likely to cause permanent damage in prolonged exposure, so be sure to look for cigar humidors that are no louder than a whisper. This is especially important if you’re storing your cigars for commercial purposes, or if the room you keep your humidor in is particularly small. Needless to say, if you end up chucking away your humidor or replacing it because it’s too loud, your cigars will feel the difference, so try to find a reliable, compact and discreet cigar humidor that you can count on for consistent efficiency with low noise levels for years and years. It’s unclear what effect sound vibrations have on cigars, but the less noise, the better.
Your cigar humidor should maintain an internal humidity percentage somewhere between 65% and 75% RH. The average home or office environment tends to have humidity levels of around 50%, so leaving your cigars on a shelf simply won’t do. Nor would it be wise to buy a humidor that is not able to ensure a stable level of humidity at all times. Ideally, you should be looking for a humidor that is guaranteed to keep your cigars fragrant and lush for years on end, like a thermoelectric unit. Not only is this type of humidor spacious and airtight, but it also comes with digital temperature controls and even LED lights for a more appealing display of your extensive and valuable collection. Of course, you’d have to be able to fork over a bit more space for a thermoelectric cigar humidor than you would for your classic mahogany box, but then again, a traditional wooden cabinet would take up even more room and you’d also have to contend with the increased risk of fire damage.
If your humidor is the classic mahogany type, make sure that the unit is charged with a solution of propylene glycol before you first use it. Then add distilled water and allow it to reach the humidity levels of your choice. The analog hygrometer, if your humidor has been fitted with this gauge, should indicate the humidity level. From that point on, it’s safe to place your cigars inside. It’s best to check the hygrometer every few weeks and to give the cigars a slight rub to check if they’re still oozing oil, but only slightly. If the tobacco is hard to light up, you may need to try lower humidity levels. In the worst-case scenario, cigars become susceptible to mold and pests, the most dreaded of which is the tobacco beetle. On the other hand, when your humidity is too low, the cigars dry up, the wrappers crack and the essential oils ooze through and evaporate. This leaves you with hot, harsh burning cigars, tasteless, bland smoke and a cinder-like aroma rather than a rich bouquet.
With thermoelectric cigar coolers, though, you need never worry about regularly checking the humidity, temperature, lighting or cigar freshness. Simply set your humidity values in increments of 1 degree, leave in a damp sponge, and then store and display hundreds of cigars for as long as you want, wherever you want.
Your precious cigar stash should be kept away from prying eyes and sticky fingers at all times. If the thought of a lock brings you peace of mind, then, by all means, give it a go. Remember that even toddlers, pets and pests can open humidor lids and doors, so don’t hesitate to set up a child lock mechanism if you think a padlock goes one step too far.