CIGAR 101

Care & Storage

When I started to work in the cigar business, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was regarding the care and storage of cigars once they left the shop: Should I remove the cellophane? Should I leave the cigars in the tubes? Can I store cigars in my refrigerator? How often should I add water to my element? How long can cigars be stored and still be smokeable? This chapter of Cigar 101 will attempt to provide answers to some of these questions and offer a variety of options to care for your own stash of cigars.

Care & Storage

Thanks to a gift of one of my father’s graduate students some twenty-plus years ago, my father and I shared one of my first cigars, a Brasilia (a brand I have rarely found since, and only in dry-cure varieties). Relaxing at the dining room table after dinner, Dad with his cognac and me with an iced glass of Rolling Rock beer, we admired the Corona Gorda sized cigars with their smooth, Colorado Claro shade wrappers.

Not knowing much about cigar smoking, I observed in wonder as my Dad dipped the head of his cigar in the snifter of cognac and enjoyed the blend of his drink with the wrapper flavors on his palette. Being the typical, young novice, I followed suite and dipped my cigar head in the ice cold Rolling Rock and attempted to savor the flavors as they soaked into the wrapper.

The cigars were packaged in an attractive hand-carved, varnished wooden box. Although quite striking as a presentation piece, the box was not at all functional as a humidor where my father rested his cigars. With a loose seal and no humidification device, the box soon allowed these wonderful cigars to transform into dried-out, flavorless sticks.

When I started to work in the cigar business, one of the most frequent questions I was asked was regarding the care and storage of cigars once they left the shop: Should I remove the cellophane? Should I leave the cigars in the tubes? Can I store cigars in my refrigerator? How often should I add water to my element? How long can cigars be stored and still be smokeable? This chapter of Cigar 101 will attempt to provide answers to some of these questions and offer a variety of options to care for your own stash of cigars.

Basically, the care and storage of cigars rely on two key factors: humidity and temperature. The most common figures I hear are 70/70, i.e. 70% humidity and 70° temperature, although I use these levels as an upper limit rather than an average measurement. As a personal preference, I find domestic cigars smoke much better at slightly higher humidity (67-69%) than Habanos, which I usually store as low as 66° and 66% humidity. 

An ideal combination of humidity and temperature differ depending on the cigar tobacco. For instance, during the cigar boom of the mid to late 1990’s, due to the lack of quality control in Cuba, it was not uncommon to find 50% or more of a box of twenty-five Habanos plugged, i.e. rolled too tight to draw. However, I know of instances when collectors reduce their humidity to as low as 62% for a period of a month or more and the cigars “opened” to the point of being smokeable. Of course, this method is not a guaranteed solution to a plugged cigar problem; however, it is certainly worth the effort if the cigar is a special one.

Another issue more common to Habanos than domestic cigars is the occurrence of tobacco beetles. It is believed by most cigar enthusiasts that 90-99% of all Habanos contain beetle larvae in the leaves; however, if the cigars are kept at a lower temperature and humidity, the likelihood of hatching into live beetles is greatly reduced.

I am aware of one instance when after returning from a week long vacation, a friend discovered his air conditioning had been disconnected during his absence, raising the temperature in his cigar cabinet to 80° or higher with an equally high humidity. He was equally distraught to find after opening one or two boxes of his precious Habanos that beetles had hatched in the heat and within one week destroyed almost two full boxes of cigars. For this reason some collectors place newly purchased Habanos through a freezing process before resting them in their cabinets, especially during the hotter summer months.

Another question I was often asked as a tobacconist, was “should I remove the cellophane (or tube) before storing cigars in my humidor?” As cigar cellophane is permeable to air and moisture, this issue really becomes a personal preference. Although for longer term storage or aging, most enthusiasts believe removing the cellophane allows the natural elements to accelerate the aging process of the tobacco. The same is true with removing the cap from a cigar tube to allow it to “breathe” since aluminum tubes, unlike cellophane, are non-permeable.

A solid humidor, lined with Spanish cedar (to retain moisture and appropriate humidity levels) and a tight seal is the best method to begin storing cigars at home or the office. Rather than making a substantial purchase on a professionally built cabinet (see story Bob Staebell’s Aristocrats), some collectors purchase large coolers, lining them with cedar and placing an inexpensive humidification element inside to retain moisture and allow storage of multiple boxes of cigars. These have become known as coolerdors and can function very well if put together properly and kept in optimum temperature conditions in the home. There are actually some excellent references on the Internet for building a coolerdor.

The humidification element is usually structured with an outer casing of plastic or metal with openings or grids surrounding a sponge-like material to retain moisture. Distilled water is recommended to dampen the elements, as natural water can build bacteria and other grime, damaging the element. A 50/50 solution of Propylene Glycol is also available at most tobacconists. This solution mixed in a 50/50 proportion with distilled water is a strong preventative against harmful growth in the foam of the element.

Hygrometers are measuring devices to monitor internal humidity and/or temperature within humidors. Although digital hygrometers tend to be more accurate than analog dial units, the real test of humidity is the feel and smokeability of your cigars. Cigars that are too damp tend to burn crooked or not at all, while cigars that are too dry will burn to fast, or hot. While relying on my hygrometer and thermometer for longer term storage, I tend to trust the feel and smoke of my cigars, rather than what “the numbers read”.

There is much more information available about storing cigars, and if this topic interests you, please see The Ultimate Cigar Storage Manifesto for a wealth of additional information.


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