Ideally, cigars should be stored in a properly manufactured humidor at the optimal temperature and humidity levels. Stable temperature and humidity control is critical for cigars. Also, cigars should be stored where they cannot be affected by strong odors or fumes (paint, varnish, petrol, etc.).
The ideal construction material or lining for humidors is Spanish Cedar (Cedrela odorata). Spanish Cedar is not from Spain but from Brazil and other South American Countries and is also called South American Cedar or sometimes Cigar Box Cedar. Other timbers used are American (or Canadian) red cedar (Thuja plicata) or Honduran mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla).
Spanish Cedar has a high absorption capacity (while remaining stable at high moisture levels) and is generally credited with a positive effect on the cigar aging process and in adding flavor to the cigars. Some have argued that its aromatic fragrance helps suppress tobacco beetle, but there is little evidence to support this.
Storing cigars in their original boxes is recommended, rather than on open display shelves. This protects the cigars from light and it is argued that confinement in boxes results in better aging. A humidor should never be subject to direct sunlight because of temperature fluctuations.
In humidification devices only distilled water should be used. The use of demineralized or deionized water is not a suitable alternative as deionization does not significantly remove uncharged organic molecules, viruses or bacteria, except by incidental trapping in the resin.
Storing cigars in their cellophane sleeves is an academic argument for modern Cuban cigars.
For older cigars, current consensus is that cellophane is probably best left on for disease/ pest control if your storage conditions are less than ideal. It may also improve aging.
Some dealers distribute single cigars in cellophane to protect them during transport. Some smokers use sleeves for singles to prevent transfer of oils between different cigars.
Temperature & Humidity
While the 70/70 rule, 70ºF (21ºC) temperature and 70% humidity, is often quoted as the ideal condition for cigar storage, Habanos recommends a lower range for Cuban cigars.
Their cigars include the following statement:
“For fullest enjoyment, these cigars should be stored in a humidor, away from products with strong odour and under correct conditions of temperature (16ºC to 18ºC) and humidity (65% to 70%).”
Equally important as maintaining ideal temperature and humidity, is stability. Fluctuations from these values should be avoided. Bear in mind that most domestic digital hygrometers are only accurate to plus or minus 2% and should be recalibrated every 6 months. Digital thermometers are usually accurate to plus or minus 0.5ºC (1ºF).
Temperature should be controlled to within the recommended range of 16ºC to 18ºC (61ºF to 64ºF).
Temperatures above 18ºC (64ºF) will allow any dormant Tobacco Beetles to hatch and become active. Sustained temperatures above 25ºC (77ºF) can be considered critical.
Low temperature can delay the aging process. Sustained temperatures below 15ºC (59ºF) should be considered undesirable for normal aging.
Humidity should be controlled within the recommended range of 65% to 70% RH.
High humidity can cause the growth of damaging blue mould or cracking of the wrapper. Sustained humidity above 75% can be considered critical.
Low humidity can allow cigars to dry out. Sustained humidity below 60% should be considered critical.
traditionally, it was generally agreed that cigars should not be consumed within the first year of production.
Since 2006, this appears to have become less of a criterion as Habanos introduces modern technology and better quality control of its processes, with the result that cigars are smoking better earlier.
Current consensus appears to be as follows:
Newly received cigars should be allowed to stabilize for around one month before smoking.
All cigars benefit from aging. A good benchmark for Cubans is 5 years. Lighter flavored cigars probably sooner & stronger cigars probably longer. A suggestion is to try a cigar from the box every six months to check how they are smoking.
Cigars in “air-tight” storage conditions may benefit from longer aging and those stored in less than ideal conditions should be smoked earlier.
Cigars older than 10-15 years may be past their prime unless ideal storage conditions have been adhered to; however some cigars gain a remarkable complexity when old.
Note, opinion varies greatly on this aspect of cigars; therefore use this section as a guide only since, in the end, it is up to individual preference.
For an in-depth discussion on aging cigars, Min Ron Nee’s Illustrated Encyclopedia is recommended.
Cigar Pests & Problems
The tobacco beetle, Lasioderma serricorne, can cause devastation to cigars. By the time that they are discovered, the damage is done. If not contained, your whole stock can be ruined.
Tobacco beetles thrive in temperatures in excess of 18ºC / 65ºF.
Their twelve week long, four stage lifecycle starts off as microscopic eggs which hatch into larvae, pupate and finally emerge as an adult beetle. The larva does the damage inside the cigar by tunnelling within it. The adult beetle does its damage by burrowing out of the cigar, leaving pinhole size holes in the wrapper. Female beetles do further damage by burrowing their way back into the cigar to lay eggs, so starting the cycle again.
The eggs are white oval microscopic size and are undetectable to the human eye. They are laid in batches of between 10 and 100 at a time. The eggs hatch in 7 to 10 days into the larval stage.
The larva is a white soft prickly grub that grows up to 4mm long. They live for about two months inside the cigar, feeding on the tobacco, before the grub pupates.
The pupa is a protective cocoon that grows around the larva. This pupation lasts 1 to 2 weeks while the larva changes into the adult beetle, before emerging from its cocoon and then the cigar.
The adult is a 2-3mm long brownish-red, flying beetle, which lives around three weeks.
This pest was traditionally fought by fumigation of the finished cigars before packing. The chemical used kills the tobacco beetle in all of its four stages of its life-cycle, is non-toxic, leaves no residue and has no taste or effect on the cigar.
However, as fumigation has not been 100% effective (and as the use of such chemicals may eventually be banned), since circa 2005 Habanos freeze their cigars during warehousing. This is expected to totally eradicate this pest from finished cigars; however notwithstanding this, there are occasionally reports of beetle infestation of current boxes.
Comments on Freezing Cigars
Prevention is to keep correct storage temperatures and isolate new cigars from non-Cuban cigars and from cigars produced before circa 2005.
In the absence of storage conditions below 18ºC/65ºF, consideration should be given to freezing newly received cigars. A conventional household freezer normally operates around -15ºC/+5ºF, so (wrapped/zip-locked) cigars should be stored for several days.
Allow a period of transition by moving the cigars from the freezer to the fridge for several days before returning them to the humidor.
If cigars are in prolonged contact with water (say from a leaking wet type humidifier) or subject to high humidity, a damaging blue-green fungal mould can occur, affecting both cigars and humidor.
Affected cigars should be destroyed and the humidor thoroughly cleaned and dried.
White mould is a less aggressive form of the blue-green mould and generally can be wiped off if only slightly affecting the wrapper. However once it gets into the foot of the cigar, it may have terminally affected the cigar’s taste. White mould is not reflective under UV black-light.
White Powdery Bloom / Plume
This is not actually a problem, but it concerns many newcomers. It is a white, powdery, crystalline residue which occurs naturally with age or when cigars are subject to a sudden increase in humidity. Bloom can be easily removed with a soft brush. Bloom can be distinguished from mould by shining a UV-light on it in a dark-room…..bloom is reflective, mould is not.
Dry cigars can permanently lose their flavour. The period over which this occurs is debateable. Habanos states that noticeable flavour loss starts within two or three months. Others argue much shorter periods. Prevention is to keep the correct storage humidity.
Poor Draw – Plugged and Underfilled Cigars
Poor draw problems result from underfilled or overfilled cigars, or badly bunched or twisted filler leaf within the cigar. Poor draw can be more pronounced in young, inadequately aged cigars. Allowing a longer time for the cigar to age may help.
Plugged cigars can vary from partial (hard to draw) to fully plugged (totally unsmokable). A tight or badly bunched cigar might be saved by poking a thin skewer down the centre of the cigar. Allowing the cigars to dry may help.
Underfilled cigars, while smokable, are very unsatisfying. There is nothing you can do with an underfilled cigar, except that if the cigars were over-dry, restoring them to their proper humidity level may help.
Plugged cigars were virtually unheard of before circa 1996. Construction issues began to appear in 1998, and 2003-2004 was notorious for construction problems, including gross underfilling. The situation improved mid-2004. Since 2005, suction tests are carried out on all cigars before the wrappers are applied. Now construction is generally very good.