So, you have decided to make an investment in a batch of fine cigars. Whether they are Cuban cigars, premium blends or rare vintage batches, they deserve the best protection. The humidification process can be quite complicated, and plenty of enthusiasts don’t know how to properly store their precious cigars. Fear not though, we have gathered together our resident experts at Havana House to produce an extensive guide to cigar humidification.
Choosing a Good Humidor
When it comes to good cigar humidification, the first step is choosing a good humidor. Here at Havana House, we have a huge range of humidors for you to browse through if you have not chosen the humidor you want already. Other than being functional, humidors are often used as ornaments and become the centrepiece of a room. For this reason, you may want to choose a real spectacle of a humidor such as those hand-crafted and inlaid with marquetry. In addition to beauty, however, humidors vary in function, dependant on the components used to produce it.
Inner Lining of the Humidor
The inner lining of a humidor is not always integral to the piece itself. Often, aficionados will replace the innards of a humidor. Primarily, three types of wood are used for the humidor’s inner lining: Spanish Cedar, Red Cedar and Honduran Mahogany.
Spanish Cedar offers three main advantages. The first, is protection from tobacco worms, through the cedar’s special odoriferous quality. A high humidity absorption capacity ensures that a stable climate will be maintained inside the humidor. This also prevents mould. Finally, Spanish cedar supports the ageing process of cigars and has a positive effect on flavour.
Red Cedar is inferior to Spanish Cedar in humidity absorption, and it exudes a more intense aroma. Some humidor manufacturers use this wood as it is less expensive and easier to acquire. One attribute of Red Cedar that should be noted is that, particularly when storing cigars for long periods of time, a strong woody flavour can be impacted onto the cigars.
Honduran Mahogany has a humidity absorption rate comparable to that of Spanish Cedar yet at the same time the wood has a less intense odour. Unfortunately, the deterrent effect on insects is greatly reduced, and the desired flavouring of the cigars is not as good as with Spanish Cedar. The team here at Havana House suggest that you seek to purchase a humidor that is lined with Spanish Cedar. The thickness of the lining you use is essential. Basically, the thicker, the better. A lining less than 2mm in depth will not take advantage of the beneficial characteristics that the wood provides.
Veneer or Solid Wood?
Essentially, there are two different options when constructing a humidor. MDF, which stands for medium density fibreboard. This consists of a veneer of some type of hardwood. The other is solid wood, where the entire humidor will be crafted (often by hand) from a solid hardwood such as Sycamore.
Contrary to popular belief, solid wood humidors are not necessarily superior to veneer humidors. While solid wood humidors are thought of as heirloom-worthy and will, without doubt, come across as more physically imposing, they are far outweighed by the substantially more complicated construction of veneer humidors. Veneer humidors are made to withstand changes in humidity.
It all comes down to the strain of timber used to craft the humidor. Since the humidity inside of the humidor is going to be much higher than the external humidity, the internal wood tends to expand and crack parts of the structure. Timber gathered from trees that are suited to a humid, tropical environment are often immune to this. Examples of wood that is resistant to warping and cracking as a result of the change in humidity are – Mahogany, Ebony, Zebrawood, Bubinga and Rosewood. Of course, they are plenty of woods that could be used, so it is important that you do your research beforehand.
In addition to this factor, humidor wood should also be impermeable to help prevent insects laying their eggs inside and to give some added protection to splashes. It is also an advantage for humidor wood to be hard and resistant to dents, to extend the cigar box’s shelf life.
Other characteristics of a good humidor
- Hinges – Should be durable and ensure low-friction functioning for many years to come.
- Quality of lacquer application – A smooth and even application is key
- Airtight seal – Humidors should close so well that a constant level of internal humidity can be maintained.
Optimum Humidity Level
Inside the humidor, cigars should be stored at a relative humidity of approximately 65-70% Humidity. In such an environment, the cigar should absorb the ideal rate of humidity of 14% of its weight. Typically, it is thought that the best flavours of a cigar can evolve in such a climate. If you intend to store your cigars for a number of years, 65% is recommended. If you frequently smoke (every day), then 70% is optimal for taste. It should be noted that if one allows the humidity level to exceed 80%, then their cigars will begin to mould and rot.
If cigars become too dry, they become fragile and burn rather quickly. This not only causes a shorter smoke but allows the cigar to take on an aggressive and slightly bitter taste. On the other hand, a cigar that is too damp burn unevenly and take on a heavy and acidic flavour.
Sponge or Crystal?
Until recently, all humidifiers employed the same simple mechanism. They were all equipped with a plastic or metal case containing a sponge as a humidifier. When using sponge humidifiers, the use of a special propylene glycol solution is recommended, which improves the characteristics of sponge humidifiers. Overall, the simple sponge based humidification system provides sufficient humidification performance. However, there is a new system that should not be overlooked.
During the last few years, manufacturers (notably Xikar) have been experimenting with alternative systems of humidification. Currently, there are very few humidors that come with these crystalline, embryonic systems. They can, however, be brought as an addition. The most notable of these systems are the Xikar crystal humidifiers. The advantage of these systems is that they work constantly and only need to be refilled monthly as opposed to weekly. The release is slow and steady, maintaining consistent humidity levels. Whereas humidity levels tend to fluctuate more when using a sponge.
Hygrometers are small instruments that allow you to gauge the humidity of your humidor. Before use, they must be calibrated. Additionally, it is recommended that hygrometers are calibrated every so often to maintain their accuracy. This is typically done once a year.
There are three types of hygrometers.
Metal Spring Hygrometers – This type of hygrometer is used in the majority of all humidors. They are less expensive but of limited accuracy.
Natural Hair Hygrometers – These hygrometers are much more accurate. Unfortunately, substantial maintenance work is required to maintain the accuracy of these humidors.
Synthetic Hair Hygrometers – These hygrometers are approximately as accurate as natural hair hygrometers, however, they do not require any maintenance on the part of the user.
After purchasing a hygrometer, or a humidor with one built in, some simple preparatory steps need to be carried out prior to using the instrument. There are two methods of calibration.
Method 1 – The recommended and most accurate calibration method is to place the hygrometer together with a salt solution into a small plastic box. One should take a cup or spoon filled with salt to moisten it with a few drops of water. The salt should not dissolve, but merely be damp. Afterwards, place the hygrometer and the salt in a well-seated plastic box and wait. After about 8 hours the humidity within the box should have reached 75% precisely. Adjust the hygrometer to this value.
Method 2 – A hassle-free way of calibrating your humidor is to wrap the humidor in a thoroughly wet cloth. After about an hour, adjust the hygrometer to 96%.
Filling the humidifier – place the humidifier on a plate and moisten it with Propylene Glycol solution (sponge based) or Distilled water (Crystal based). Leave the humidifier in the water for as long as it takes to absorb a sufficient amount of liquid (usually 5 minutes). Dry the humidifier with a cloth and place it in the humidor.
Moistening the humidor – It is a common misconception that the walls of a humidor should be wiped with a damp cloth. Here at Havana House, we do not use this method and do not recommend it to anyone. The best way to prepare a humidor is to leave a glass filled with distilled water in a humidor for three days with the lid closed. The water will slowly evaporate, and the inner walls of the humidor should have absorbed a sufficient amount of moisture. After this, place your humidifier inside the humidor, again with the lid closed, and allow the humidity to stabilise. This will also take around 2-3 days. After this process is completed your humidor is ready to keep your cigars!
There are many different variables to take into account when storing cigars. Customers often return to our stores after their purchase with additional questions on how to protect and mature their cigars. Of course, we are happy to help! The most common question is ‘do humidors need fresh air?’ The answer is yes. The atmosphere inside a cigar box can become stale if left as air does not easily escape and enter a good humidor. At least once every two weeks, humidors should be refreshed with new air.
The best temperature for cigar storage
A temperature of around 18-21 degrees Celsius is considered ideal for storing cigars. At lower temperature, the desired ageing process of the cigars is impaired. Therefore, chilly wine cellars are only suitable for cigar storage to a limited extent. High temperatures are even worse. Over 24 degrees Celsius, is the best heat for tobacco worm infestation and cigar rotting. For this reason, humidors should not be exposed directly to sunlight. In addition, sunlight can bleach the hue out of ornaments such as humidors.
Cigars and Time
It is often said that time is a cigar’s best friend. Generally speaking, cigars can be stored for an unlimited period of time as long as the humidity remains around 65-70% and a regular supply of fresh air is maintained. High-quality cigars, notably Cubans but also some premium non-Cuban brands develop a special flavour after many years of storage. In Great Britain, in particular, there is a long tradition of storing cigars for the optimum unfurling of the flavours.
In fact, before premium cigars are shipped to tobacconists, they are usually ripened for about six months. Due to an increase in demand, the ripening period has become increasingly shorter over the past few years. Therefore we would urge you to store your cigars for an additional 3-6 months before they are smoked. In the end, it is up to the preference of the smoker as to how long to store his cigars for. It is a good idea to purchase a bundle of 50 cigars and smoke once a week to observe the changes in flavour and smoothness.
Cigars absorb aromas from their environment. Over time, aromas and taste infuse. If you were to store your cigars in a bread bin, they would have a grainy, wheat-like taste. The same goes if you were to store your cigars in a diary-room, a meat locker or a laundry basket (none of which are advised). One of our customers reportedly stores his cigars in his garden shed as he adores the aroma of freshly cut grass and woodiness. When storing cigars in a humidor, it is important to remember that cigars not only absorb flavour from the wood lining but from the cigars around them. Dividers are used in humidors to minimize this phenomenon.
Some aficionados, however, appreciate the mixture of flavours and intentionally store different lines of cigar together for several months. This is called cigar marriage.
A common issue with humidors is uneven and varying humidity levels. This problem is especially common in humidors that are filled close to maximum capacity. The solution to this issue is to rotate cigars between humidors. Cigars which are stored for long periods of time may be rotated every 1-3 months.
We hope that you have learnt everything that you need to know about storing your cigars. If you have any questions about cigar humidification, don’t hesitate to contact us!