The following is a collection of FAQs that we receive from many of our customers and friends. They first appeared in our newsletters. Now they are here at your fingertips for easy reference. Please feel free to ask us via telephone or email if you are not sure about any of this information.
More importantly, if you have a question yourself, always ask us. Our rule here is that all questions are good questions and if we don’t know the answer we will find out for you.
One of the most frequently asked questions we get basically centres around the strength of the many cigars available from Cuba. We have always believed that “strength per se is very subjective and based on personal views – one person may not consider Partagas to be a strong brand while another may think just the opposite.
The following Chart is an indication of the comparative strengths of the Cuban brands. It is based on our own smoking experiences and that of our customers.
Cigars ranked at 0-4 are considered mild cigars; cigars ranked 4-7 are reasonably medium strength cigars; cigars ranked 7-10 are considered strong cigars. (Guantanamera, the newest cigar from Cuba, is about 4 on this scale)
One issue not to forget – they are all great cigars.
Can you please tell me the best way to season a humidor a new humidor or one that has not been used for a long time.
Seasoning a Humidor
Before you put any cigars in a new humidor it is important you ensure your humidor interior has been prepped so that a desired humidity level may be maintained. Most cigars are made in a tropical climate of around 70% Relative Humidity (RH). Cigars maintained at those levels will remain in perfect condition for years to come with little effort on your part. So how do you do that?
All humidors sold at Cigar Studio have an interior made of untreated Spanish cedar, the preferred wood for humidifying and aging premium cigars. Spanish cedar is not too aromatic so as to impart a cedar taste to your cigars (like red cedar will). Spanish cedar contains natural oils that allow the wood to absorb and eliminate moisture without warping and cracking. This wood needs to be “seasoned” to activate those oils and to allow humidity to build up to the desired level before the box is ready to hold cigars.
So here is what you do. Take a “J-cloth” – make sure it is unscented and free of soap – and wet it with distilled water. Wipe down all the cedar, including any trays and dividers and the interior lid of your new humidor. You don’t want the water to pool onto the wood but you do want to insure that you have thoroughly dampened it. Yes, and while a Boveda seasoning Pack will do the same thing, they can take a few days to achieve what the above does in a few hours.
Next, prepare your humidification device by soaking it in distilled water. Simply put in into a small bowl and pour distilled water or PG solution into it. Only use distilled water or glycol solution. Tap water contains minerals – calcium and lime – that will destroy most humidification systems by leaving deposits that will clog the humidor element. Once the humidification element is full – it will feel heavy – give it a good shake to remove loose water. Attach the humidification device and hygrometer into the humidor. Note – there are many different types of humidification units that can be used to provide humidity in your humidor – traditional floral form, formcord, beads and crystals, and/or combination of these using distilled water or glycol solution. If you are buying your first humidor from Cigar Studio, we typically recommend that you start with a basic humidifier as above.
Close the humidor and leave it for a couple of hours. Refresh the humidification device (it may not need it) and check hygrometer reading. Your target range is 65% – 70%. Do not worry about a degree or two off this level. If the level reads 65% and you still enjoy the way your cigars smoke and feel then leave everything alone. If you find the level too high – 75% plus – you have a couple of choices; remove the humidification device for a few days or put in a bunch of strips of dry cedar which you can obtain from the store.
In our experience, it is much better to have cigars maintained at 65% – 70%, than 70% – 75% or higher. Here’s why. First I challenge anyone to tell the difference between cigars maintained at say 67% versus 70%, even if your equipment could be so accurate (it isn’t). But more importantly, a cigar that is slightly dried out can be re-hydrated easily while a cigar that is too moist has a number of potential problems; the draw can be much harder, it keeps going out and in extreme circumstances it can split and be rendered un-smoke able.
Enjoy your humidor!
Sunlight has a great impact on the texture and elasticity of tobacco leaves as well as on the intensity and uniformity of the leaf’s colour. Tobacco plants designed for use as wrappers often have their direct exposure to sunlight regulated by being “shaded” under cheesecloth “tapados” or covers. Shaded tobacco produces excellent wrappers as the leaves retain a smooth, silken and very even texture and appearance. Shaded tobacco is also less exposed to insect attacks and the detrimental effects of the weather like string winds, heavy rainfall or sleet – all of which could increase the chance of blemishes or damage being caused to the wrapper. Some of the best-shaded tobacco in the world is known as Connecticut Shade. It is an incredibly smooth, brown wrapper leaf used for premium cigars and it is grown in the US in the Connecticut River Valley.
Well, yes and no. Yes you can smoke a cigar that has gone out, but NO, do not ever, ever stub it out. Doing so will cause a build up of smoke in the cigar as well as tar and ash at the end of the cigar, both of which will result in a cigar that doesn’t taste very good when you relight it. The best way to put out a cigar is to blow out the smoke. Just blow into it for a second or two, and then simply let it go out naturally in an ashtray. When you want to relight it (and remember leaving it too long in the ashtray will cause it to cool, and the tar taste to marry with the rest of the tobacco) cut about _ inch off the end with your cutter. This will remove the cold ash and tar residue. Then just light it as you did the first time. While it won’t taste like new, your first draws will be much more enjoyable than if it had been stubbed out. Free Tip – If you find yourself rarely having time to finish your cigar, try a shorter length or thinner ring gauge.
Great question, especially since a cigar may have little or no tobacco in it from the country in which it is made. A cigar’s country of manufacture – where it is made – is what designates its origin. That is not to say that all the tobacco in the cigar comes from that country. In fact, the opposite is often the case, where a cigar made in, say, Jamaica, like the Macanudo, has fillers from the Dominican Republic and Mexico, binders from Mexico and wrappers from the US (Connecticut Shade). When a cigar is made up of filler, binder and wrapper tobacco all grown in the same country, it is known as a puro. The most famous of the puros are cigars made in Cuba where all the tobacco going into Cuban brands comes from the island.
The head of the oldest member of the Three Stooges. No seriously, “curly head” refers to the way a cigar is finished when the roller twists the tobacco on the head of a cigar instead of trimming the wrapper and affixing a cap. There are some great cigars finished this way including the Montecristo Especiale, the Cohiba Lancero and the Pimental Guaruja.
In most cases cigars, which have been kept out of sufficient humidity for a period of time, can be rehumidified. It depends on how hard and dry the cigar has become. Cigars dry out from the outside inward – first the wrapper will become brittle, then the binder and filler leaves will dry and the cigar will get very hard. Assuming you do not have a humidor – and we can certainly solve this problem for you – there are a couple of things you can do depending on how dry the cigar has become. If the cigar wrapper is brittle but the rest of the cigar still feels spongy (i.e. only the wrapper has become dry and the rest of the cigar hasn’t dried out yet), the easiest way to bring the wrapper back is to simply put the cigars in a Ziploc bag and breathe a little air into the bag before zipping it up again. Do this every day and within a week, if not before, the cigar will be back to new again.
However, if the cigar has become totally dry and is very hard, get yourself a small plastic food container. Put your cigars on a paper towel or dishcloth in the container and then place a small dish in the corner. Put a small humipack, or if you really want to use homemade materials, a small sponge on the dish and put very little distilled water on the sponge. The key here is not to allow too much humidity to build up in the container. For cigars that have really dried out, too much humidity too quickly is a killer and will result in the foot of the cigar splitting badly – the dry filler leaves will “suck up” the damp air and expand before the wrapper and binder has a chance to breathe. The other problem you can have if you let too much moisture build up is that condensation could occur on the sides of the plastic container and run down to the bottom – that’s why you need to put your cigars on some type of cloth. The best way to employ this method is to add a teaspoon of distilled water to the sponge every two or three days. And have patience. My experience is that within a month, and it will and should take this long to do this properly, most cigars which have dried out will come back to the extent that they are very smokeable and most will taste (almost) as good as new.
Non-distilled water, such as tap water (and spring water), contains calcium, chlorine and microbes that can affect both your cigars and your humidification device. Tap water will eventually result in your humidification device getting clogged up thereby reducing its effectiveness – just like normal water will clog up your furnace humidifier. The microbes in tap water can also start to cause mould in your device’s sponge and in many cases will result in your cigars getting moldy. Distilled water has no trace elements that can ruin your humidification device, or chemicals that can permeate your cigars.
Absolutely not! It is too cold in a refrigerator for cigars and the relative humidity is far below what it necessary to keep them from drying out. Even if the cigars are cellophaned, the frost-free nature of today’s fridges will insure your cigars dry out. If you want to see what will happen to your cigars if you store them there, just remember what that forgotten piece of shriveled fruit or vegetable looked like when you last cleaned the fridge.
We hear these terms interchanged all the time. However, each refers to very different but specific stage in bringing tobacco from the fields to the cigar rollers productions bench. Let me try to sort these stages out for you.
Curing is what occurs to tobacco right after it is picked. Freshly picked tobacco looks very much like any very large green leaf. These raw tobacco leaves are first sort by size and texture (usually determined from the location on the plant from where the leaf grew) and banded together. These bands are then hung on long poles, which in turn are hung up inside large drying barns. These barns are usually right in the fields from where the tobacco has been grown and it is in these large structures that the tobacco is cured. Curing is the first stage in drying the tobacco out and as it cures, the green chlorophyll in the tobacco turns into brown carotene. This curing stage can take anywhere from four to ten weeks depending on the weather and tobacco.
Once cured, the tobacco is again sorted by size, texture, and now, colour and taken to a factory where the fermentation stage occurs. Tobacco leaves are placed on top of each other such that huge bales and stacks are created often 5′ – 6′ square. These are called burros. Because these burros are so large with so many leaves piled on top of each other, heat begins to build up in the center of the burro and the tobacco leaves undergo great chemical and physical changes. This is known as fermentation. As the heat builds up, ammonia, water, and plant sap is released and the starches in the leaves begin to turn into sugars. This fermentation process is very similar to what happens in your compost pile except that experienced workers insure that the leaves never begin to decompose. They do this by carefully monitoring the temperature in the middle of the burros and as heat builds up to approximately 90° – 100° F, the leaves in each burro are rotated from top to bottom and the burro is rebuilt. This process is repeated 8 – 12 times and each time the heat is allowed to build up until it reaches the desired temperature. Eventually the heat build up is less and less with each rotation and fermentation is over. This fermentation stage is also called “sweating the tobacco” as ammonia and water is literally sweated out of the leaves. Fermentation actually changes the characteristics of the leaves as the molecules within the tobacco are broken down. The release of ammonia and other nitrates helps to reduce the nicotine, tar and acid content in the tobacco. Fermentation, which for some tobacco is actually done in several stages, can take 6 – 12 weeks depending on the tobacco (longer if maduro leaf is desired). The tobacco leaves are now ready to be aged.
The tobacco is again sorted and by this time the leaves have been classified such that the manufacturer knows which leaves will be used for filler, binder or wrapper. The tobacco is then repacked into bales, marked and labeled and then put into factory warehouses to age. The tobacco will age for upwards of 1 – 3 years and in the case of tobacco designated for super premium and vintage cigars, up to 5 – 7 years. Ageing the tobacco helps to even out the remaining moisture within the tobacco and mature the leaves until they are ready to go into cigar production.
Following this ageing stage the leaves are almost ready to go into cigar production but these cured, fermented and aged leaves are very brittle and must first be sprayed with a fine mist of water in order to withstand the physical handling of rollers.
Note: Just to make sure you are ready when we test you on all this, you may be interested to know that freshly rolled cigars are also aged. After leaving the rollers’ bench, cigars are bundled into lots of 50 and 100 cigars and tied with a ribbon. They are then placed into large cedar-lined rooms – their first humidor – where humidity is kept constant and the unique characteristics of the wrapper, binder and filler are allowed to marry with each other (just like the spices and contents in your favourite recipes need to blend together). During this ageing period, which will last 30 – 90 days, the moisture content of the cigars is evened out. Long-aged and Vintage cigars are kept in these rooms longer – Fuente Hemmingways are aged for over 6 months while Davidoff cigars are aged for up to a year and a half.
Tobacco leaves designated for maduro cigars start out very similar to other tobacco leaves – they are cured in drying barns. Most often thicker, hardier leaves are used due to the vigorous nature of the fermentation that these leaves must go through. A “natural” maduro is created during this fermentation stage – the temperature within the burro is allowed to get much higher and the leaf stays unturned for longer, and the entire fermentation process goes on longer (than for regular cigar tobacco). The additional heat build up in the burro, and longer time that these leaves are allowed to ferment, results in these leaves getting much darker as more starches turn into sugars. This is why maduros have a slightly sweeter taste (and less “tobacco” taste) as the longer fermentation period results in further reduction in the nicotine content of the cigar.
Maduro can also be made through a less natural manner by artificially jump-starting the fermentation process. This can be done in one of two ways: the tobacco can be pressed in large pressure bins where the heat is allowed to build up very quickly, and fermentation will begin and occur faster than normal. The other method involves tobacco being processed in large “sweat” rooms, with almost sauna-like conditions, to fast track the fermentation process. These latter two methods usually produce a heavier tasting maduro leaf.
Tobacco grown in most countries can be used for producing maduro leaf. However, Mexican leaf is regarded as one of the very best for maduro cigars. The leaf’s natural strength enables it to withstand the rigors of the maduro’s extended fermentation.
Not at all. In fact that gray dust is a sign that the cigars are of exceptional quality and that you are maintaining them in excellent condition.
That dust is called bloom. As cigars age in the humidor, the natural oils in the tobacco secrete to the surface of the cigar. These oils manifest themselves as a light gray powder-like substance that will appear on the wrapper. This is a sign of a cigar that continues to age and benefit from the proper humidity and temperature that you are obviously using to store your cigars. You can just wipe it off lightly before you smoke the cigar, although it will not impart any taste whatsoever. Bloom appears on cigars that have been constructed of sun-grown wrapper – these tend to be the darkest wrappers and have the most oils left in them. Shade grown wrapper (also an excellent tobacco leaf) and wrappers that undergo additional fermentation usually do not produce bloom.
Don’t confuse bloom with mould. Mould is a fungus that can appear on cigars that have been exposed to excess moisture; too much humidity or water actually getting on the cigars. Mould is a very different texture than bloom and is noticeably thicker and flakier. It also occurs in patches whereas bloom will appear as an even dust on your cigars. Once mold appears on the cigar, you should throw it out as the tobacco has begun to go rotten, the mould could spread to you other cigars and it tastes terrible.
As we said in previous issues in the column, avoid letting your cigar get too moist. Not only can mould appear, but cigars that are too moist can also split and become unsmokeable.
That really depends on how many cigars you think you may end up collecting or need to store. But whatever that number is – 10, 25, 50, 150 cigars etc. – always insure you have about 15% – 20% more space in the humidor than you need to store those cigars. There are a couple of reasons for this:
You should never cram your humidor so that the cigars are jammed in and packed tightly together. Cigars need to breathe and they will age beautifully if there is sufficient humid air and space around them.
For cigars to age properly, there should never be more than two rows of cigars on top of each other. Cigars that are stored in a humidor, 4-5 rows deep will need to be rotated or the cigars in the middle will not be exposed to sufficiently humid air so as to age properly.
The incremental cost of buying the “next size up” is not excessive especially when compared to having to buy another humidor when the “small one” becomes crammed. The extra space serves as little insurance in the event you are given cigars as a gift or you find a great deal and buy a box unexpectedly.
One of the biggest frustrations we hear from collectors are from those who can’t store their cigars properly because of capacity limitations in their humidor or because they need to stack their cigars 5 rows deep. If we are speaking about “you”, consider humidors with trays or cabinet style humidors. Cabinets offer the best investment/value on the market especially for customers who keep more than 75 cigars.