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.
Cuban Cigars – Strength Comparisons
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.
Cuban Cigars in Toronto – Are Cubans the Best Cigars.
For many years through to the mid 1980’s, Cubans were the best cigars because they were generally the only cigars made. That has changed as you can now enjoy cigars from Nicaragua, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic. It’s important to define what “best” is so we like to discuss quality instead. And the quality of a cigar can objectively be measured using two criteria: construction and consistency. (flavor is too subjective a consideration to be included). So when it comes to these two objective measures, non-Cuban cigars are superior to Cubans. They rarely are plugged, they will burn evenly if you light them correctly, and each cigar in a box resembles the other. The variance in wrapper color alone in some boxes of Cuban cigars is mind-boggling, and many times, especially in thinner gauge Cuban cigars, poor draw as a result of a plugged cigar, is very frustrating to the smokers. But when you get a good one that has been tested for quality and contains all the proper tobacco components for that blend, Cuban cigars can be spectacular.
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 Your Humidor
Before you put any cigars in a new humidor it is important you ensure your humidor interior has been prepped so that the 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 ageing 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.
Step 1 – 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 ensure 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.
Step 2 – Next, prepare your humidification device by soaking it in distilled water. Simply put it 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.
Step 3 – Close the humidor and leave it for a couple of hours. Refresh the humidification device (it may not need it) and check the 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.
*In a later blog, we will take you through another option using Boveda Packs and their revolutionary 2 Way Humidification Process.
Enjoy your humidor!
What Does Shade Grown Tobacco Mean?
If I Can’t Finish My Cigar, Can I Stub It Out And Finish It Later At A Later Time?
What Dictates The Origin Of A Cigar?
What Is A Curly Head?
What Can I Do With A Cigar That Has Dried Out?
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.
Why All The Talk About Distilled Water? Will Tap Water Work In My Humidor?
Can I Store My Cigars In The Refrigerator?
What Is The Difference Between Aging, Curing, Fermenting And Sweating Tobacco?
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.
What Is Maduro Tobacco?
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.
A Light Grey Dust Is Appearing on My Cigars. Are They Getting Moldy?
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.
I Want To Buy A Humidor. What Size Do I Need?
So what to do? It is our experience that owning a humidor that will hold up to 50 cigars – approximately 2 boxes – is adequate for the average cigar smoker. Before you can say “50 cigars, that’s way more than I need to store”, please note one important issue. The cost saving of having a smaller humidor is relatively minimal since the size is not the main factor driving humidor cost. What drives humidor cost is primarily its finish and features. Plus it is our experience that the smoker who has a small humidor for 25 cigars or less, is simply going to run out of space as soon as they are given or buy that 1 more box of cigars when they stock up. It’s a fact and we see it all the time. So for someone who smokes 1-2 cigars a week, 50 cigars is a half years’ worth of cigar heaven, but not too many to discourage regular visits to your favorite cigar shop to see what’s new.