Cigars were born in the tropics where the temperature is always warm, and the humidity was always high. Cigars like to live in an environment much like they were born in. The way to simulate that environment is with a humidor.
What is a humidor?
A humidor is a box or cabinet, usually made out of wood (but many other materials have been used to make humidors from Tupperware to tin cans) that contains a humidification device (usually called a "credo") and a hygrometer (a device that measures the humidity). Sometimes humidors come equipped with a thermometer, but usually that isn't necessary.
Temperature and humidity tolerances
Cigars like to kept at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21.1 degrees Celsius) and 70% humidity. This can be in a range of 65% to 75% depending on whether you like your cigars a little dry or a little wet. Some say Cuban cigars ought to be kept at 65% to allow them to smoke better. A cigar which is too "wet" (stored at too high a humidity) has a couple of problems.
- It can be hard to light and keep lit. The draw may become too tight (it becomes difficult to get the smoke through the cigar).
- It may become susceptible to mold.
A cigar which is too "dry" (stored at too low a humidity) can burn hot. The smoke becomes harsh. Dry cigars will also lead to the evaporation of the essential oils in the cigar which impart the flavor, leaving your cigars more bland and tasteless than they should be. If a cigar is consistently too dry, the wrapper can crack.
How do I "break in" (re-humidify) a new or existing humidor
If you bring a new humidor home, many time you are anxious to fill it with your favorite cigars. This is not a good thing to do because the wood that lines the humidor (usually Spanish cedar) is dry. If you place your cigars in the humidor before it's "stabilized" (the humidity has reached 70%), the wood will suck the moisture from where it can find it, and where it will find it will be your prized cigars! This will leave them dry and tasteless. These are the steps you should follow to season a new humidor
- Charge your humidifying device ("credo").
- Place a calibrated (salt tested) hygrometer in the humidor.
- Place a shallow dish of distilled water in the humidor. (Do *not* rub the sides of the humidor down with distilled water like some recommend. This will bring up the grain of your wood. Let the humidor absorb the moisture from the dish of water naturally.)
- Place the humidification device inside the humidor.
Check the humidity every day. When it reaches and stays at 70%, it's time to add your cigars. It could take a few days to a few weeks to stabilize. There are a number of reasons that your humidor might take a while to stabilize:
- You live in an arid (dry) area.
- The wood in your humidor is very dry.
- Your humidor doesn't seal well.
Note: If it's taking an inordinately long time to stabilize your humidor, you can check the seal on it by placing the whole humidor inside a ziploc bag (or maybe two of them) and sealing it well. If it comes up to humidity in the bag, but not outside the bag then odds are you have a leaky humidor. Once your humidor is stabilized, you should only need to add distilled water to the humidifying device when it begins to dry out. If you wait too long, you will see the humidity start to slip with your hygrometer.
How do I charge my humidifying device?
First look on the manufacturer's instruction sheet. Some humidifiers (like the Diamond Crown) use simply distilled water to operate. Do not go against your manufacturer's instructions. If you have no instructions, and your humidifying device looks like a small plastic box or hockey puck with holes in it you probably need to charge the humidifier with "credo solution" (50% propylene glycol and 50% distilled water). This solution (called "fifty fifty") has the unique property of holding the humidity at 70% (much like the property of table salt to hold the humidity at 75%). When the humidity is too low, the solution releases moisture into the air. When the humidity is too high, the solution absorbs moisture from the air. This is why when you put the solution into the device you do not completely saturate the foam. If you do, the device will have no room to absorb more moisture. A mistake some folks make with regards to the humidifying device is that when it gets empty, they fill it with humidifying solution again. When they do this the mix goes to 75% PG, and 25% water. This will hold the humidor at a substantially lower humidity than 75%. You should only need to add distilled water each time, and only need to re-charge the device once a year or so (or when the humidity starts to climb. Recharging the device can be accomplished by washing out the foam with distilled water, letting it dry completely, and then charging it with credo solution. An easier way is to replace the foam. This foam is the "wet" (not the "dry") foam that florists use to arrange fresh flowers. Check with your florist for availability of the wet foam. You can usually get a whole "brick" of it for about one dollar (US).
Is my hygrometer accurate? (or: How do I salt test my hygrometer?)
There is an easy way to determine if your hygrometer is accurate. You need a ziploc bag, a screw-on soda bottle cap (or other small container) a small amount of salt, and water.
- Place the salt in the bottle cap (or other small container).
- Dampen the salt with water. Do not put so much that the salt is "sloppy". You want a damp pile of salt in the bottle cap.
- Place both the hygrometer, and the bottle cap full of damp salt in the ziploc bag and seal it well. (It is important not to let air on or out while the test is going on.)
- Let everything sit like this for over 8 hours.
After 8 hours in the damp salt environment, the hygrometer should read 75%. If it does not, note the amount and direction that it actually reads and be sure to add or subtract that amount when reading the hygrometer. If the hygrometer has a control to adjust it (either the needle or the display), you can set the hygrometer to 75% immediately after the test. You should salt test your hygrometer every 6 months or so to be sure of the accuracy.
I just bought a few cigars, will they be ok without a humidor
You can store cigars in a ziploc bag for a couple of weeks without any ill effects to your cigars. If you are planning on continuing with this hobby, the acquisition of a humidor is recommended.
Should I keep my cigars in the refrigerator?
Refrigerators are for food, not cigars! When you store the cigars in the refrigerator, the cold temperatures rob your cigars of moisture causing them to burn hot and harsh. Also, the other food in your refrigerator can taint your cigars. When you're smoking you don't want to "detect hints of vidalia onion".
For maximum enjoyment of your cigars, they should be kept in darkened environment with a climate below 75 degrees Fahrenheit, at around 70% humidity, hence the acquisition of a humidor for a serious cigar smoker.