The most frequently asked cigar questions

To wrap or not to wrap?
(Should you keep cigars in their cello wrappers or take them off?)

That really is the question. So here’s the 411 on cellophane wrappers: Being the 100% natural product they are, ideally, cigars should not be kept wrapped in cellophane, although some may subscribe to the belief that it makes no difference. This is true if you smoke through your cigars quickly. Some brands do come boxed naked, but most cigars are packaged in cello wrappers mainly to protect the wrappers from damage and nothing more.

The rule of thumb is, if you have a good quality humidor that keeps the environment at a relative 65-70% humidity and about 63-68 degrees temperature, your cigars can be safely stored without the cello wrappers. This allows them to “breathe” and age properly. If you often take cigars out with you, leave the cello on, but it’s always good to store a few without the cello so they can mellow out. This is also a good way to “test” whether the unwrapped cigars taste better (but give them at least a month to six weeks before smoking). You can also try putting some of your “take-out” smokes in the humidor with the cello wrapper “open” at the end which will allow some air to circulate through them.

When storing your cigars without the wrappers, be sure you carefully remove the cello so you don’t tear the wrapper leaf and gently rotate your cigars to a different part of the humidor every few weeks, too.

How much of the cigar tip should you clip?

First, be sure you have a good quality cutter with a very sharp blade/s. You only need to shave off from 1/16″ to about 1/8″ of an inch, no more. The idea is to try and keep the cap intact. If you clip most or all of the cap, as you smoke the cigar and the head becomes wetter, it will open wider and the cap will very likely peel off entirely. Some smokers don’t mind if this happens, but others find it sloppy.

What’s the proper way to light a cigar?

You can use several different methods of fire to light it, but whatever you use, light the cigar gently, evenly and slowly. Don’t rush it! This is supposed to be a relaxing experience.

  • Hold the cigar horizontally.
  • “Warm” the cigar by holding the flame underneath the end in direct contact with the cigar. (FYI, the hottest part of the flame is the white tip, so be careful not to ignite the wrapper.)
  • Slowly rotate the cigar until the end is evenly charred over the entire surface.
  • Next, put the cigar in your mouth and hold the flame just close enough to the end without       letting the flame touch it (about an 1/2″). Draw on the cigar slowly while rotating it until it is EVENLY lit. (Drawing too fast will oxidize the tobacco making it taste bitter.)
  • Gently blow on the glowing end to make sure it’s burning evenly and you’re done!

This entire process can take up to a minute, but the cigar will taste the way it’s supposed to taste and will help prevent an uneven burn. Remember, it’s better to take your time in the beginning and you will enjoy the cigar longer, too.

How does ring gauge and length affect the taste of the cigar?

Although the ring gauge will significantly affect a cigar’s flavor and fullness, length doesn’t often have much to do with it. A longer cigar does tend to smoke a little “cooler.” But if you’re a “hot” smoker and puff too much (a habit often carried over by cigarette smokers or the inexperienced), the cigar will smoke hotter at any length and it may even taste bitter, too. If you draw slowly on the cigar and allow it to rest about a minute between puffs, most any length will smoke cool and taste much better, particularly with a well-made cigar. So, slow down and cool it!

How do you “revive” dry cigars kept in a cigar box?

If you keep your cigars in their boxes and they are beginning to dry out, here’s a really good way to revive them. Keep in mind that if cigars are very dry they will be difficult to revive satisfactorily. The key here is, if moisture can escape from a cigar, it can also be replaced. One of the simplest methods is to place the entire box inside a plastic bag. Be sure the bag is not completely closed because you have to have a little air flow in there. It helps to place a sponge dampened with distilled water or 50/50 solution in the bag, too. The idea here is to allow slow absorption of moisture, preventing the cigars from getting too much humidity too soon. If you shock the cigars by adding too much moisture at once they can actually burst – the last thing you want to do to pricey primos. This can take several weeks to over a month, so be patient. Rotate the cigars every few days bringing them from the bottom of the box to the top. Keep this up continuously and in about three to four weeks you should be able to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

If you don’t have a cigar box, you can use a sealable plastic container. Put the dry cigars in the container and seal it for the first two days. This will trap any moisture still left in the cigars. On the third day, add the piece of dampened sponge, but here again, you run the risk of bursting, so be sure not to over-saturate the sponge and to keep the lid propped open in one corner to allow air flow.

When cigars lose a certain amount of moisture, they also lose much of their bouquet and will probably not taste as good as a well-kept cigar. The key to all of this is (whether you’re reviving cigars in their original box or in a humidor) cigars lose moisture slowly, therefore, they need to regain it slowly. Once again, be patient and never resort to drastic measures to revive your cigars or you’ll ruin them permanently.

Why do some cigars unravel?

This is really a pretty common problem among all cigars except it should happen less with better premiums. Wrappers usually peel for two reasons: Either they were not properly wrapped at the factory in the first place, or the cigar has become dry. In the latter case, the wrapper may not have enough elasticity to cling to the binder. Be careful when you clip the cigar, too. If the wrapper is peeling at the head you can often repair it by just moistening it with your tongue. If the wrapper starts peeling from the lit end, or continues to do so even after you moisten it, you can trash it or remove the wrapper. But smoking a peeling wrapper can get pretty messy and since the wrapper contributes so much to the flavor of the cigar, smoking a cigar without it is not just unattractive, it’s just plain yucky.

How do you calibrate a hygrometer?

Most analog hygrometers are manufactured with a tolerance of +/- 4-5% (or more) of humidity within the range of 40-80%. Although humidity gauges are supposedly pre-set at the factory, it’s not unusual to find the calibration off once you get the unit home and placed in your humidor. If you want to see how accurate your hygrometer is, there is a simple, easy-to-do method you can use with items found right in your kitchen. All you need is some table salt, a sealed container (Tupperware” type or ZipLock” bag) and a plastic bottle cap.

1. Place a teaspoon of salt in the bottle cap and add a few drops of tap or distilled water to moisten it. Don’t overdo it. You don’t want to dissolve the salt. Add only enough water to dampen the salt. When water is added to common table salt, it will maintain an exact 75% humidity in a perfectly sealed environment.

2. Carefully place the salt and your hygrometer into the airtight container. (Try not to get any moistened salt on the gauge.) Check the unit to assure its current reading is somewhere in the 40% to 80% range.

3. Seal the container tightly but don’t try to remove any remaining air trapped inside. Now, wait for at least several hours until the environment has stabilized (this could take up to 6 hrs.). Do not open the container. Read the gauge’s humidity % level. It should be exactly 75%. If it is not, note the deviation as being the amount your hygrometer is out of calibration. If for example, it reads 65%, the gauge is 10% low. If it reads 80%, the gauge is 5% high.

4. Carefully remove the unit from the container/bag. Assuming your hygrometer has a calibrating screw on the back (most better ones do) take a very small flathead screwdriver and turn it slowly while watching the dial on the front. If your gauge was low by 10%, turn the screwdriver so the dial is set 10 percentage points higher than it was previously. Conversely, if your gauge was high by 5%, turn the screw in the opposite direction to set the dial 5 percentage points lower.

Your gauge should now be properly calibrated, which will help you maintain a healthier overall environment for your cigars. If the gauge does not appear to be moving, try blowing warm, moist air into the back of it. One other thing you can do, which is also another way to test the unit, is by wrapping the hygrometer in a warm, damp paper towel for about 30 minutes or until it reads about 80-90% +/- a few points.

How important is having a humidor, really?

Unless you are quickly collecting a lot of cigars or want to “home age” your cigars, it is not necessary to buy a humidor. For the short run, you can purchase a common sealable plastic food container and a Dry-Mistat” stick or similar humidifying device and place the cigars in there. If monitored properly, they will last almost indefinitely. But if you decide to go this route, keep a corner of the container opened a crack to allow air flow and prevent too much moisture from building up, which may cause mold. One drawback is your cigars may not have that distinctive cedar wood fragrance you get from a good quality humidor. But that can be remedied by taking a cedar “spacer” from a cigar box and adding it to the container, or lining the bottom of the container with a row of spacers.

Of course, there’s nothing like being the proud owner of a well-made, wooden humidor where your cigars can nestle in the climate-controlled comfort of its Spanish cedar lining, but it’s nice to know there is a low-budget alternative.

What are “box-pressed” cigars?

“Box-pressed” or “square-pressed” is when the cigars are literally “pressed” into the box so the box pressure creates a perfectly square shape. This was done originally to save shipping space and as a result, the process supposedly causes the cigars to burn longer, giving the smoker a more flavorful smoke. Good examples of box-pressed cigars include, Aspira, Don Tomas Dominican Selection, Padron Anniversary, Perdomo La Tradición, and Sancho Panza, to name a few.

How can you tell if a cigar is fresh?

Cigar wrappers that have a rich, oily sheen show that the cigar has been properly humidified and the leaf is very high quality. But even dull-looking wrappers can be of good quality. One great way to tell if a cigar is really fresh or not is by giving it “the pinch test.” Very lightly “pinch” the cigar between your thumb and forefinger. It should feel firm with a little spring to it, not hard. If it feels like a piece of dead wood or if it’s particularly soft and spongy in spots, don’t buy it.

What should you do if your cigars become victims of beetles?

The best way to prevent beetles from appearing in the first place is to make sure the humidity and temperature are kept on the low end. A temp/humidity level of 62°/67% is perfectly acceptable and will also help prevent mold. The main cause for beetle infestation is too much heat and/or humidity. They LOVE it. (It’s actually the larvae that feed on the tobacco.) The only thing that kills them dead is COLD. If you find that you do have a beetle problem, put all of the cigars from the infected humidor in a sealed plastic bag and place them in your freezer for three days. I say “ALL” because if you find one cigar that’s been attacked, you can assume the others may follow. Freezing the cigars will kill the beetles and their larvae and prevent the problem from spreading. When you take the cigars out of the freezer, don’t put them right back in the humidor. Put them in the refrigerator for one day to avoid shock from the temperature change, which could cause the wrappers to split. Before you replace them in your humidor, wipe the empty humidor with a clean cloth lightly dampened with distilled water. DO NOT use any cleaners, bug spray or disinfectant. They’ll just ruin the wood and give your cigars a foul taste. To help prevent the beetles from returning, purchase a good quality digital hygrometer/thermometer as the thermometer is very accurate. Also, make sure the room in which you keep your humidor is not subject to extreme changes in temperature. Don’t place the box in direct sunlight and check your humidifier regularly. Leave putting bugs in your mouth to contestants on Fear Factor.

What are those little tan spots I sometimes see on the cigar wrapper?

Don’t be alarmed. Also referred to as “sun spots,” no one really knows for sure what causes them. It is generally believed they are caused by moisture droplets that have marred the leaf after drying, but they will not affect the taste of the cigar.

What is the white powdery substance that sometimes appears on the cigar wrapper?

If you see white powdery spots on your cigar that looks like mold, chances are it’s only bloom, which results when the oils in the wrapper cause the leaf to mature. If this is the case, simply wipe the bloom off gently with your finger. It’s perfectly harmless and a sign that the leaf is of good, healthy quality, but if you want to prevent it, keep your temperature and humidity down.

What is “blue mold” and what do I do if I find it on my cigars?

A deadly mold that manifests itself on the wrapper in the form of a bluish fungi. If the cigar is infected with blue mold, don’t smoke it; trash it, then check the rest of your cigars – and quickly, too!

Is 70/70 really the “ideal” temperature/humidity mix?

Although “ideal” temperature/humidity for cigars is supposedly, 70° temperature / 70% humidity, your cigars are actually better off at a cooler temperature. 62° to 65° is quite acceptable and will help prevent mold. Mixes of 62°/72%, 63°/68%, even 65°/65% are fine. If you can maintain 70° / 70% with no problems, more power to you. In general, keeping your humidor in a relatively cool spot is a good idea. From my own personal experience I’ve found that an average temperature/relative humidty of 65°/ 68% works best.

What should I do if I find a “plug” in my cigar?

If your primo is slow on the draw it could be the result of a “plug.” A plug is a blockage that sometimes occurs in the cigar and keeps it from drawing properly. This could be anything from a piece of leaf that’s packed too tight to a stray stem that got into the bunch before rolling. Many plugs tend to occur near the “head” (drawing end) which makes the cigar very hard or even impossible to smoke. The recommended method for unplugging a cigar is to gently massage the cigar between your fingers. A persistent smoker can attempt to massage the location of the knot in order to try to loosen the bunch, but care should be taken to prevent cracking the wrapper. It helps if you slightly moisten your fingertips before massaging the cigar. Most often the problem is that the roller has twisted the filler tobacco while making the bunch. If this is the case, massaging isn’t going to help. Some smokers will make a desperate attempt to unplug a cigar by using a toothpick. Not only is it risky – because you can very easily poke right through the wrapper – it often doesn’t work. Unfortunately, plugs are inevitable if you smoke a lot of cigars. Fortunately, they’re more the exception than the rule.

Should you remove a cigar’s band before lighting, or leave it on?

Etiquette-wise, it is “proper” to remove the cigar band before you smoke it, but there will always be those who want the other cigars smoker’s in the room to know they’re puffing on a Fuente, a Cohiba or a Montecristo. Removing the band supposedly began in England, but even if you do subscribe to that tradition, sometimes this is difficult to do because the label is too tightly glued and you don’t want to peel off any of the cigar’s wrapper leaf. In that case, smoke the cigar about a third down and try again (this gives you a little time to show-off). Eventually the smoke and heat should cause the wrapper’s glue to loosen, so keep trying until you can remove it easily. One of the best ways to grasp the “concept” of whether or not to remove the cigar band is, when you put on an expensive designer suit, you don’t wear the jacket inside-out so people can see the label do you? The same pretty much goes for cigar bands, but it’s not necessary.

What’s the best method for restoring dry cigars?

This is a tricky topic because if your cigars are too dried out there may be no hope. However, it can’t hurt to try, right? That caveat aside, here goes, but you will need to be patient as this process can take weeks or even months:

Put the cigars in a humidor or other sealable container with a humidifier that hasn’t been re-charged lately. Let them rest in there for a few days so the cigars absorb what little humidity remains. Then, only partially fill the humidifier, letting the cigars rest again for about a week. Then fully re-charge humidifier. The idea here is to allow slow absorption of moisture, preventing the cigars from getting too much humidity too soon. If you shock the cigars by adding too much moisture at once they can actually burst–the last thing you want to do with really pricey cigars. This can take several weeks more than a month. Remember, be patient.

If you have a very large humidor or cabinet-style humidor, start by placing the cigars a good distance from the humidifying device and every 5-7 days, move them a little closer to the humidifying device. This could take up to six weeks, so again, patience is key.

Before you light up, make sure the restored-cigars have a little “spring” to them like a fresh cigars should be. A dry cigar will only burn hot and the flavor bitter tasting.

 Why do most cigar boxes have a block of wood in them?

That block of wood is Spanish cedar and is used primarily as a spacer to keep the cigar rows even. But it’s also used to help keep the cigars fresh and maintain the cedar fragrance acquired during aging. Here’s a neat little tip you can put to use, too: The next time you finish a box of cigars, keep the little block of cedar wood and put it in your humidor. It will help your cigars age and keep your box smelling fresh. You can even “re-charge” the aroma in the block by giving it a light sanding every now and then.

What are the “classic” cigar styles by length and ring gauge?

Churchill – 7″x 50
Double Corona – 6 ¾” x 49
Londsdale – 6 ½” x 44
Panatela – 7″ x 36
Toro – 6″ x 50
Grand Corona – 6″ x 46
Corona Extra – 5″ x 46
Corona – 5 ½” x 42
Robusto – 5″ x 50
Petite Corona – 4″ x 40
Rothschild – 4 ½” x 49

Should you keep “tubo” cigars tubed while in your humidor?

Like cello, tubes are used primarily to protect the cigar. If left unhumidified, they will only keep your cigars fresh for about a week. If you plan on putting them in your humidor, either remove them entirely from the tube or place them in the box with the cap off to allow moist air to circulate into the tube. Leave the cap in the box, too, in case you decide to take the cigar out with you.

What’s the difference between “handmade” and “hand-rolled” premiums?

Premiums that are machine-bunched are only rolled by hand, hence the term, “hand rolled,” whereas “handmade” cigars are made entirely by hand.

Gary Korb

Gary Korb

Executive Editor at cigaradvisor.com

Gary Korb has been writing and editing content for CigarAdvisor.com since its debut in 2008. An avid cigar smoker for over 30 years, during the past 12 years he has worked on the marketing side of the premium cigar business as a Sr. Copywriter, blogger, and cigar reviewer. A graduate of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, prior to his career in the cigar business, Gary worked in the music and video industry as a marketer and a publicist.

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