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The Science of Cigars: Proper humidity for home storage
Remember the objectives – The purpose of personal storage is to optimize the constituent humidity of your cigars consistently with your desires and tastes. On the one hand, the environment humidity can be controlled to assure an optimal cigar constituent humidity for tasting and combustion. On the other hand, the focus can be on assuring a cigar constituent humidity that would optimize the year-long slow fermentation and aging processes. In any case, storing cigars the right way requires a good knowledge and a long experience.
Influence of humidity on cigars in aging – Balanced levels of humidity are positive and necessary for the good conservation of the cigars. Having the right water content influences positively the chemistry (good organic / mineral fraction) and the physics (elasticity for instance) of the leaves and the cigar.
- Aging cigars in a humid ambiance can generate a second round of fermentation which should be avoided because of a lack of control on its development. A more humid environment will simply trigger a rotting process.
- A cigar that is too dry during the aging will suffer a loss of aromas because of the dehydration of the cells and other organic compounds (like the oils and the waxes).
Although some people argue that the resulting reduction of water content has a concentration effect on the aromatic perception and is therefore positive, a good balance should be encouraged.
The dehydration process occurs in two key consecutive but very different phases. First, the physical dehydration of the cell’s cytoplasm and the veins, then the chemical modification of some organic compounds due to the excessive loss of water. While the first can be recovered by a careful re-hydration of the dry cigars, the second is a permanent alteration of certain molecules.
Influence of humidity on cigars in tasting – The combustion, facilitated by the absence of moisture, will accelerate and will result in excessively high temperatures in the combustion zone, this, in turn, causing the loss of the most fragile aromatic components. Also, a consequential dusty taste can be perceived during tasting due an increase of the mineral fraction resulting from the dehydration of the leave.
A cigar that is too moist will suffer from more difficult combustion. The excess of water that has to be vaporized before the real organic combustion starts increases the heat needed and therefore consumes quantities of energy which will then not be available for the combustion itself. The quality of the burning will be affected. Also, the overabundance of H+ and OH-ions, due to this high humidity level, will make the smoke more of an irritant than that of an ideally humidified cigar.
The proper humidity – So it seems clear that the humidity has a direct influence on the quality of both the aging and tasting of the cigars. Therefore, appropriate attention should be given in maintaining your cigars under the right ambient humidity and tasting them in the right constituent humidity; and here “the right” means that the unique final objective is to have a moment of pleasure.
The proper humidification – It is generally accepted that some optimal storage conditions for average cigars are temperature of 68°F and a humidity level of 65%. Then and to avoid unwanted dampening or drying out, a certain temperature/humidity ratio should be respected. The decrease (or increase) of 1,8° Fahrenheit in temperature must be balanced out by the increase (or decrease) of 3 % in humidity (ratio 1,8°F / 3 %H).
Generally, the limits of 60 F° – 77 F° and 65% – 75% humidity should not be exceeded.
I don’t have to remind you that a huge variety of humidification systems are available on the market. If a choice can be made among the multiplicity of systems (natural evaporation or artificial vaporization), sizes, aspects, etc, an important parameter to be careful about is, cigars should never be in contact with water or humidity of any sort from humidifying moss (green foam), emulsions, etc.
One step further – What we have said today is right but a bit too simple. The complete reality is more complex . Our debate for this discussion should be to put into perspective the quality of the internal leaves of the cigar.
What are the specifications of the liga (blend) we are talking about? Suffice it to say, two different blends could react very differently even under the same humidification, aging, and tasting conditions. In other words, the quality of the raw material – the tobacco leaves – have an critical influence on a cigar’s “attitude” during the aging and tasting. A thick ligero, a thin volado, a Corojo wrapper or a Connecticut wrapper are leaves that behave differently under a same humidity!
Yes, to fully understand the humidity dynamics in your cigars, you have to push the study one step further and understand its internal structure and leaves constitution!
Experience it live – Finally, isn’t the best thing to do to understand the basics and then try to develop our own experience? Make some experiments. Make many to learn and understand the attitude of your favorite cigars and fulfill your desires!.
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About the author
Didier Houvenaghel is a Belgian agricultural engineer who spent many years in Cuba studying tropical crops, specializing in black tobacco. His extensive research and knowledge of the tobacco growing and curing process led him to create Nicarao cigars, his own brand of Nicaraguan puros, that were made in partnership with Rocky Patel. Didier is also the author of the book, The Cigar: From Soil to Soul.