Selecting your First Humidor
By: Jorge Mendizabal, MD
At some point in your cigar hobby you must face reality. You are getting more cigars than what you can safely smoke in one sitting. It is then you realize they need proper storage. Cigars are natural products that originate from more tropical, humid latitudes. The ideal storing conditions for rolled tobacco should aim to reproduce the climate of those latitudes. Cigars are hygroscopic. By its very nature, rolled tobacco absorbs humidity from its environment. Too little humidity and the wrapper leaf dries up, becomes brittle and cracks. Too much humidity and the cigar swells eventually bursting the wrapper leaf. Furthermore, dry cigars smoke unpleasantly hot. Overtly humid cigars smoke harsh and have a poor draw.
The Environment.- The ideal storage box should maintain a constant temperature between 65 and 70 degrees. An excessively warm environment has its own dangers. The dreaded tobacco beetle larvae may be dormant in lower temperatures but it hatches in conditions over 80 degrees F. Those little boogers can eat up your cigar collection faster than you can say “c-o-h-i-b-a”.
The ideal relative humidity (RH) is a more controversial subject. Although most authoritative references recommend a 70% RH, not all cigars benefit from that degree of humidification. Certain Cuban cigars for example, may require a RH closer to 63%. More often than not, I am perfectly happy with a stable RH of 65%, a number which encompasses the needs of most stogies. At the end, slight variations of RH between 63-70% can be a matter of personal taste and they do not adversely affect your cigars in any way.
The Box.- Cheap price is incompatible with good quality when it comes to humidors. Even the smaller boxes can be expensive when properly constructed.
The first decision point for you is to determine the size of box you need. Are you an occasional, casual cigar smoker? If so, a smaller count box (25-75 cigars) might be sufficient. A more dedicated cigar hobbyist will eventually aim for a larger capacity humidor. This becomes a critical issue when you realize you are now purchasing cigars by the box. The ability to preserve cigars while keeping them inside their original box is sine qua non. Unfortunately, a typical cigar box is not air tight and thus not built to preserve them for posterity. Placing a cigar box in the stable environment of a well constructed, large enough humidor becomes a necessary convenience.
By now, you should have an idea about the size of box you are looking for (suggestion: always buy something bigger than what you think you need; trust me on this one). The next decision point comes when you are at the store selecting a box for purchase. Purchasing a humidor on-line is a risky proposition. Of the 3 larger humidors I purchased on-line, one ended up being essentially wooden crap (a pretty box which did not hold RH even for a day). That particular box is now used to store my accoutrement. Finding large humidors in local stores is virtually impossible and sometimes we have no choice but to gamble with our money.
When examining your box, you should first look at its construction. The seams should be impeccable. The walls or sides of the box should be at least an inch thick. The inside should be made of solid Spanish Cedar. Cedar veneer is not a long lasting option. The hinges should be of the “piano “ type. The lid should be solid, not whimsy and should close with a “swoosh” sound. Most humidors come with analog hygrometers. Those are usually useless and mostly decorative. Purchasing a separate, reliable electronic hygrometers is recommended. Depending on the size of your humidor, you have the choice of passive or active humidification (this is a subject of an entirely different post).
Cheaper but very effective options come in the form of “coolerdors”/”igloodors” or VinoTemp-dors. A coolerdor is simply a large plastic cooler adapted to store cigar boxes or singles. By its very nature, coolers are air tight and ideal to maintain a constant RH and temperature. Ideal coolerdors are dapted by its owner to include Spanish cedar lining trays, active/passive humidifying elements and electronic hygrometers. Most large coolerdors can easily 25-50 boxes and are a nice solution when space is a consideration. Although Vinotemp (the company) is now in the business of building quality cigar humidors (about $200 for one), the term Vinotemp-dor typically refers to a thermoelectric (not piezoelectric, this is important) wine refrigerator which has been adapted to store cigar boxes. In my humble opinion, thetime and money invested in converting such an appliance into a humidor are usually not worth the effort. having said that, when properly converted the end results are very esthetic and eclectic, to say the least.