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|| News Item: Posted 2000-02-23

The Count on Cigars: Storing & Transporting Your Cigars
By Eric Risberg

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For the holidays, you received a box or assortment of cigars as a gift. You've saved most of them for an upcoming trip to spring training or the NCAA basketball playoffs. Now you're wondering: what is the best way to store and carry these cigars?

Storing or transporting your cigars can be problematic, but with a few measures of protection and proper humidification, the flavor of the cigars will improve through aging. And a storage device will allow you to save money by purchasing by the box or stocking up when a cigar is on sale.

Similar to wine, cigars need to be stored in a proper environment. The key to remember is 70/70: 70 percent humidity and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. If a cigar is too dry, it will smoke hot, fast, and unevenly. If too moist, it will be hard to light and difficult to puff.

The best way to store cigars is by using a humidor or some other method that keeps the cigars in the 70/70 range. The storage method really depends on the type of smoker you are and how many cigars you plan to store.

The occasional smoker who doesn't plan on keeping the cigar more than a few days should just keep the cigars in an airtight Ziploc bag or buy tubed cigars. Now that the cigar boom is over, most of the better cigars on store shelves have been aged before being released and are ready to smoke.

Cigars can be described as gaining body by aging, maturing, or continuing to ferment. Many are fine after a year of aging. Generally 2-5 years of aging is the norm, with 10-15 years being the maximum. (Some people think that a pre-Castro Cuban would be incredible, but in reality the ones that I have tried have tasted musty and not as spectacular as one would imagine.)

Those who want to try aging cigars and have 1- 2 boxes, or 50 or fewer cigars, should consider purchasing a humidor with a humidification device. Most humidors come with such a device. Humidors range from $50 to well over $2000. At the top end, you are really paying for a piece of decorative furniture.

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While some humidors are made of Plexiglas or plastic, they should have a cedar lining --- preferably Spanish cedar, because it is not as pungent as regular cedar is. One of the most important things to remember is that distilled water needs to be used in the humidification device inside the humidor because regular tap water can cause mold.

Another important thing to remember is that the humidor needs to be regularly opened to recirculate the air. It is also recommended that cigars be rotated occasionally inside the humidor because ones on the bottom may not be as moist. It is a good ideal to open up the humidor once a week.

What makes a good humidor? One should look for squared and fitted seams. You shouldn't see any glue. A gap in a joint spells trouble because it provides an exit for moisture. A Spanish cedar lining is best since it enhances the aging process and allows the tobaccos in a cigar to blend together.

The lid should close like the door on a Mercedes. The humidor should be something affordable that you also enjoy looking at. There are many types of humidification devices, but the Credo models, which range from $10 to $60, are among the most reliable. These devices need to be rinsed with distilled water about every couple months.

An alternative to the humidor is to store the cigars in the original box and place a cigar-shaped humidification device or small Credo wafer inside the box. It is then best to place the box in a closet where it is dark and at a constant temperature.

A Tupperware container can work, but is best to put some strips of cedar in it and make sure that it is opened frequently because it airtightness causes the air to become stale and doesn't allow any circulation. When trying these alternative methods you need to experiment, closely monitor the cigars, and see what worksbest.

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For those living in a humid area or near water, no humidification may be necessary. Just keep close to the 70/70 rule, and your cigars should be fine. And make sure the temperature doesn't get much above 70 degrees, or you can have a real problem: the dreaded tobacco worm. Heat can cause bugs in some cigars to hatch, and they can end up destroying the cigar.

Since I am a photographer, I travel quite a bit, so one of my favorite types of humidors is the travel humidor. These are usually made of leather or wood with a cedar lining. These humidors usually hold anywhere from 8-12 cigars and cost from $35-$300. The one I carry is a Dunhill tan leather model that holds about 10 cigars.

The humidification device is shaped like a cigar and sits amongst the cigars. It is compact, fits in my luggage, is rugged, and sees a lot of use, especially on the road. For those that smoke occasionally and want to keep just a few cigars, and who sometimes travel, this is the way to go. For those who are real heavy travelers, or those who want to carry more cigars and want security, check out the travel humidor made from a Haliburton case.

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If you become very serious about cigar storage and want to store many boxes, consider getting a locker at a smoke shop or getting a cabinet at home. Both can be very expensive. Many stores charge a fee of several hundred dollars or require that a certain number of boxes be purchased from the store each year. Humidors are very effective, but when you start getting over a hundred or more cigars, then the cigars probably need to be kept in their original boxes and stored in a larger environment that permits air circulation and careful monitoring of the temperature, similar to a wine cellar.

Happy storing and smoking!
The Count

(Eric Risberg, "The Count," is a staff photographer for the Associated Press based in San Francisco. You can email your comments and questions to him at:

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