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How Cigars Are Made
Machine Made Cigars
Cutting The Cigar
Lighting The Cigar
Cigar Care & Storage
Cigar Tobacco Growing Regions
Pipe Tobacco 101
Types of Pipes
Cigars are described by length and ring size. The length of a cigar is measured in inches. The most popular lengths are between 5 & 6 inches.
The size of a cigar, in name, is a nearly meaningless designation. The reason for this is that the size of a cigar, when determined by name such as corona or robusto, is not a universal standard. In other words, one company's corona is another company's Churchill even though they both measure the exact same length and ring gauge. Once you understand this, most of the confusion regarding cigar size disappears.
There are, however, classic's measurements for cigars that most cigar makers attempt to follow. Just remember, because a cigar is 7 inches in length with a 48 ring gauge does not necessarily mean the manufacturer will designate that cigar as a Churchill. All you have to really understand is cigars are categorized by length and ring gauge, which is a fraction of an inch measured in 64ths.
Example: A cigar with a 52 ring gauge measures 52/64 of an inch in diameter. The most popular ring gauges are 42 to 50
The body of the cigar refers to the relative strength of the cigar. Cigars are generally divided into three groups:
The strength of many cigars sold today is judged by the country where they were manufactured. The following list shows cigar manufacturing countries and general strength of the cigars produced there:
StrengthCountry of OriginLight Bodied or Mild
PhilippinesMedium Bodied Mexico
Honduras (Medium - Full)
Nicaragua (Medium - Full)
100% Handmade Cigars
100% handmade cigars are produced without the use of any machines.Examples: My Father, Padron, La Flor Dominicana and many others
On handmade cigars, the wrapper is applied by hand to a bunch (combined, blended filler leaves) with a manual or motor driven machine. Often these cigars are referred to as "Machine bunched; hand made".Example: Macanudo
Machine Made Cigars - Short Filler
These cigars are made entirely by a machine. The ingredients are all tobacco but it is short filler, or scrap filler, tobacco.Example: Factory Throwouts
Machine Made Cigars – Short Filler, Natural Tobacco Wrapper
These cigars are made entirely by machine using short filler or scrap filler tobacco. The wrapper is natural, but the binder is created from homogenized tobacco.Example: Garcia y Vega, Antonio y Cleopatra
Machine Made Cigars - Short Filler and Homogenized
These cigars are made entirely by machine using short filler or scrap filler tobacco, but both the wrapper and binder are created from homogenized tobacco.Example: El Producto Cigars, White Owl Cigars, Hav-a-tampa Cigars and other small flavored cigars with plastic tips.
Homogenized Tobacco is pulverized and mixed with fibers, pure cellulose, and water to create a pulp. The pulp is used to produce a uniform sheet of tobacco (like recycled paper). The sheet is then used for the high- speed production of machine made cigars.
The best wrapper, fillers and binders are obtained. They are sorted and processed by the following:
Many of these tobaccos can undergo three to four years of preparation before becoming part of a cigar.
After the tobacco is processed, a "blend" is prepared for each cigar roller. A "blend" is a specific combination of leaves that is used to make a certain brand of cigars. Each blend has a unique flavor that is produced by the types of tobacco leaves used. All the rollers must use the same blend to assure that all the cigars in a brand will taste the same.
After the blend is ready, it is formed into a rough cylinder of tobacco called a "bunch";. Great care is taken to make sure the leaves are laid in the bunch uniformly and straight. This ensures the finished cigar will not have hard or soft spots, which inhibit the cigar from drawing freely or causing it to burn fast and hot. The most common method used today is called "Spanish Book Filler". If you take an extremely sharp razor and cut a cigar deeply along its entire length, you would see the layers of the tobacco exposed and will look like the pages of a book. Hence, the term "Book Filler".
After the bunch is created it is tightly wrapped in a coarse layer of tobacco called a "binder". The binder gives the cigar its structure, shape, and ability to maintain its moisture content. The bound bunch is then placed into a hardwood mold where it gets its particular shape and is open at each end of the cigar.
The mold contains approximately ten unfinished cigars and is put into a screw-type press along with other molds. Here the cigars will further "mold" into the desired shape. The mold is two pieces, the top and bottom.; Since it is smaller in diameter than the unfinished cigar to create a compression effect, a crease is noticeable where the upper and lower halves of the mold meet. Periodically, the press is released, the molds are opened, and the cigars are rotated. This time consuming process is performed to avoid a crease showing through the wrapper on the finished cigar.
After the cigars have been pressed and turned, they are ready for the skilled hands of the rollers. These craftsmen take the fine, silky, elastic wrapper tobacco and stretch it over the molded cigar body. This is the stretching and smoothing process that gives cigars their appealing looks. When a true craftsman applies the wrapper, a small rectangular piece of tobacco is left attached at the head of the cigar. This piece is called a flag.; "Flagging" is the process of molding the rectangular piece of wrapper into the head of a fine cigar.
It is within the manufactures legal rights to call this product a handmade cigar.
There are many bundled cigars being sold in this country that are legally defined as handmade, but are not handmade by definition.
The finished cigars are inspected in numerous ways. The cigars are collected from the rollers in bundles of fifty and are labeled with the following information:
The bundles of fifty are weighed. Each manufacturer knows how much a bundle of a particular size should weigh. If the total weight of a particular bundle of fifty does not fit within a certain allowance, the foreman will know the roller is making cigars too loose or too tight. Both mistakes are critical. A cigar wrapped too tight is difficult to draw smoke through and a cigar wrapped too loose is hot burning and has soft spots.
The bundles of fifty that pass the weight criteria are opened and each cigar is felt by hand, from top to bottom to ensure the filler has been lain in properly. Cigars failing this critical evaluation are separated and sold as "segundos" or "rezagos" (seconds). Cigars with damaged or unsightly wrappers are also separated and reclassified as seconds. All the remaining cigars are put back into bundles of fifty and moved to the "seasoning" or "marriage" rooms.
In the marriage rooms, the cigars are stored either in cedar bins, drawers or shelves. The temperature and humidity conditions are kept at an ideal level for the cigars to be stored for three weeks to a year. The longer the cigars remain in the seasoning room, the better they will be. Seasoning and marrying accomplish two critical points in the manufacture of really first-rate cigars. The seasoning or aging process allows the cigars to become firmer because the wrappers lose the excess moisture they had from the wrapping process. As the wrapper dries, it shrinks, compressed and solidifies the cigar making it a denser, cooler and slower burning finished product. In the seasoning room, the flavors of the cigar blend together, or "marry" with each other and absorb the surrounding flavors of the cigars and the cedar in the room.
The second aspect of the aging process is the intermarrying of the cigars within each bundle and among all the bundles in the seasoning room, regardless of when they were manufactured. Tobacco absorbs the oils and aromas of anything around it. As the cigars remain in this room over a period of time, they absorb the oils and aromas of each other. All of these cigars will smell and taste alike.
When the cigars are ready, they are taken out of the seasoning rooms and each bundle is opened and inspected. Each individual cigar is now graded by color. Tobacco can be sorted into 32 shades. Therefore, it is important to have people with good color perception do this job. Their job is to identify and separate the cigars into groups of 25 cigars that have the same wrapper shade. If the process is successful, the 25 cigars that you purchase within a box will appear to have the same color tobacco leaf. Our customers sometimes complain that one or two cigars in their box were "stinkers" or "not as good" as the other ones. The reason a stinker may be in a box is that 25 different people could have made all 25 cigars on 25 different days. The only reason the cigars were all in the same box is because they were all the same color. Color may vary from year to year, depending on the amount of rainfall or the conditions of the soil.
Handmade cigars have three main parts - filler, binder and wrapper. Each of these parts have a different function when the cigar is actually smoked.
The outside wrapper dictates the cigar's appearance. It is grown under gauze and fermented separately from other leaves to ensure that it is smooth, not too oily, and has a subtle bouquet. It also has to be soft and pliable so that it is easy for the roller to handle.
Wrapper leaves from different plantations have varying colors (and thus subtly different flavors, more sugary if they are darker, for instance) and are used for different brands. Good wrapper leaves have to be elastic and must have no protruding veins. The leaves have to be matured between 12 to 18 months. (the longer the better). Wrapper tobacco might come from Connecticut, Cameroon, Sumatra, Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, or Nicaragua. The wrapper is the most expensive part of the cigar.
The binder leaf holds the cigar together and is usually two halves of coarse sun-grown leaf from the upper part of the plant, chosen because of its good tensile strength. The filler is made of separate leaves folded by hand along their length, to allow a passage through which smoke can be drawn when the cigar is lit. The fold can be properly achieved by hand and is the primary reason why machine-made cigars are often less satisfactory. This style of arranging the filler is sometimes called the "book" style - which means, if you were to cut the cigar down its length with a razor, the filler leaves would resemble the pages of a book. In the past, the filler was sometimes arranged using the "entubar" method - with up to eight narrow tubes of tobacco leaf rolled into the binder, making the cigar burn very slowly.
Three different types of leaf are normally used for the filler (in fatter ring gauges, like Montecristo No. 2, a fourth type is also used). Ligero leaves from the top of the plant are dark and full in flavor as a result of oils produced by exposure to sunlight. They have to be matured for at least two years before they can be used in cigar making. Ligero tobacco is always placed in the middle of the cigar because it burns slowly. Seco leaves, from the middle of the plant, are much lighter in color and flavor. They are usually used after maturing for around 18 months. Volado leaves, from the bottom of the plant, have little or no flavor, but they have commendable burning qualities. They are matured for about nine months before use.
The precise blend of these different leaves in the filler dictates the flavor of each brand and size. A full-bodied cigar like Bolivar Cofradia will, for instance, have a higher proportion of ligero in its filler, than a mild cigar, such as Don Diego, where seco and volado will predominate. Small, thin cigars will very often have no ligero tobacco leaf in them at all. The consistency of a blend is achieved by using tobacco from different harvests and farms, so a large stock of matured tobacco is essential to the process.
Are there any differences between the blends of different size cigars in the same line?
Manufacturers often use the same types of tobacco in different sizes, producing different tastes. Often the consumer will perceive this as the same "blend." There is a difference however - it's in the proportions of each type of leaf used. An experienced roller may use different proportions of the tobacco leaf in different sizes to allow for the size differences. In a smaller ring cigar, the binder and wrapper have a greater influence on the taste, for instance. The blender will allow for this difference by re-proportioning the filler blend. It's just one of those details that requires years of training among master rollers (and, of course, one of the reasons smokers will prefer the taste of one size over another of the same blend).
What is ring gauge and how is it measured?
Ring gauge is the cigar's diameter, measured in 64ths of an inch. Thus, a 32-ring cigar will measure 1/2 inch in diameter. Although many catalogs list ring sizes, they may deviate from each measurement by a couple of points on specific cigars.
The Wrapper Color
The wrapper color of a cigar is as important as the brand or shape of a cigar in terms of enjoyment. People recognize slight changes in the wrapper color of their favorite cigars. Color changes and changes in the country where the wrapper was grown can dramatically change the taste of a cigar. Wrapper colors are generally graded from the lightest to the darkest color as follows:
Variations in wrapper colors within these seven groups produce the possibility of 32 wrapper colors. A wrapper that is almost double maduro, but not quite, is classified as maduro. The possible 32 wrapper colors have been lumped into five basic color categories. Each category has a variety of names but all have the same meaning. The categories are described below.
Claro Claro or Double Claro (light green).This wrapper has a mild quality and the taste of the binder and filler are discernible. The following are names the light green wrappers are sometimes called:
Claro (light brown with a greenish cast) or Colorado Claro (light brown)Both of these wrapper colors and any variations between the two are called "Natural." These wrappers have a noticeable taste of their own, but they do not disguise the flavor of the binder and filler tobacco. They are not as strong as the darker brown wrapper colors. Colorado (medium brown) Other names for Colorado are as follows:
Colorado Maduro (dark brown) or Maduro (very dark brown or black)Both of these colors may be called maduro. This is a dark, oily wrapper and has a heavy-bodied (strong) taste.
Oscuro (double dark brown or black)
This is a difficult wrapper color to find and even more difficult to produce. Other names for this wrapper are as follows:
The taste of the wrapper is more noticeable in the darker wrapper colors, and the taste of the binder and filler will be less discernible.
The American Standard for Wrapper Colors
Havana Seed Wrappers
Havana Seed wrappers vary in color depending on the conditions during the year the crop was grown. When grading the Havana Seed wrapper, the 32-shade separating process is not performed. These wrappers are graded on a comparative basis. This means that, at the time of the selection, the darkest wrappers are graded Maduro Maduro (double maduro), the next darkest Maduro, and so on. The result is that the consumer will receive a lighter or darker cigar than he normally would depending on the shades of color that particular year.
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Machine Made Cigars - Mass Market Cigars A machine made cigar is basically a bundle of tobacco that is rolled into a tubular shape. This bundle is called the filler. The binder of the cigar "binds" the filler and the wrapper cover is wrapped around the filler and binder to make the cigar. The entire process of making this type of cigar is automated. There are some very good machine-made cigars.
The Low Cost of Machine Made Cigars
Machine made cigars are produced in most cigar-producing countries and are the least expensive. They are offered in cigarette stores, news stands, gas stations, etc. They are usually sold in cellophane wrappers. Most are small to medium in size. Some have a hole in the cap or head of the cigar. Although some machine-made cigars have great taste and draw well, they are not able to offer the complex taste that develops with a quality handmade cigar made with long-leaf filler.
The following are advantages of machine made cigars:
The following are flavors of some homogenized cigars:
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Types of Packaging
Most cigars are packaged in cellophane, but some cigars are boxed with nothing to protect the individual cigars. The following are types of packaging:
A bundle consists of 10 to 50 cigars wrapped in paper, cellophane or both. Bundled cigars give customers the opportunity to purchase a decent handmade cigar at a reasonable price. Most premium and Super premium cigars are packaged in either cardboard or cedar boxes. Bundles are usually seconds or lower quality cigars, but there are exceptions to this rule.
Cigars were originally sold in bundles covered with pigs' bladders (with a pod of vanilla to improve the smell); then came the use of large chests, holding up to 10,000 cigars.
But in 1830, the banking firm of H. Upmann started shipping cigars, to its directors in London, in sealed cedar boxes stamped with the bank's emblem. When the bank decided to go full-scale into the cigar business, the cedar box took off as a form of packaging for all the major Havana brands, and all handmade cigars (though small quantities today are sometime packages in cardboard cartons, and single cigars of many brands come in aluminum tubes lined with cedar). Cedar helps prevent cigars from drying out and furthers the maturing process. It also draws out excess moisture and repels those nasty little cigar beetles.
The idea of using colorful lithographic labels, now used for all handmade brands, wherever they come from, started when Ramon Allones, a Galician immigrant to Cuba, initiated their use for the brand he started in 1837. As the industry grew in the mid-19th century, so did the need for clear brand identification. Labels or other illustrations also appear on the inside of the lids of many Havana boxes and other brands. Boxes also usually have colorful decorative borders. The cedar box is sometimes referred to as a boite nature. Paper, usually colored, is normally glued to the interior of the box and is used to cover the cigars it contains. Finally, after being filled and checked, the box is nailed shut and tightly sealed with a green and white label (a custom dating from 1912) to guarantee that the cigars are genuine Havanas. The practice of using labels, usually printed in similar colors and with similar wordings, to seal the box continues today for most handmade brands, Cuban or not.
The form of packaging called 8-9-8 is used for some cigars in the Partagas and Ramon Allones brands. These boxes are polished, have curved edges, and contain 25 cigars, arranged in three layers with eight at the bottom, nine in the middle and eight on the top. Cigars with this sort of packaging are relatively expensive.
Picking a cigar
Pick the color wrapper you prefer - dark or light. Gently feel the cigar between your fingers (don't roll it because that could cause the wrapper to crack) to see if it's too moist or too dry. Inspect the construction of the cigar to ensure there are no cracks in the wrapper and the cap is in good condition. While some cigar smokers like to hold the cigar up to their nose and sniff the product, others find this distasteful when they see someone put a cigar up to their nose and then put it back in the box. If you must smell the tobacco, just hold your nose 12 inches over the box of opened cigars and take a breath; this should be sufficient to determine the bouquet of the cigar, and it will cause fewer problems for other customers.
Cutting a cigar
Many feel that a guillotine-style cigar cutter or cigar scissors are the most effective way to cut a premium cigar. Be careful not to cut beyond the cap of the cigar. Aside from a guillotine cutter, some smokers use a sharp knife, a cigar punch, a V-cutter, and some even use their teeth. Perhaps the most difficult cutting instrument to use is the scissor-style cutter, which requires practice, a steady hand, and a keen eye.
You've only just begun and you're already in a quandary: where to cut? Well, first of all, you are cutting the uncut portion of the cigar - the head. The basic rule of thumb is to cut just past the shoulder (where the cigar stops being round). A half inch in (or 1.5 cm) usually does it, but that measure isn';t a universal guideline because of the various shapes in which a cigar may manifest itself. That's why we've created this handy-dandy, where-to-cut-depending-on-the-shape-of-your-cigar guide.
Where to cut your cigar
Cigar heads come in three basic shapes: round, torpedo, and pyramid. Follow the graphic guidelines here when cutting each of these shapes. You'll notice that, in the case of a torpedo, you can't cut it behind the shoulder because the head of the cigar inclines too gradually (you'd lose too much cigar!). And, although a pyramid straightens itself out much more quickly, in this instance, you should cut it slightly before you pass the shoulder.
Cigar heads come in three basic shapes: round, torpedo, and pyramid. Follow the graphic guidelines here when cutting each of these shapes. You'll notice that, in the case of a torpedo, you can't cut it behind the shoulder because the head of the cigar inclines too gradually (you'd lose too much cigar!). And, although a pyramid straightens itself out much more quickly, in this instance, you should cut it slightly before you pass the shoulder.
The guillotine cut takes the technology responsible for separating many a French nobleman (circa 1792) from his head and applies it to your cigar. When purchasing your guillotine cutter, you can either select the cheaper one-blade guillotine or the more expensive two-blade guillotine. The two-blade is the better choice if you want a cleaner cut. The one-blade is preferred if you want to spend less money; however, you may have an inferior cut because the single blade sometimes has an annoying habit of smushing (that's the technical term) one side of your cigar head.
he V-cutter offers its own unique benefit. This cutter places a V-shaped notch in your cigar tip when it makes the cut. This is sometimes desirable because the V gives you more surface area without exposing your tongue to loose tobacco (which you would need to continuously spit from your mouth - not terribly suave or sexy). Increased surface area is desirable because it allows you to draw more air through the cigar. The V-cutter is generally only used for smaller-ring cigars.
Cigar Scissors are the third and final cutting method. "Oh, dandy," you say, "I've got a pair of those in my desk drawer!" Not so, we respond. Cigar-cutting scissors are specifically manufactured for the purpose of snipping cigars only. Forged from high-precision, surgical-quality stainless steel, they are your optimum choice for a cigar cutter. Small, pocket-sized versions are commonly available.
Puts a perfect hole in the cap of the cigar
The foot, or tip, of the cigar should be lit using a long wooden cigar match or a butane lighter. Avoid candles, paper matches, a stove, and lighters that use lighter fluid (naphtha) because the chemicals and odors can affect the taste of the tobacco. When using a match, wait until the sulfur burns off before lighting the cigar. The ideal device is a wooden match and the best lighter is a butane lighter.
Start lighting a cigar by holding it at a 45-degree angle over the flame, about three to four inches from the tip of the cigar (depending on the height of the flame you're using) and rotate the cigar until the foot begins to ignite. Never letting the flame touch the cigar, slowly puff on the cigar while rotating it around the flame.
Take a look at the foot and make sure the cigar is burning evenly. You can gently blow on the foot to insure a complete lighting. Once the cigar is lit, let it sit for a minute as the short delay will allow the freshly lit cigar to stabilize.
First, you must "toast" the cigar's foot. Sounds odd, but the purpose of toasting is to ignite the outer layers of the tobacco (that's the binder and the wrapper) that hold the cigar together. If you just held up a match and began to draw, only the inner tobacco - known as the filler - would ignite. If that happened, the cigar would burn unevenly and develop a poorly shaped ash (we'll explain why that's a problem in a moment).
Toasting the Foot So, you need to give the outer portion of your cigar a head start. Hold a match to the outside edge of the foot and rotate the cigar to evenly toast the edge.
Properly Toasted Foot
You'll observe that the outside wrapper and binder will have a white, ashen aspect after they've been properly toasted.
Lighting the Filler
Next, it's time to ignite the filler. Use a long wooden match to create a larger flame area so that you can light the entire foot evenly. Place the cigar between your lips. Then, hold the match about a half an inch from the cigar (the flame is drawn in) and rotate the cigar as you draw in air.
Releasing the Draw
When you release the pressure of inhalation (you don';t actually inhale, but you know what we mean), a surge of flame should shoot up from the foot of the cigar and a puff of smoke should come from your mouth.
Congratulations! You've successfully lit your cigar!
Never use a lighter with a noxious gas (i.e., a Zippo) to light your cigar, although a butane lighter is acceptable. Noxious gases will impart a chemical taste to your cigar and mar the pleasure of your cigar-smoking experience. The best case scenario, however, is always to use a wooden match.
Letting the Ash Burn
Most premium handmade cigars (those costing from $3 to $30 each) will hold a very long ash before falling off. The ash on cheaper cigars tends to flake easily and fall off more frequently. Properly grown and maintained cigar tobacco will have a whiter ash than the sometimes very gray ash produced on lower-quality cigars. While some smokers like to see how long the ash on a cigar can grow before falling off by itself - keep in mind when in a public place where cigar smoking is permitted, or at a party, you don't want cigar ashes to fall on your clothes, a floor, or a rug. It's always wise as you see the ash starting to gain length to gently tap it off.
Keeping the Cigar Band On or Off
It's mostly a personal decision when opting to take a cigar band off or leave it on while smoking one's favorite cigar. Some say that leaving the band on promotes conversation among cigar smokers, while others say it's a showy thing to do that displays a lack of proper cigar etiquette. If you do decide to remove the cigar band, make sure you let the cigar heat up before taking it off as the heat from the cigar will help loosen the glue that holds the band on. Remember too, that taking the band off some brands of Cuban cigars (even after heating), like the Montecristo, is very difficult and can result in damage to the cigar wrapper.
Relighting and Putting a Cigar Out
Perhaps some of the most overlooked aspects of cigar smoking are relighting and extinguishing cigars. On the subject of relighting, cigars, by nature, will go out if not puffed on every few minutes, so relighting a fresh cigar isn't a problem. While some contend you can save a partially smoked cigar for more than 24 hours, it's best to avoid relighting a cigar that hasn't been smoked in more than two hours. When relighting a cigar, hold the flame in front of the foot and blow out to help expel any old gases or ash that may have become trapped in the cigar. After that, follow standard lighting procedures. To extinguish a cigar, just let it go out by itself in an ashtray. Stubbing-out a cigar produces a stale odor that can linger in a room. Once you're sure your cigar is out, dispose of it in a safe manner.
The ideal storage condition for cigars is approximately 70% humidity at 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Air at different temperatures will hold completely different amounts of moisture. Warm air can hold a tremendous amount of moisture. If your cigars are stored in a warm place, you will have to continuously add water to the humidifier. The result will be very spongy cigars. Cold air holds almost no moisture. Air with 70% humidity will be dry at freezing temperatures. Relative humidity is defined as the percentage of the maximum amount of water that air can hold at a given temperature without condensation. As a general rule, when the air temperature is reduced from 68 degrees by one degree, the humidity should be increased by 1%, and vice versa. Therefore, if your cigars were stored at 58 degrees Fahrenheit, the humidity should be kept around 80%. Dry cigars can be moisturized, but will never be quite as good as they were from the factory. To re-moisturize a cigar, put it into a properly humidified environment for a very long period of time (6 months or more). The cigar will gradually absorb the surrounding humidity. Over-humidified cigars that have become damp should be thrown away. The binder and filler of a cigar make up about 90% of the total mass of the cigar. Therefore, the binder and filler will also absorb over 90% of any excess humidity. When this happens, the body of the cigar swells, forcing the wrapper to expand. When you attempt to dry out a damp cigar the following will happen:
A humidifying device is any device that keeps your cigars fresh. The following products have the unique ability to give off moisture when the environment is too dry, and absorb moisture if the environment is too damp.
Humidification is the only way to keep your cigars fresh indefinitely. Cigars should be stored under the following conditions:
A cigar that is dry smokes:
A cigar that is too moist will:
The best way to store cigars is in a humidor. The purpose of a humidor is to recreate the mild, humid climate of the Caribbean, where the cigars are made. Every humidor contains some kind of humidifying element. It is important that distilled water be used with this element because tap water causes mold to form and contains minerals that can destroy the effectiveness of some humidifiers. Over a period of time, the molded device will alter the flavor of the cigars. It is always a good idea to check the humidor's moisture level at least once a week and make sure that no patches of mold have started to form on the cigars. If mold has started to form, the offending cigars should be removed and the humidor should be cleaned with a dry cloth and aired out. A light-gray dusting of bloom on the wrapper is permissible because that is a sign that the cigar is properly aging.
Aging Cigars A humidor can also be used to age cigars. While aging, cigars of the same brand should be kept together, without the cellophane, in a cedar-lined humidor. The benefit of this is to draw out any excessive moisture and allow the cigars to "marry." Marriage is when the cigars absorb each other's oils and create one unique flavor. The cedar will also add to the flavor of the cigars. About once a week, the humidor should be opened for a few hours to let the air hit the cigars or they will acquire a musty taste.
Breaking In Your New Humidor
The hygrometer is a device used for measuring the relative humidity inside of your humidor. There are two varieties.
Analog - This is the standard type of hygrometer. They are the least expensive and also the least reliable. They operate with a needle controlled by a hairspring that points to the correct percentage of humidity. They range in price from $3.00 and up.
Digital – This is the more reliable, but also considerably more expensive. The digital hygrometer operates on a standard camera or watch battery and digitally reads the humidity as well as the temperature. This device is by no means perfect, but is still much more accurate than the analog hygrometers. They range in price from $27.00 and up.
Salt Calibration Test
Place the tablespoon of salt within the bottle cap. Slowly add distilled water to the salt while stirring with the coffee stirrer. You want to add just enough water to moisten the salt so that it becomes a thick paste. Do not add enough water to dissolve the salt!
Place the bottle cap with salt gently into your plastic bag then add your hygrometer. Make certain that the sensor is exposed and not being blocked by the sides of the bag.
Seal the bag - this test will not work if there are any leaks. Then put the bag in a place out of direct sunlight and with a stable temperature.
Leave undisturbed for a minimum of 8 hours.
Check the reading on the hygrometer through the plastic bag. It should read on or near 75% RH.
Due to the salt paste reacting with the confined air the ambient RH within the jar will be exactly 75% RH. Most inexpensive hygrometers are only accurate to within 3% of 75% RH, so do not be surprised if yours reads 72% or 78% RH. Whatever it reads plus or minus from the 75% benchmark is the amount of error of your hygrometer.
What you do about an error depends on the circumstances. If your hygrometer has an adjustment potentiometer then, by all means, try to tweak it to exactly 75%. You should repeat the Salt Calibration Test after making any adjustments. If your hygrometer can't be adjusted but the reading is close, then I suggest you don't worry about it; just remember that your hygrometer is X% off - either high or low.
If the reading is grossly in error and you are unable to adjust it, I suggest you replace it.
And finally, let me say that hygrometers are not the final word on humidity. You will find over time, you will be able to judge the relative humidity within your humidor by simply touching and smoking your cigars.
A humidor is NOT essential to cigar storage. In fact, there are many inexpensive and effective methods for maintaining and aging your cigars. Three of the most popular are "Tupperdors", "Igloodors", and "Fridgadors."
A "Tupperdor" is nothing more than a plastic, re-sealable food container. You can use Tupperware or any other similar product. These are inexpensive and very effective. Simply add a humidifier and you are all set. Many people place those cedar separator sheets that come from boxes of cigars on the bottom of their "Tupperdors" to introduce the element of Spanish cedar. Remember to store your "Tupperdors" in a cool, dark place.
An "Igloodor" is simply a large ice cooler like those made by the Igloo or Coleman companies. They come in a wide variety of sizes with the most common being a 48 qt. model (but I know many people that utilize the giant 128 qt. Models). This is an ideal way to store full boxes of cigars very inexpensively. Some people line the interior by attaching Spanish cedar with a non-toxic, scent-free adhesive, and others even create dividers. You can make a large humidifier, but one of the easiest solutions it to place a trimmed brick of oasis foam in the small plastic tray that many coolers have. "Igloodors" are also commonly referred to as "Coolerdors."
A "Fridgeador" is the ultimate in alternative cigar storage. Basically you utilized an unplugged refrigerator or freezer to store large quantities of cigars. A standup freezer is ideal with its well-spaced, ample shelves as it allows for easy organization of your cigar collection.
There are only two minor drawbacks to using these for long-term cigar storage:
The quality and variety of cigar tobacco from the Dominican Republic has improved enormously in the past 20 years. The primary growing region is near the city of Santiago in the northern half of the country. Located in an agricultural region, this small city is also home to the majority of Dominican cigar makers. Most Dominican tobacco is derived from Cuban-seed varieties. Although not as strong, it is quite full-flavored and lends itself to the creation of unusually complex blends.
Ecuador produces quantities of high-quality tobacco, for both filler and wrapper, and shade- and sun-grown. Growers there have been using both Connecticut- and Sumatra-seed varieties. In each case, the tobacco usually seems milder and less robust in strength and flavor than the originals. Its wrapper colors fall between Connecticut and Cameroon, and its silky texture has visual appeal.
These Central American countries produce high-quality Cuban-seed and Connecticut-seed tobaccos, including shade-grown wrapper. Honduras has suffered from periodic blue mold infestations in recent years, and Nicaragua's tobacco region is still recovering from a ten-year civil war that was primarily fought in the area between the northwestern town of Esteli and the Honduran border. Both countries produce a full-bodied tobacco with strong, spicy flavors and heady aromas.
The San Andres Valley is world-famous for a sun-grown variant of Sumatra-seed tobacco. Mexican leaves are used widely as binder and filler in cigars. This tobacco-type also serves widely as a maduro wrapper because it can stand up to the cooking and sweating process that creates the darker leaf colors. Cigars manufactured in Mexico are usually made with 100-percent local tobacco.
North of Hartford, Connecticut, the Connecticut River Valley produces some of the finest wrapper leaf tobacco in the world: Connecticut shade. The fine, brown to brownish-yellow leaf has a high degree of elasticity, and it creates a mild-to-medium-bodied smoke. Another style, Connecticut broadleaf, produces a dark, almost black leaf that is used on maduro-style cigars. It is heavier and veinier than shade-grown.
Cameroon/Central African Republic
This area of West Africa is known for a high-quality wrapper leaf. In recent years, production has suffered from management changes and bad weather. The Cameroon leaf originated from Sumatra seed imported from Indonesia. It is prized for its neutral characteristics, which make it an ideal wrapper for full-flavored filler tobaccos. Cameroon wrappers generally are greenish-brown to dark brown, with a distinct grain, referred to as "tooth."
Sumatra tobacco comes from the series of islands that make up Indonesia. The tobacco may be referred to as Java or Sumatra. Sumatra wrapper leaves are often dark brown and have neutral flavors. The majority of wrapper leaf grown there is used in the manufacture of small cigars.
The Philippines grows a mild tobacco that is used for cigars. The hybrid strain produced there is very aromatic.
The Different Varieties Of Pipe Tobacco
AROMATIC - During the manufacturing process, casings are added to the tobacco. A casing is flavor that is added to the tobacco. Some of the most common casings are chocolate, vanilla, cherry, rum, apple, liquor, etc. Depending on the amount of casing used, a blend in this category can also be deemed "semi-aromatic" or "lightly-aromatic."
NON-AROMATIC - A mixture that relies solely on the natural ingredients of the tobacco to derive its flavors and aroma. In many cases, the tobacco is specially aged or fermented, which increases its sweetness.
ENGLISH BLEND - Up until 1986, additives were not allowed in tobaccos made in England. For this reason, those tobaccos were referred to as English blends even though non-aromatic tobaccos were manufactured all over the world. Today a true English blend is considered to be any blend containing Oriental tobaccos, most notably Latakia. The most common English blend consists of Latakia, Virginia, and Perique. Depending on how much Latakia is mixed into the blend ultimately determines the overall strength of the mixture, described as a mild-, medium-, or full-bodied English blend.
FLAKE CUT - Tobacco packaged as large, flat flakes. Must be rubbed out to separate the flakes.
READY RUBBED - A flake-cut tobacco that has been rubbed out before packaging.
RIBBON CUT - Tobacco cut into long, thin ribbons.
SHAG - Tobacco that has been shredded very finely.
CAKE OR PLUG - Cake tobacco is soaked in honey, which acts as a bonding agent as well as a sweetener. The cake/plug tobacco is molded by packing it into round molds before packaging the tobacco. This process is sometimes referred to as "spun-disc" tobacco.
The following list of tobaccos is the main ingredients found in all blends of pipe tobacco.
VIRGINIA – Red, black, dark, lemon, orange and orange-red. Virginia is the mildest of all blending tobaccos. Virginia tobacco has the highest natural sugar content, and is used in virtually all blends as it is a good burner and lights easily. It imparts a light, sweet taste, which naturally increases when properly aged before blending.
BRIGHT - A very light tobacco that is grown in the Carolinas. These have a very mild flavor.
BURLEY - A naturally thicker leaf than Virginia, Burley has a soft, nutty taste that never bites. It also burns very slowly and is used for slowing down the combustion rate for many blends.
CAVENDISH - Cavendish is a curing and cutting method. Often mistaken for a type of tobacco leaf. Cavendish is actually a type of manufacturing process. This special heating and curing process will bring out the naturally sweet flavor of Virginia tobacco. The process also creates a tobacco that is quite mild, very light in taste, and easy to pack.
BLACK CAVENDISH - The natural process of heating and curing Virginia tobacco to bring out the natural sweet flavor.
NAVY CAVENDISH - Aged naturally with dark Jamaican rum.
Think of these blends as adding salt and pepper to a meal. Most of these tobaccos are added sparingly to the mixture to create some unique flavors and aromas. Many of these tobaccos have very dominant flavors so only a small amount is required to taste the full effect of the leaf.
PERIQUE - Grown in Louisiana, Perique is a very dark tobacco that is renowned for its very spicy flavor.
BRAZIL - A very dark tobacco that has a robust, sweet flavor.
LATAKIA - Grown in Syria, Latakia is a very full-bodied dark tobacco that gives off a smoky aroma that is similar to burning leaves. Latakia is a very overpowering tobacco that is primarily used in English blends.
ORIENTAL - A generalized grouping of tobaccos including Latakia that is known for its unique "spice" flavors. The tobaccos in this category are grown in Western Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, and Syria. Many times a mixture will include Macedonia as one of the ingredients. The different types of tobacco leaf grown in Macedonia are as follows ... Xanthi, Komotini, Drama, Serrus, Samsun and Izmir.
COBCORN - A great beginner pipe; if you decide pipe smoking is not for you, you haven't spent a lot of money. Actually made from corncob, it is easily cared for, very durable, and disposable. Eventually they wear out but you can always buy another one for about $5.
BRIAR - This is the closely grained burl joint between the stem and roots of the Heath tree, which grows in rocky slopes on the hillsides of Mediterranean countries. This burl is very tough, close-grained, and porous. It will not crack when exposed to heat. Good briar is hard to find, as the larger shrubs take a very long time to mature. The most suitable root may be 80 to 100 years old, and the finest pipe briar may be from a shrub that is over 200 years old.
The easiest way to tell if you have a well-aged briar is by the weight. A pipe that is made with well-aged briar will be very light in weight. If you hold two similar pipes together by the stem, the lighter, more balanced pipe will inevitably be made with older briar. Many of the very inexpensive drugstore pipes, like Dr. Grabow, are made with very young or flawed briar. Many of these cheaper pipes rely on filters to keep the smoke cool. A properly aged briar does not need a filter because the briar is extremely porous. Briar pipes are rated by the purity of the grain. A perfectly straight grain or Birdseye grain (little tight grained swirls), will command a very steep price. These pipes are purely for aesthetics and prized by collectors. They do not smoke any differently than a less-than-perfect grain. You can also save a considerable amount of money if you are not concerned with grain quality.
If you really want to find a good pipe for a bargain, you might want to opt for a sandblast briar. The briar used for these pipes have flaws in them such as very ugly grain or little holes in the wood. These pipes are then sandblasted into a rough grain. Sandblasted pipes are extremely porous and smoke very cool. Briar pipes are also sold as seconds. The tiny holes or imperfections in these pipes are filled with putty and then stained. Many of these pipes can be purchased for $5 to $20. If perfect, these pipes would sell for considerably more money.
MEERSCHAUM - Composed of the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor millions of years ago, the highest quality meerschaum is found in only one place in the world: Eskisehir, in central Turkey. Many meerschaum pipes are hand carved into works of art. The meerschaum pipe gives the tobacco a very unique, cool smoking flavor. It absorbs far more moisture than a briar pipe. The pipe starts out pearl-white and eventually becomes a beautiful deep-brown color as it breaks in. This is one of the most appealing features of this type of pipe. Meerschaum pipes are a prized addition to many smokers' collections.
PIPE CLEANERS: Indispensable! Two types: soft and fluffy to dry up moisture, or "bristle," to dig out deposits and clean a very dirty pipe.
PIPE SWEETENER: Dissolves built-up gum and tar while leaving a fresh aroma in the bowl stem and mouthpiece.
PIPE TOOL: A spoon, pick, and tamper all contained in a metal holder.
(Left: Spoon. Digs out tobacco residue. Middle: Pick. Cleans out stem. Right: Tamper. Packs bowl.)
PIPE REAMER: A tool for smoothing out the "cake," which is the hardened tobacco build-up that accumulates in a pipe. If the cake gets too thick, the bowl may crack. This tool will trim the cake down to a desired size. A rule of thumb is to trim it down to about the thickness of a nickel. Never completely remove the cake, as it protects the pipe and makes it smoke cooler.
PIPE RACK: A storage place for your pipes. After smoking your pipe, clean it with a pipe cleaner and place it in the rack with the stem facing up so the saliva can properly drain out of the pipe. It is always a good idea to have several pipes so they can have time to properly dry out. Having several pipes will also prolong the life of each pipe by not burning out the bowl from excessive heat.
HUMIDOR: Anything cheap and airtight. Tupperware or mason jars work great. Misting it with a spray bottle can easily restore dry pipe tobacco.