Tips From El Fumador
Information About Humidors
SEASONING A HUMIDOR
It takes time, patience, and a little know-how to get a new humidor ready to hold cigars. You're trying to recreate the tropical environments where most cigars are made, and you can't rush the process. Putting cigars into a dry humidor can ruin good smokes. Most humidors have an interior made of untreated Spanish cedar, the preferred wood for humidifying and aging premium cigars. The wood needs to be humidified, or seasoned, before the box is ready to hold cigars. We have found that there is only one good technique for conditioning your humidor.
Do not spray the interior of any humidor with water or apply a damp sponge or wet rag to any interior wood surface. This will only cause the wood to expand too rapidly and will raise the grain of the wood thereby giving it a rough texture. It could also cause the exterior side walls to split apart and the lid to warp. We will not honor any repair on humidors that have been over-saturated with water. Be patient and go slow while conditioning the humidor to the 70% Relative Humidity (R.H.) level. It is a slow process and needs to be done slowly so the box can acclimate to the higher humidity levels. Forget the article in Cigar Aficionado! They are magazine publishers and not humidor makers! Prepare your humidification device according to the manufacturer's instructions. Unless the manufacturer specifically states that you can use tap water, use only distilled water. Tap water contains minerals that will destroy most humidification systems by leaving deposits that will clog the humidor element. Once the humidification element is filled, be sure to wipe it down to remove all the excess water. Rest it on a hand towel for approximately 30 minutes before placing it into the humidor or it may drip causing stains in the wood. Mount the humidification device. Close the lid and allow three days or so to allow the box to stabilize. If you would like to increase the humidity, add about one additional ounce of water and allow another three days. Depending on the size of your humidor it will take approximately 10 to 14 days for your humidor to become conditioned. The wood will absorb moisture for about two weeks. Once this break in period is complete, your humidor will lock in the humidity and create a stable environment for your cigars.
TIGHT FIT/LOOSE FIT
There are conflicting thoughts in the marketplace as to how a lid should fit down over the raised cedar interior lining. Some feel the lid should fit snugly or air-tight when closing thereby giving the interior an air-tight seal. Others feel a humidor should "breathe" and that the moisture should be allowed to escape so there is an air exchange. We have found that stagnant moist air will harbor bacteria which will create mold. Mold will ruin cigars within 1-2 days if left unnoticed. We prefer lids that leave a 1/64" recess on the interior lining so as to allow a small amount of air exchange. This way the interiors are allowed to breathe somewhat, allowing a small amount of air exchange.
SOLID WOOD vs. VENEER CONSTRUCTION
There are two methods of constructing humidors. For the casual observer it is sometimes difficult to perceive the difference in the two types of construction. So we will point out how to tell the difference and the advantages and disadvantages of both methods.
The first method is the veneer over fiberboard method. Fiberboard is used extensively in kitchen cabinet construction. If you have a Formica counter top, chances are it is glued onto medium density fiberboard or MDF. MDF is a combination of sawdust, glue and resins. It is man-made and is very stable under dry conditions. However, it expands easily and rapidly if it gets wet. Veneer over MDF is used almost exclusively by the European humidor builders. This is due mostly to the availability of veneers over solid hardwoods in Europe. Historically the Europeans have always favored veneer construction over solid woods in their furniture due to the extreme expense in obtaining solid hardwoods. European forests do not yield the variety of woods as the American forests. Walnut, Cherry, Red Oak, Maple and many other hardwoods are exclusively native American and grow typically in the eastern forests of the U.S. Since the veneers used are very thin, they are not easy to sand. Special care must be taken when sanding in order to avoid sanding through the veneers and into the MDF base material. In order to avoid this problem many coats of dense polyester or epoxy type finish are applied over the raw veneers. Once the finish has been built up to a sufficient thickness, it is sanded smooth, top coats are applied, and the final coat is buffed to a high gloss. This method has the advantage of protecting the veneers but the distinct disadvantage of cost as it is very labor intensive. The final product has wet/gloss look and is very contemporary. Therefore the tell-tall sign of a veneer/MDF humidor is the high gloss look and most often with a distinct wood trim around the outside borders to hide the veneer lines.
The second method is the solid wood construction. Its advantage is that it is much easier to construct and sand and therefore is more cost efficient. It does not require a high gloss finish but one can be applied if desired. Its disadvantage is that it has a tendency to move ever so slightly with changes in humidity levels, especially if the builder is not careful during the construction process. There are definitely ways to overcome this problem however.
So the telltale sign of a solid hardwood humidor is that a semi-gloss or satin finish is used most of the time. Also, humidors without the edge/border trim are most likely solid.
Both methods require precision machining, sanding, and finishing. The real test comes six months later after the humidor is in use and at full capacity at 70% R.H.
Most boxes use plywood for the bottom. Less expensive boxes have a flush bottom that is fitted and glued into place. If the plywood bows or warps, the bottom will become curved and will not sit flat on a flat surface. Also it is structurally weak as compared to the recessed bottom. Better boxes have a recessed plywood bottom where the wood is recessed into a locking dado groove, usually 1/4" above the bottom surface. It is much stronger and will not be affected by a warped plywood bottom.
SPANISH CEDAR LINING
Spanish Cedar has been used during this century and the last for cigar box construction. It has always been the wood of choice for curing and aging cigars. The aroma of Cedar blends with the tobacco and helps to enhance its aroma. It is definitely a tradition that is steeped in the history of cigar making. Perhaps one of the reasons it was used initially was because of its availability. It is a dominant Latin American species and literally grows in all countries from Mexico to Chile. It is still preferred by cigar manufacturers. During the aging and curing process of the leaves and finished cigars Cedar is used in the storage containers and warehouse interior walls. Therefore we feel that Cedar should be used as well in our humidors, but not exclusively. Cedar has a tendency to bleed a sap gum resin when exposed to heat. This gummy resin is actually inside the wood and may not surface for several months. In order to avoid this potential problem, some humidor makers are now using another wood -Sapele- in conjunction with the Cedar. Sapele is much denser than Cedar and more stable. It is usually used for the interior walls and protruding lip while Cedar is used only on the top and bottom interior surfaces.
HYGROMETERS-DIGITAL vs. DIAL
There are two types of hygrometers on the market today- digital and analog dial. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Dial analog meters are more attractive and most often less expensive, however, they are known to be quite inaccurate and slow to respond to changes of humidity inside your humidor. The meter will give you a rough indication of the humidity. We have seen them to have errors of up to 10%. They often have to be calibrated or reset periodically (much like adjusting bathroom scales). Digital types are less attractive, but are more accurate and do not need to be reset. They are most often sold as an after market item and are generally more expensive that the dial types.
The main problem with hygrometers is not the hygrometer itself but what it is reading or measuring. Relative humidity (RH) is not a constant. It varies from one day to the next, one hour to the next, from one side of a room to the other. Think of humidity as a cloud that is full of floating moisture. It is constantly changing, moving, evaporating and absorbing moisture. We have to settle for a range effect and not an exact percentage. Inside a cigar humidor moisture will always be the greatest directly under the moisturizer and least the furthest away. If there is a tray blocking the movement of the moisture, then the RH could be 70% on the top and 50-60% on the bottom; simply because moisture falls as it does from the sky in the form of rain. So even though your hygrometer is reading exactly 70%- don't trust it- digital or dial. We advise you to use the meter as a reference point to tell you when you may need to charge your regulator with water or recharging solution (generally added about every six months). The best test is to pinch your cigars. Gently squeeze the cigar. You should be able to feel a bit of pliability without causing cracking of the wrapper leaf. The old pinch test will tell you immediately what cigars are OK and which ones are too dry. If you have dry cigars, place them directly under the moisturizer to rejuvenate them.
CIGAR HUMIDIFIERS-MOISTURIZERS - A BRIEF HISTORY
When the cigar boom hit here was only one supplier of cigar moisturizers- an outfit in France called Credo. They were a small operation with only a few employees and suddenly overnight they were an international supplier to both retail tobacconists and humidor makers. They had a tough time keeping everyone happy. They expanded production but other cigar moisturizer makers started popping up left and right in 1997 and today there are by most accounts 10-15 of them alone in the U.S. all claiming theirs to be the best, cheapest, maintenance free, etc., etc. Credos are still being made and are good. There are others that may be better. They are larger in size and thus hold more water for longer period of time, have stronger magnets or Velcro backs or screw into the lids, use netting to prevent foam flaking, and are usually less expensive. The hype about humidifiers is beyond reason. It is an item that basically just evaporates moisture- not rocket science here, and not high tech automobile hoopla although it definitely resembles it. The bottom line is if it works, use it. If not, throw it away and get one that does.
For those special cigars that you want to age and keep for a period of time, we recommend keeping the cigars on the firm side with humidity between 50% and 65%.
EXTERIOR SURFACE CLEANING
To clean the exterior of your humidor we recommend gently wiping it with cotton and rubbing (70%) alcohol to remove any finger prints or debris.
Please keep your humidor in as cool a place as possible, out of any direct sunlight or artificial lights. Artificial lights can create a warm and dry environment and will cause all wood to move and behave abnormally, usually resulting in distorted lids. Never display your humidor in this environment.
How To Care For Your Pipe
Store your pipe out of the light. Sunlight and, to a lesser extent, artificial light speed the rate of bit oxidation and can cause fading of the pipe's natural color.
Place the pipe in a rack where it is well-ventilated.
Maintain adequate supplies on hand for cleaning and polishing your pipes.
Wipe off your pipe after every use, with special attention to the part of the bit that has been in your mouth. Don't let dirt or grime stay on the surface of your pipe.
Run pipe cleaners through your pipe after every smoke.
Every third smoke, use pipe sweetener on pipe cleaners or with pipe brushes to clean out the tar and gunk from the mouthpiece or bit, the air passage in the shank and from the mortise.
Clean out the bowl regularly, leaving only a light coating or cake.
Buff the outside of the pipe regularly with a soft cloth to maintain a bright clean appearance. Use polish as needed.
Maintain your bit or mouthpiece with a bit paste on a regular basis to keep it shiny and glossy.
Enjoy the beauty of your clean pipe and the pure taste of your favorite tobacco.
How To Fill & Light Your Pipe
Only use fresh, humidified tobacco, as dry tobacco will crunch down and produce a hot and quick burning smoke, which immediately translates into tongue bite. Pipe tobacco usually comes in one of two forms: caked (pressed tightly together) or loose (much more common). Either way, before filling your pipe, the tobacco must be broken up and separated so that no mats or solid clumps will be present to impede the mixture of air and fire that is responsible for keeping the tobacco burning evenly.
The pipe-filling procedure is repeated three times in order to properly pack a single bowlful of tobacco. First, take a pinch of broken up tobacco and gravity-feed it until the bowl is completely full. Gently press (tamp) the tobacco down into the bowl with finger or pipe tool until it feels slightly springy. The bowl should be 1/3 full. Second, repeat the process of gravity-feeding until full and then tamp slightly harder. The bowl should now be 2/3 full. Finally, gravity-feed tobacco into your pipe a third time, filling it to overflowing, and tamp down on the load firmly. Be sure to retain the springy feeling in your tobacco.
When filling your pipe, it's a good practice to occasionally draw some air through the mouthpiece, to make sure you are not packing your tobacco too tightly and to insure that the airhole has not become plugged with a tiny chunk of tobacco. The correct tobacco-filling procedure takes a little practice, but after a few times you will automatically develop this all-important skill and will be able to actually "feel" when you have a properly filled pipe.
Pipe lighting is a two-part procedure. The first step is called the charring light. Its purpose is to create a "lid" covering the top portion of your bowlful of tobacco, thereby making a "fire platform" which will permit your carefully packed pipe to smoke evenly all the way down to the bottom or heel of the bowl. Use only wooden matches or a butane lighter. Paper matches are impregnated with chemicals that will taint the tobacco and its taste, as well as lighter fluid. When using matches, pause a second after striking the match, so that the sulfur will burn off.
To begin the charring light, move the flame slowly over the entire area of the tobacco, taking care not to scorch the edges of the pipe bowl. Draw in on your pipe with long, smooth puffs, thereby sucking the flame down into the tobacco. Gently tamp down on the ashes (hot) with a pipe tool, pushing the ashes down on the unburned tobacco underneath. Now you are ready for your second light. Once again, move the flame over the entire area of the tobacco as you puff slowly and rhythmically. That's all there is to it.
Your pipe will stay lit longer if you periodically keep the ashes tamped down upon the remaining tobacco. Any pipe will go out if left unattended and all pipes require additional lightings before the entire bowlful is consumed, but that is part of the joy and relaxation of pipe smoking. Unlike cigars, which smoke stronger each time they are relit, it is one of the phenomena of pipes that the taste and quality of the pipe tobacco will not be materially affected by continual relighting after it has gone out. When Admiral Richard E. Byrd revisited Antarctica in 1947, after having left it 12 years before, he found his old pipe filled with tobacco. He picked it up, lit it, and commented, "A good smoke!"
PIPE TOBACCO BLEND COMPONENTS AND THEIR FLAVOR CHARACTERISTICS according to McClelland Tobacco Company
A QUESTION OF STYLE
First, a brief note about manufacturing styles:
The more natural English and Scottish-style cake tobaccos are based on Flue-Cured Virginias, which are matured in pressed-cake form to release the natural sugars in the leaf. The best of these tobaccos cannot be surpassed in flavor, which is subtle, highly interesting and clean-tasting.
The cased and flavored tobaccos in the American style that we call "aromatics" usually have Burley in the blend. Burley doesn't have the natural sugar so these tobaccos rely for their taste on the added sugars and other flavors. The best have a nut-like character and are pleasant. Their great advantage is the heavy, sweet smell they impart to the room when smoked.
In between are the Danish and Dutch style tobaccos, which are frequently both aged and flavored and historically rely more on Maryland style tobacco which lacks the natural sweetness of Virginia but is milder than most Burley.
A QUESTION OF TASTE
Each tobacco type has its own peculiar flavor range making it useful in blending for the particular properties that it alone possesses. A basic understanding of these differences can be very useful.
The best are lightly sweet, more fruity than nutty, not really sharp but a little tangy and pleasant to the tongue (like a mild salsa). These natural, clean-smoking tobaccos fill the mouth with flavor and become richer as they are smoked, as if ripening or cooking right there in the bowl.
A good quality, cased Burley today starts light, mellow, mildly nutty with no sharpness. Kind of bland, rich, full-flavored, Burley tastes somewhat like sweet oatmeal or granola with a caramel character from the burnt sugars.
Second only to flue-cured Virginia in natural sugar content, the finest Oriental leaf from Greece and Turkey is mildly sweet and has an herbal or spicy character that is especially apparent to the olfactory senses. A truly exotic and delicious base tobacco in the natural Oriental or "English" mixtures.
This smoked, blackened Oriental tobacco is intense to the nose with an incense-like fragrance but is surprisingly soft on the palate. Cool, relatively tasteless in the middle range, but heavily aromatic, this excellent condiment tobacco is a basic component of natural Oriental or "English" mixtures. Usually the fuller the mixture, the more Latakia is used.
A deeply aromatic tobacco with distinctive character that is somewhat between the fragrance of cooked fruit and the musty aroma of mushrooms. Like Latakia, Perique is a condiment tobacco and as such it is used rather sparingly. We taste this rare and precious tobacco more through our olfactory senses than in the mouth.
Bright flue-cured Virginias, blackened by stoving, create a measure of richness and a mellow sort of fruity sweetness in many natural, aged blends. Not as full-flavored as a classic Matured Virginia, stoved Virginias have the type of richness we associate with dark chocolates and they impart a cooked fruit aroma.
Basic to many American-style aromatics, black cavendishes are stoved versions of the specialized, air-cured One-Sucker and Green River tobaccos of Kentucky and Tennessee and the dark, air-cured Virginias from Central Virginia. The best taste caramel-like, sort of like pancake syrup on the pancake-mild, sweet, full-flavored, but with a slight aftertaste like the burnt taste on toasted marshmallows.
KNOWLEDGE IS KEY TO SATISFACTION
Our smokeshop environment provides the opportunity for customers whose experience with pipe tobaccos may be very limited to become connoisseurs. There are distinctions in flavor and quality in all types of tobacco from the heady aromatics to the clean-smoking naturally-aged tobaccos. Discover the subtle and interesting flavors of the full range of pipe tobaccos available from the different manufactures. This learning process can be great fun, as many pleasant smoking experiences can be found on the road to that elusive perfect pipe tobacco.
HOW TO SMOKE FLAKE TOBACCOS
English and Scottish-style Matured Virginia flake tobaccos are among the most interesting and rewarding for the smoker to taste: yet, they are avoided by many smokers who simply do not know how to approach them. This flyer is intended to help the pipe smoker learn how to fully appreciate the zesty character and subtle sweetness of these premium, aged products. (It should also help smokers of the flavored American sliced plug and European flake Cavendish tobaccos.)
One reason flake tobaccos are left in slices after cake-maturing is that they retain their freshness better than in ribbon form. Flakes also enable the smoker to have some control over the burning rate and, to a small degree, the flavor.
It is important to prepare the tobacco before packing so that it has an even texture and to fill the bowl evenly, no matter what degree of brokenness is preferred. (The more fully-rubbed-meaning gently separated-a tobacco, the faster it will burn. Similarly, it is true that the thinner the cut, the faster it will burn.)
The more moist tobaccos should be packed more loosely than normal so they won't pack down densely enough to prevent a good draft. The ideal is to have the tobacco draw firmly, with a little resistance, throughout the smoke. The smoker may be able barely to hear a little hissing through the pipe as it is smoked. Too firm and the tobacco won't burn at all or one small spot will burn hot and maybe wet as the smoker puffs hard to keep it going: too loose and the tobacco will burn inconsistently and unevenly, perhaps causing the bowl to overheat in spots and moisture to condense.
FIVE STEPS TO SUCCESS
- Put in the palm of one hand the amount of tobacco that it is believed will fill the bowl. Then pinch at the slices or rub them between the palms until the tobacco separates to the degree preferred, keeping the texture even, avoiding clumps. The denser the tobacco is left, the slower it will burn. (This becomes especially valuable on windy days outdoors.)
- Gently but firmly and evenly work the tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it is filled slightly over the top and feels firm but still springy under enough finger pressure to flatten the surface of the tobacco even with the top of the pipe. (We assume the pipe is clean at the outset, free of obstruction to a good draft, well rested.)
- Now, while drawing through the stem, light the pipe evenly across the entire surface of the tobacco. After a few puffs to develop an ash, and while continuing to draw, tamp the tobacco down evenly all around the bowl with a tamper. The goal is to have the tobacco packed so that it will burn as evenly and firmly as a good cigar.
- Relight the pipe after tamping to get the entire surface of the tobacco burning again. Even burning is very important. Otherwise, hot spots may develop.
- With only occasional tamping as the tobacco burns down, since it tends to expand and loosen as it burns, the pipe should now smoke evenly to the bottom. The aim is to maintain a firm, even draft throughout the smoke. The process is not difficult to master and with practice will soon be effortless.
For those who are used to the "aromatic" or sweetened tobaccos that dominate our market in the United States, it may take some time for the additives remaining in the pipe to dissipate. Many smokers prefer to maintain one set of pipes exclusively for the natural, matured tobaccos and another for the sweetened varieties. It may be necessary to smoke up to four ounces of a natural product before the mouth adjusts to the clean taste and subtler range of flavors typical of these Matured Virginia tobaccos. The smoker is rewarded for the effort as he becomes able to distinguish the delicate variations in taste and deepening richness these tobaccos develop as they are smoked.
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