Whoever said variety was the spice of life probably had a wide array of cigars stowed in their humidor somewhere. From Connecticut, Corojo, and Criollo, to Dominican, Ecuadorian, Honduran, Indonesian, and Sumatran, the types of cigars available to us are equal parts impressive and intimidating.
Unfortunately, there are only so many smoking hours in a week. So we stuff our cigars into a properly seasoned humidor box, creating a cache for a later date. Since the majority of us rely upon a single style of humidor box for cigar storage, and prefer to smoke a range of tobacco styles, the contents of these humidified containers tend to be a bit of a smorgasbord.
This is due in part to the advent of services like boutique cigar subscriptions, which provide tobacco enthusiasts with a broad array of smoking options every month, all delivered directly to their doorstep.
As these smokes stack up, a crucial question emerges: Does humidity and humidor storage affect different styles of cigars in various ways? And if so, what can be done to keep a cigar ready to smoke at the drop of a match?
Although a properly humidified and well-maintained humidor box can keep cigars in prime condition for years on end, not every stick sitting inside is constructed from the same sort of tobacco. Furthermore, certain types of tobacco do require additional care, and may require some of you to change how you store and smoke your cigars.
Different Smokes for Different Folks
Just like red wine, craft beer, cocktails, and other products intended for adult consumption, cigars come in a staggering array of colors, flavors, shapes, styles, and bespoke house blends.
For generations, various types of tobacco have been cultivated, cured, fermented, and crafted into particular cigar styles, all in the hopes of providing the consumer with an enjoyable and memorable smoking experience.
Despite there being a plethora of spin-off subcategories and brand-specific namesakes, all cigars can be categorized by either a “Natural” or “Maduro” descriptor. Natural wrappers run anywhere from a light shade of straw to a rich reddish hue, whereas Maduros are always an opaque pigment.
Outside of the obvious variance in color and opacity, the profiles associated with these two types of cigar wrappers are quite different in how they taste, smell, feel, and age. The latter of these points is of particular interest to us today, as the cigar aging and storing process does require a carefully controlled amount of humidor humidity.
But before we get into all of that jazz, let’s back up for a moment and revisit the trusty old cigar wrapper style guide. Despite there being a multitude of nationally labeled tobacco plants (Yes, Cameroon wrappers actually come from the country of Cameroon.), the following types of wrapper encompass the majority of the cigars people smoke.
- Double Claro wrappers (a.k.a. Candela) were exceedingly popular decades ago, but have since fallen out of favor with mainstream smokers. These cigars are typically of a light green chlorophyll color, a side-effect of the leaf’s expedited drying process and heavily canopied growing climate.
- Claro wrappers are more khaki and are typically a shade-grown plant. Premature harvesting and air-drying make these wrappers exceedingly mild, making them one of the few wrappers to not impart a flavor profile.
- Colorado Claro cigars tend to have a reddish-brown wrapper, and while they can be either grown in sunlight or beneath a canopy, the lengthier growth period required to further enhance their profile is mandatory. A richer, Colorado wrapper variant can also be found in circulation and can either be procured in either shade or sun-grown form. This style of leaf is left to mature on the plant for even longer than its Colorado Claro cousin.
- Maduro tobacco is the darkest of the lot and tends to be sweet, earthy, rich, and occasionally coffee-like, with strength levels reaching every centimeter of the spectrum. This type of wrapper undergoes heavy natural fermentation and/or heat treating, and is left to turn a dark brown color before being harvested from the tobacco plant.
- Oscuro is the big brother to Maduro wrappers and is the sort of smoke that relies upon the final harvesting toward the top of the plant, where the most intense concentration of sun is captured. This is almost always followed by an insanely lengthy fermentation schedule, thus earning this type of jet-black smoke its popular nickname: "The Double Maduro."
Tobacco Nerd Note: The term Natural is used loosely in the cigar world to describe most forms of cigar tobacco that are not exposed to the heat and fermentation that Maduro wrappers require. So if it doesn’t pack an “Oscuro” or “Maduro” surname in its descriptor somewhere, that cigar you are enjoying is “100% natural,” regardless of how dark or light it may appear.
Dark vs Light: Which Cigar Handles Humidity Changes Best?
While all cigars require a consistent level of humidity (65-72% tends to be the sweet spot), there are certain types of tobacco that tend to handle fluctuations in atmospheric moisture better than others.
Oily, sun-grown wrappers with a thick, darker complexion, like a Maduro or a Corojo, tend to be a bit more on the robust side, both in flavor and construction. In contrast, cigars sporting something like a Connecticut shade tobacco leaf as a wrapper offer a far more delicate smoking experience. While it is rare, there have been accounts of lighter Natural wrappers splitting open after leaving the safe confines of humidor wood, and then being exposed to arid or overly humid environments.
Over the years there has been much debate as to whether or not humidity is directly to blame for the untimely demise of more delicately wrapped cigars. Although some may argue that it is due to the quality of the tobacco leaf itself, others lay blame on how a cigar is constructed. Another school of thought is that, unlike lighter-colored cigar wrappers, darker tobaccos like Maduros and Oscuros have been trained from seedlings to handle harsh environments.
That’s not to say that your golden honey-colored Natural cigar is going to self-destruct if the humidity outside isn’t just right. Or that your Double Maduro isn’t going to dry out just as fast underneath the Arizona sun, or expand and crack when hit with too much humidity.
All cigars and cigar humidors react to the environment around them. But even in cigar form, different types of tobacco tolerate a lack of humidity and intense heat better than others. This is why it is so important to keep a close eye on that humidity level, and why items like digital hygrometers for humidors and humidor packs are considered mandatory cigar gear.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Whilst medium and full-bodied variants do exist, many Maduro cigars retain velvety, roasted undertones that are quite mild. However, due to their opaque appearance, many Maduros often end up being labeled as “super strong” by inexperienced cigar smokers, an affliction that adult-oriented products like Irish Stout tend to suffer from as well.
Regardless of whether you enjoy a Claro with your morning coffee, or prefer to puff on an Oscuro with your oyster stout, the task of storing cigars in a humidor is a vital endeavor. Knowing what different types of cigars require a little more care in the humidity and handling department is equally important.
Wrappers not only provide an appealing outer shell for the filler and binder of a cigar, but they also impart the majority of the flavor and aroma perceived. This causes this type of tobacco leaf to be the priciest component within the cigar itself, which is why maintaining an ideal level of humidor humidity and studying up on fundamental cigar humidor knowledge is a core pillar of any cigar smoker’s life.
In closing, it is worth noting that a massive amount of the tobacco intended for use in cigar wrappers doesn’t make the cut. Uneven coloring and spotting due to entirely too much or little sun exposure, damage during harvesting and/or hand-rolling, and fermentation flukes can all cause a cigar wrapper to end up in the tobacco scrap bin.
If that doesn’t put things into perspective, maybe a split cigar wrapper or an uneven burn will emphasize the importance of keeping the right amount of humidor humidity on hand at all times.
Tobacco Nerd Note: Connecticut Broadleaf tends to be the most heavily utilized variety of tobacco for the production of Maduro wrappers. The portion of the plant that is harvested, amount of direct sunlight it receives, soil quality, and even elevation can all affect the flavor, color, aroma, and texture of the tobacco leaf itself.