For all the fuss that people put into cigar storage when they first get interested in cigars (myself included), it’s not actually as difficult as you’d think. In a nutshell: not too hot, too dry or too wet, and keep it relatively stable. The slip that comes in every box of Habanos Cuban cigars states:
“For fullest enjoyment, these cigars should be stored in a humidor, away from products with strong odour and under correct conditions of temperature (16ºC – 18ºC) and humidity (65% – 70%).”
Whatever you do, NEVER put flavoured cigars in with non-flavoured as all the flavours will infuse.
Too warm (higher than 20ºC) and you run the risk of hatching Lasioderma (tobacco beetle) eggs that may be present on the leaf. Also, I suspect that certain smaller molecules that are involved in the taste may disappear quicker over time at higher temperatures, affecting the taste. Too dry (below 60%) and the cigar will smoke too quickly and harshly, and over the longer term essential oils (ie. flavour) will be permanently lost from the tobacco. Too wet (above 70%) and the cigar will smoke hot and may be hard to draw due to the leaf swelling. In my experience this also makes the cigar taste bitter. If the leaf swells too much the cigar can split the wrapper, basically exploding the cigar!
So I need a humidor then?
Many people seem to think that buying a humidor is the only way to go. While it is certainly the prettiest option, it by no means the only one. Any odourless reasonably airtight container and a method of humidity control will suffice. Large plastic food containers (Tupperware) or coolboxes are often a good option, as are plastic storage containers. There are numerous guides on the web on how to make a ‘coolerdor’ so I won’t repeat that information here, but I will express my opinion on a few of the finer points.
How airtight does it need to be?
Airtight enough! Which is absolutely no help whatsoever I know. As you are trying to keep the relative humidity (RH) stable inside the box, you are trying to slow air exchange with the outside environment which is likely to have a different RH. The less airtight the container is, the harder the method of humidity control will have to work. This is not a huge problem but obviously it’s easier to keep conditions stable if it doesn’t have to.
There is no best way of controlling the relative humidity for your cigars-whatever works best for you. That said, Boveda pouches (for sources see my Useful cigar links page) or Heartfelt beads seem to cause people the least problems. You do need to follow the instructions though. Either use enough pouches, or ensure that the correct proportion of your beads are clear.
Spanish Cedar will buffer (slow down) changes in humidity. This is what the majority of purpose-built humidors are lined with. It also supposedly discourages Lasioderma and adds a spiciness to the cigars. Those not using a purpose-built humidor often put blocks or sheets of Spanish Cedar into their containment or store their cigars in their boxes, which has the same effect. Storage in the box also helps prevent mixing of cigar flavours.
I think there is a tendency for those new to the hobby to micromanage the humidity and worry needlessly about fluctuations. The hygrometer is measuring the relative humidity of the air, not of the cigars and they won’t change as fast as the air does. If you think you’re struggling with a small humidor think of the trouble you would have with an entire room! If your humidity fluctuations are more than 2% each way, it’s most likely that you need to stabilise the temperature first.
Finally, if you find your cigars aren’t tasting quite right and everything else is right, leave them alone for three months and see how they taste then. Most quality cigars, particularly Cuban cigars, improve with rest when stored in good conditions. You’ll be surprised at the difference it makes!