From the Cigar Advisor, C.Gars Ltd’s resident expert:
Q. You have stated that you personally do not agree with the much-heralded 70°/70% storage for cigars — I believe the British tend to keep a slightly lower humidity level than some others, and it could also be a personal decision among individuals. In your opinion, what is your optimal storage environment? Thank you very much, and I rue the day that you can no longer provide the excellent advice and discussion which you have generously provided.
A. The short answer is, I do not know for certain.
Nevertheless I think I am still doing better than the people who know. People who repeated mumble the magical numbers 70/70 have not got a clue about when, where, how and why these numbers originated. Most of them do not even know how to calibrate their hygrometers (For electronic digital ones the error is typically +/- 2%, for analog ones, it may even be +/- 5 to 10%).
At least I tried to find out and have seemed to find something meaningful.
Curiously, nothing really scientific has ever been found on anything published. Mr. Alfred Dunhill had reported to have done some researches undertaken by England’s National Physical Laboratory before the First World War. However I have no information about the results. Mr. Dunhill nonetheless, in his book ‘The Gentle Art of Smokingâ€, recommended the ideal temperature for storage of cigars should be ’60 to 65°F’, but no specific figures for humidity was quoted.
This seems to concur with many recent experiments on the effect of heat on wines, which have concluded that the best temperature for storing wines is between 55 to 65°F, beyond 65°F, the fruitiness decreases irreversibly and the absolute cut off point is 70°F, where the rate of destruction of fruitiness increases exponentially. Fruitiness is believed to be aromatic esters which are quite heat unstable. Thus it seems wise to store cigars at 60°F to be on the safe side. A lower temperature would not hurt the wine (nor perhaps the cigar), but it would not serve any useful purpose as the maturation is delayed with no meaningful gain.
Further, the theory that tobacco beetle eggs will not hatch below 70°F has been proven (by me!) to be too optimistic. I had many first hand experiences that they hatch at 70°F, but I do not remember encountering a single occasion when there was a beetle problem when cigars are stored at 60°F.
Regarding humidity, nothing scientific is known about the exact figures but everyone who has any experience with vintage cigars share the unanimous opinion that the best humidity for aging cigars long term is between 60 to 65%. Cigars which are stored at 70% seem to fail to age as beautifully and it is well known that cigars which is too humid e.g. 75% will lose all their bouquets in no time.
I normally age my cigars at 60°F and 65% RH for new cigars. For very old cigars, I store them at 55°F and 60% RH wrapped air-tight. I do not know for certain whether these figures are the most ‘correct’, but it had worked so far so good.
So how did the 70/70 myth originated? A very good speculation goes like this :
Cigars taste best at 72% RH., minus 1% for each five years of age. I discovered this by trial and error ages ago. Sometime later I read from a book that Mr. Davidoff insisted to sell his cigars at 72%. He probably discovered this by trial and error too. As cigars sold a few decades ago had already been aged for a few years when leaving the factory, and reputable merchants like Dunhill insisted to age them further before release, a cigar which a customer bought in those good old days had typically been already 10 years old. They should taste best at 70% RH. And somebody had obviously made the easy mistake that if a cigar tastes best at 70 %, they should age best at the same RH. (Mr. Davidoff mentioned in his book ‘The Connoisseur’s Book of the Cigar’ that the ‘ideal’ RH of storing cigars should be ‘between 67 to 72%’, apparently he had also succumbed to this method of thinking.
The 70°F probably originated when a certain ‘expert’ had decided that according to a nineteenth century book on insects that beetle eggs do not hatch below 70°F, cigars should therefore best be stored below that temperature. And naturally people would think that if cigars were best stored below that temperature, they should age best at that temperature as well.
As the 70/70 are round figures, they are easily remembered and most quoted. Eventually the most quoted becomes the truth, as the majority is always right. That reminds me of a saying by Mark Twain : 10% of people think, 10% of people think that they think, the remaining 80% would rather die than think.