We are approaching that time of year when conscientious cigar collectors look to their humidors with concern and trepidation. Well, concern anyway. I’ll reserve the trepidation for myself. Tobacco beetles, mold, the perfect RH and temp for aging my precious smokes — all these worries infect my otherwise pacific pastime.
And I know I’m not alone. I’m always surprised when I look at the hit counts for this blog and see that our All Time Most Popular Post is not a remarkably incisive review of the hottest new release from Pepin. It’s a short throwaway post about mold on cigars. (See this post for pictures of the afflicted.)
“Is it mold or plume?”
That is the question. The cigar is fuzzier than a two week old kitten, but Polonious behind the register is telling you it’s “aging very nicely.” Fuzz factor aside, it normally takes years to develop bloom on a cigar. Unless your shop sells vintage cigars, it is unlikely to be plume.
But it’s not often easy to tell the difference between mold and bloom if you don’t know what to look for. The most common type of cigar mold, in my experience, is the white variety that occurs in small patches on the wrapper. Unfortunately I don’t have as much experience with plume (aka bloom) but the distinguishing characteristic is that plume is not patchy like mold is.
Pictured above is a four year old cigar with a very light dusting of plume. It’s really hard to photograph, but it sparkles if turned at the right angle in the light. I adjusted the saturation in an attempt to highlight the crystals. It is far less dramatic, but oh so much more delightful than patches of mold. Vitolas.net has a much better photo of a blooming ’95 Opus X here.
Plume is a crystallization of oils from the cigar wrapper, and it appears as a fine spray of sugar, more or less evenly distributed across the surface of the stick. Mold, on the other hand, is a living and social creature that likes to gather in colonies. Well, maybe not social, but you get the point — it shows up in discrete separate spots, making your cigar look like a petri dish.
Getting tobacco to grow is not hard. Tobacco is a weed (and I like it, to quote the verse) and it will grow wild, unsupervised, with heartfelt abandon. But growing attractive, flavorful tobacco, particularly wrapper leaf for cigars, is not easy. It is hard. Very hard.
Something as uneventful as the fall of a tiny pink blossom from the top of the plant onto the leaf below can damage the leaf, resulting in a blemish, or worse, “blossom rot.”
“If you can’t get to the tobacco on time,” explains Lawrence Palombo (of General Cigar) on a tour of the fields, “it starts flowering, the blossoms drop off onto the leaves below and rot, damaging the leaf.”¹
Years and years of breeding and experimentation have gone into the methods used to produce the golden leaf we love, much of it in an effort to dodge the diseases tobacco is heir to and the pests who would like to beat smokers to the Punch. But it isn’t a perfect science. There is one factor that agronomists and vegueros will never be able to control with precision — the weather.
Nearly all the wrapper anomalies that aren’t attributable to mold or plume are caused by water appearing at inopportune times on the leaf. Most leaves that are damaged in this way never make it to the roller’s table, but occasionally they do. Often the resulting cigars are sold as seconds. Or Havanas.
Controlling moisture is essential. If a curing barn is too humid, there is a danger that the tobacco leaf will become mottled or will rot before drying. On the other hand, overly dry air inhibits the chemical transformations that are necessary for the tobacco to dry properly, leaving green traces of cholorophyll on the leaf. For these reasons, the veguero must open or close the casa’s doors accordingly, carefully maintaining a constant temperature and relative humidity inside.²
Green patches caused by imperfect curing are most commonly found on the delicate claro shade wrappers of Cuba and the Connecticut River Valley. They’re sometimes called “frog eyes” (not to be confused with the more damaging tobacco fungus called “frog-eye leafspot.”) They usually show up as small, relatively minor blemishes like those pictured here. They are clearly discolorations and not growths like mold.
It isn’t clear to me exactly what causes these green spots, but it appears that excess moisture at some point in the process causes patches or streaks in the leaf to resist curing.
“The rain prevented the tobacco from maturing the way it should,” says David Perez (of ASP in Ecuador.) “We had a lot of green spots, a lot less yield per acre…”
Tobacco grown during the El Niño years is easy to spot. Some is subtly marred, with a few green spots on the wrapper known as frog eyes. These spots usually aren’t detectable in the fields, but the eyes blossom in the curing barn as the moisture is drawn from the tobacco.³
While there doesn’t appear to be a singular cause of green spots, the important thing is that they really are harmless. They detract from the overall appearance of the wrapper, but they don’t affect the flavor or burning quality of an otherwise perfect cigar.
The other common imperfection of the harmless type is the water spot. These usually occur as very light yellowish-white circular patches that stand out against the light brown of a shade grown wrapper.
It is commonly believed that drops of rain water sitting on the leaf cause damage to the chlorophyll in the leaf, eventually affecting the curing process so that instead of degrading from green to brown, the pigment in the spot turns lighter than normal.
Spots are about the size of a pinhead, random, and generally lighter than the wrapper. Althrough there has been some debate about what causes the spots, the general concensus is that these are just splashes of water that have marred the leaf.
Remember that wrapper leaf is very delicate, and can be bruised by something as seemingly harmless as a steady pelting of rain. The spots of water then act as lenses to focus sunlight on these points and slightly discolor the leaf.4
The causes of wrapper imperfections are varied, and in the final analysis not all that important. What is important is to be able to differentiate between mold and harmless flaws. Mold can destroy a cigar, whereas small leaf spots are almost always harmless. And if you are lucky enough to have a blooming, pluming box of vintage smokes — then, my friend, you have done very well for yourself indeed.
- “Wrapped Up: Some of the World’s Best Cigars Use Connecticut Tobacco Wrapper Leaves” Cigar Aficionado, Winter 1992
- The Havana Cigar: Cuba’s Finest, Charles Del Tedesco. Abbeville Press, 1997
- “Land of Fire: Ecuadoran Cigar Wrapper Tobacco Thrives in a World of Volcanoes and Perpetual Cloud Cover” Cigar Aficionado, March/April 2000
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Cigars, Ted Gage. Alpha, 1997
36 thoughts on “Cigar Wrapper Issues: Mold, Bloom, and Spots”
I predict that this entry will get a lot of “hits” as well. I think cigar lovers of all levels have wondered about the various discolorations that affect their smokes. I know I have. Thanks for educating me about mold vs. bloom and the mysterious white and greens spots.
I’ve had these questions for a long time too! Hopefully others will find this information helpful, or at least a starting point for further research.
I’m sure you have another popular piece here. Well done! Informative and insightful.
There is another question in this vein that plagues me. Nothing visual but rather during the lighting of a cigar. Not regularly, but certainly often enough, I get a few draws at the beginning of an aged cigar which have a distinct “mildewy” characteristic. Immediately, my mind jumps to “how did I screw up the humification on this one?” or “I wonder if this may cause me health problems in later life?”. In nearly all cases, the nasty taste disappears and I can enjoy the rest of my cigar but always with this nagging feeling that I have just consumed something horrible.
Maybe if I smoke enough of this stuff my immune system will become strong enough to ward off any ill effects. Maybe I’ll die tomorrow. In any event, let me see what special little morsels I am going to smoke today!
Lucky7 — I haven’t had the mildew experience yet… but over the weekend some nicely aged sticks arrived at Chez Cigarfan so I will have to see what lies in store! (Gracias otra vez, amigo!)
What humidity level are you using to age your cigars long term?
Long-term for my corojo cigars (most Pepin’s and Camachos) I maintain at 64%-65% and all others are 68%-70%. Temps usually hover around 72 or 73 degrees (my wife is cold blooded). I have never had any mold (thank goodness). Once a month I open all the humis for 8 hours to room humidity (usually 40%) to allow for some breathing. I’ve heard they enjoy a little air now and again although they haven’t told me that directly. Sometimes I wish they could talk and tell me where my techniques could use improvement.
Thank you, thank you! As a relative newbie (10 months ago) to cigar appreciation, this was the most comprehensive comparitive essay (written and photo) I’ve run across. The green spot and water damage coverage were particularly useful. I won’t be so nervous about those smokes or tempted to throw them out!
Happy to help. Long ashes, Kat!
Oh thank you! this was just what i was looking for! I recently can’t get my humidor to balance our, i’ll get it at 70 put everything in and in three days it’ll be working its way towards 80, do you have any advice on setting this up right? i have a 100 count with only 45 in there now, could that have something to do with? But thank you i was curious about some of these, and the pictures were a great add!
Michael — I don’t think it’s the humidor size, or the number of sticks you have in there. More than likely it’s your humidification system. I would suggest you look into getting some humidity beads. They’re available in 60, 65, and 70%, and do a great job at maintaining whatever level humidity you desire, with relatively little maintenance. Heartfelt Industries is a great place to take a look at these. Good luck!
Yes heartfelt beads are great. I have a 250 count Whynter cigar cooler with the thermoelectric cooling fan so as not to dry out the stogies and it works great. Since this fridgeador is so big though it has a lot of space to contend with even though I use the Heartfelt beads making steady constant humidity levels very tedious. So I broke the bank and just purchased an Adorni cigar heaven 2nd generation electronic humidifier with microprocessors a rechargeable ion battery pack and a state of the art capacitor sensor. This beautiful humidifier is built for up to 500 ct humidors and is actually used in the world’s most expensive humidor because of its cutting edge technology and awesome durability. I figure it’s worth the money I mean I heard the cheaper plastic electronic humidifiers break down after less than a year and are not that accurate so I might as well pony up the right cash and invest in a proper premium top of the line humidifier. Well I am excited as its on its way to my house as we speak, wish me luck all and same to all my brothers of the leaf. Happy puffing and lets all try and figure out a way to just sit back relax and enjoy our wonderful hobby without any stress and “may the plume be with you” grasshoppers!
ahh, thank you! I have seen them before, but have been looking around for other possible solutions. I think I’ll do the beads.
Really bad, what water does to cigars or tabacco 😦
I would like to ask your permission to link you to my blog. Kindly let me know and this is one of the most helpful cigar blog around! Thanks for the great post. T
Certainly! And thank you for your kind words. I’ve been meaning to learn something about tea, so I’m going to get familiar with your site. It looks really interesting.
Thanks again cigarfan for the permission.
I am glad we can learn from each others experience. Here is my paring with tea:
Cheers – T
great post. I recently bought a 5 pack of cohiba red dots and when I opened them I saw several small yellow/white spots. My heart sunk but they were identical to the water marks in the article picture so you have lifted my concerns and I thank you for that. I will monitor them to make sure but thanks to you im 99 percent sure thats what it is. no problems. Thanks again
You must have found the extremely limited release Cohiba yellow/white dot edition! 🙂 Enjoy ’em!
Can you clarify if this is sarcasm or not? I just bought some Cohiba’s that have what look like water spots on the wrapper. Thank you so much! Very helpful information!
Hey nice post. A question, even though you have great information how can you be sure about all this?
Research. That’s why there are references cited. Unless this is a philosophical question? 🙂
After I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now whenever a comment is added I receive 4 emails with the same comment. There has to be a way you can remove me from that service? Cheers!
Thanks, these explain the light green patches on my Montecristo #4’s I was looking at today. I believe alot of cigars sold at a good price in Cuba is in an example of this. I got a box for under 100$ from a cigar factory, so I would think they were imperfect cigars they sell at a discount. Same with Cohiba’s, people get boxes of esplandido’s for 175$-225$ right from a cigar factory, which alot of people will say makes them counterfiet, but they taste just as good as the ones you pay 400$ for.
Not sure if this forum is still relevant but i just opened a fresh box of cigars bought from a local skoke shop. Grape games. Ive used about half of the packs in less than 4 days… i pulled out a pack and went to split one and found a peice of fuzzy hair coming out of one side l. It was about an inch long, white and soft
Fuzzy hair an inch long isn’t mold. I think we might need to send in our CSI team for that one. Special Agent Snoop will arrive shortly to investigate.
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