What is the Cigar Pinch Test?

September 2, 2015

What is the Cigar Pinch Test?

The freshness of a cigar is not always obvious to the eye, so aficionados employ several different checks, like the Pinch Test, to help determine how fresh a cigar is.

Let’s explore the pinch test, how to tell if a cigar is dry and some other ways to know if your cigar is ready to smoke, as well as a few different ways to keep your prized smokes factory fresh.

Do cigars go bad?

Cigars unfortunately can and do go bad.  They can go bad in one of two ways: being too damp or too dry.  If your smoke is not humidified properly for an extended period of time, it can be beyond salvage and your smoking experience will be nowhere near as good as it should be.  However, it is possible in some cases to revive a bad cigar back to its desired freshness, if it is not too far gone.


What is the cigar pinch test?

Plainly put, the cigar pinch test is a simple test of the firmness of the tobaccos in a cigar.  A top-quality fresh cigar that is maintained at the perfect humidity, which is somewhere between 67% to 72% RH, should have a bit of give when lightly squeezed and should return to its original shape.

However, not every cigar is going to have the same density; some will have extra give to them, while others are densely packed and firm.  The most important aspect is not necessarily how spongey the cigar is, but rather the consistency of the sponginess over the whole stick from the head to the foot.

How do I do a cigar pinch test?

The pinch test is an incredibly simple test to check the freshness of your favorite handmade premium cigars.  To perform the pinch test, gently squeeze the foot of your cigar between your thumb and pointer finger.  Then, make your way up to the head, squeezing as you go to check the consistency and for any soft spots

It is important to be exceptionally gentle with the cigar when doing the pinch test; squeeze too hard and you could damage the wrapper and destroy the top-notch artistry that went into creating it.  Little can be done to salvage a cigar once its wrapper has become severely cracked or damaged.



The cigar should be firm but elastic, stiff but with a bit of bounce.  What’s more, the amount of tobacco can tell you a lot about the state of the tobacco resting within.

If your cigar is exceptionally firm when squeezed and you can see or hear cracking, that is a sign that your cigar may be too dry.  If your cigar is very spongey and soft and perhaps does not return to its original shape, the cigar is likely over-humidified.

In both cases, the cigar should yield to your squeeze in a consistent manner throughout the cigar, and if you experience a cigar that is too dry or not dry enough can potentially be revived.

However, if the density is inconsistent it could mean that your cigar is either over-or underfilled and will likely experience some burn issues which will detract from your smoking experience.

Why does a cigar need to be fresh?

Cigars need to be maintained at constant, favorable humidity.  The most basic rule is 70/70, meaning your baseline for storage should be around 70 degrees at 70% relative humidity.

Smokes that are over-humidified are susceptible to mold and tobacco beetles, and if infected with either you can kiss that top-shelf cigar goodbye.  Over-humidified cigars will also taste musty and will burn unevenly, keeping you from getting the best out of your smoke.

Cigars that are far too dry will burn hot and fast, and have a bitter, dusty taste that will be unpleasant.  Under-humidified smokes can also be brittle and prone to damage; dry wrappers will often crack and can even completely unravel.

But just because a cigar is over or under humidified does not necessarily mean it is a lost cause.  It can be brought back from the brink and revived to near its former glory.  The pinch test will help you determine if your top-rated cigar is ready to smoke, needs some work, or is bound for the trash.

What other tests can I try to work out if a cigar is fresh?

One of the other ways to test the freshness of your cigar is the hearing test.  This test involves lightly spinning the cigar in your hand while listening for any rustling.

Since tobacco is a leaf, you should expect there to be a little bit of rustling, like a slight breeze passing through a tree.  But it should not be so loud that it sounds like the crackling of stepping on autumn leaves, which can mean that your cigar is too dry.

Cigars should also smell like tobacco; if a cigar smells stale or dusty it is likely under-humidified, but it can possibly be saved by keeping it properly humidified over some time.  However, if a cigar smells moldy it is best to just throw the stick away, as there is no way to salvage a cigar infected by mold.

The Cigar Pinch Test


There are also a couple of visual cues to tell you the freshness of your cigar.  If your cigar is moldy, unfortunately, it is done for and should be thrown out.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, cigars that are too dry may have cracks in the wrapper or have an extremely matte finish.

How do I keep my cigars fresh?

The most sure-fire way to keep your favorite premium cigars fresh is by storing them in a humidor that is properly humidified.  To properly maintain the relative humidity in your humidor, you will need some form of humidifying device or a Boveda Pack to keep the humidity consistent.  Your humidor should also have a tight seal so that no air is exchanged between the humidor and the rest of the room.

If you do not have the space for or even want a humidor, cigars can have their freshness maintained by storing them in a resealable bag or mason jar along with a damp (not wet) sponge.  The moisture from the sponge will humidify the air within the container, and the tight seal will prevent the moist air from escaping.

Cigars can also be kept in airtight plastic food containers like Tupperware along with a humidifying device.  Such a setup is affectionately referred to as a “Tupperdore”.  Similar storage options include the use of a cooler or unplugged mini-fridge, which are really good at maintaining an inside/outside barrier.

What do I do if a cigar doesn’t feel fresh?

If your cigar does not feel as fresh as you think it ought to be, there are a couple of different ways to revive them back to the desired amount of humidity.  What you do depends on if your cigar is too dry or too damp.

If your cigar is too dry, it can be wrapped in a damp paper towel overnight to quickly introduce new moisture to the cigar.  However, doing so too quickly can result in the wrapper getting cracked from the fillers expanding faster than the wrapper.

Another way to humidify a dried-out cigar is to keep it in a resealable bag with a damp sponge.  Essentially, any method that introduces moisture to a closed environment will revive your cigars, the same as any practice that will maintain your prized stogies at a consistent moisture content.

If your cigar is too damp, there are far fewer options to bring it down to the appropriate humidity.  All that can really be done is let them rest in a dry environment in a resealable bag to slow the moisture exchange.  If a cigar is dehumidified too fast, the wrapper could become loose around the core and will wrinkle or even unravel.

If I had to choose between my cigars being over humidified or under humidified, I would err on under humidified.  Dry cigars can be smoked as is, even if they will not be nearly as good if they were at proper humidity, and are not at risk for a tobacco beetle or mold infestation.  Dry cigars can also be revived and are more pliable regarding how they can be treated.  With soggy cigars, the options for a fix are few and far between.

But no matter what freshness issue you may face, the Pinch Test will be your go-to quick check to ensure the freshness of the next premium cigar you smoke.


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