We have all experienced tunneling whether you know it or not, and it’s not a fun experience. This blog will help you understand it a little more and better yet, how to avoid it as much as possible!
So what exactly is tunneling? The best way to describe it would be a huge hole in the middle of your cigar. If your cigar is burning too fast in the middle, it’s tunneling.
What does this mean? It means that the filler tobaccos in your cigar are burning at a faster rate than the binder and wrapper leaf, leaving the center of your cigar hollowed out while you’re smoking. Again, it kinda looks like a black hole and no matter what you do, it just keeps burning that way. Sometimes, this could be fixed, but oftentimes I honestly toss it and try again with another cigar. It's important to remember that cigars are a premium handmade product, and humans aren't perfect. This can occasionally lead to “under-filling” the cigar which creates an air pocket.
The “extra” air superheats the cigar which negatively impacts the flavor. When you puff on a cigar that’s tunneling, the flavor will be off because the tobaccos are burning out of sync. This interferes greatly with a cigar’s balance. Remember that a cigar is a recipe and it's meant to be smoked a certain way for it to taste right. The cigar will also produce less smoke, making you think it’s struggling to stay lit, but that’s not the case. It’s easiest to fix a tunneling burn on a cigar if we can diagnose why the filler is burning too fast – or, why the wrapper and binder are burning too slowly.
If you have just begun to re-humidify a dry cigar by putting it in your humidor, make sure you give it enough time to fully humidify. This could take several days, or even weeks to accomplish. The wrapper and binder will absorb moisture first, and it will take some time for the humidity to reach the filler. If a cigar is dried out and you try to smoke it too soon, it can tunnel if the wrapper and binder are moist, but the filler is still dry. Fire tends to favor dry things, it will burn at a faster rate. If your cigar is over-humidified, leave it to rest outside your humidor for a bit before smoking it. When excess moisture dissipates, the wrapper, binder, and filler tobaccos should burn at an even pace. Once you know that your cigar is in the proper stage to smoke, here are some steps you can take to avoid a bad smoking experience.
Light Your Cigar Correctly
When you’re lighting your cigar, light the entire foot evenly. Start by slowly and gently toasting the foot, then focus on the outer edge of the foot, and work your way into the center. If you only focus your flame on the center of the cigar and you neglect the edges, your cigar can tunnel as it burns. Remember that this is the ritual of properly enjoying a cigar so don’t rush this step. Take your time and enjoy the process. If your cigar is well made, an uneven burn could self-correct after a few minutes of smoking in most cases. However, it’s best to not bank on that and create an even burn from the very first puffs. You can see how evenly lit your cigar is if you blow into the foot as you’re lighting, the cherry will light up and you will be able to see non-lit spots. Once you’ve been puffing for a while if you notice that one side is burning faster than the other, perform a touch up with your lighter so that your cigar won’t canoe.
* IMPORTANT use the heat, not the flame to toast, light and touch up your cigar.
When you wait too long in between puffs, you risk your cigar tunneling, burning poorly, or going out. We know it’s easy to get carried away in a conversation or scroll through the gram and forget about your cigar if you’ve set it in the ashtray. I’d recommend you take a puff every 45 seconds - 1 minute to keep an even burn. When you puff constantly, you will create an even burn, which makes for even ash, which results in a cooler and more balanced cherry. This will help prevent tunneling and many other problems.
However, there is a balance, puffing too frequently and too hard will superheat the “cherry” and create a bitter and acrid taste. This cadence of how slow or fast you need to smoke comes with experience. Don’t rush the process, slow down, pay attention and your cigars will instantly taste better for it.
Smoking cigars is like performing a manual trick on tony hawk underground, in order to have the best experience, you have to find that perfect balance, it’s a combination of lighting properly and not smoking too fast, but also not forgetting about your cigar and letting it nearly go out before taking another puff. Relighting causes issues, and most of the time will make your cigar taste terrible if you don’t use a proper relighting technique.
Below is how your cigar should look if you've found your perfect smoke-to-rest ratio after a proper light.
I hope this helps you avoid tunneling and maximize the enjoyment of your stogies!