Pipe Tobacco 101

Discussion in 'Pipe Smokers Forum' started by BigJake6904, Mar 24, 2008.

  1. BigJake6904

    BigJake6904 Fat Texan

    Pipe Tobacco 101
    Information for Newer Smokers

    When selecting a pipe tobacco for the first time, one is generally unfamiliar with pipe terms, blends, and the different classifications of pipe tobacco. I suggest talking to your local tobacconist, however, I hope to provide you all with enough information to where you can get started by yourselves, come to your own conclusions and generalizations. However, the best teacher is also experience.

    After smelling or smoking different "popular" tobaccos, you will have a good understanding on what to expect from them. It will be necessary in the long run to smoke as many different blends or brands as you can so you develop a good understanding of the pipe tobacco flavors as opposed to cigar flavors. The great thing about a pipe is that most "bulk" blends cost no more than $3 an ounce, so it's not as if your pipe tobacco investment would be a waste at first, at least until you branch out into some of the "tin" tobaccos.

    Pipe tobaccos are classified into two general branches, aromatics and non-aromatics. Non-aromatics are commonly referred to as Scottish or English blends that are generally "caked" or pressed tobaccos that release the naturally occurring sugars in the tobacco giving it it's distinct flavors. Second, the aromatic tobaccos,which rely largely on the application of sugar syrups for their flavor. Most pipe smoker usually graduates over time from aromatics to non-aromatics, as many cigar smokers graduate from acid's or white owls to "non-flavored" stogies.

    All pipe tobaccos start from the same plant, though this is hard for one to believe. The tobaccos adapt to different surroundings, soils and clinates and are all dependent on different curing methods, depending on location. Blending different tobaccos is similar to cooking. Depending on what flavor one is searching for (BBQ, Peaches and Cream, French Vanilla, Etc...) there is a different blend of tobaccos that suit most flavors. I would suggest if you are new to this, seeking help from a more experienced pipe smoker or tobacconist as to what different blends can give you what flavors. Remember, the aroma of a tobacco does not always give a good indicator as to what it smokes like.

    Keep in mind, pipe tobacco is not like the cigar tobacco. A dark "looking" blend does not mean it will necessarily be a heavy smoke like most maduros usually indicate in cigars.

    For those of you interested in a little history and bit of flavor information of different tobaccos, I found these descriptions (found below) that are a little more in depth than my own personal descriptions (Found in Pipesmoker Magazine, written by Mary McNeil). For many aromatics, different types of these tobaccos are blended together. Not everything with Virginia in it is a "Straight Virginia" (Pipe Tobacco only made with Virginia) for example there can be a Virginia/ Perique or a Virginia/ Burley blend. The ability to mix and match the tobaccos adds all the more excitement to the hobby.

    VIRGINIA. One of America's first cash crops, Virginia tobacco was grown initially by the Jamestown colony, from imported Central American seed, and exported exclusively to England. It is possible that we would not be an English speaking nation but for Virginia tobacco and its importance to the survival of that first colony.

    Most of today's Virginia is flue-cured to preserve its bright yellow, orange or red color, and its oiliness, and Subtle sweetness. This curing method pumps smokeless heat into the airtight tobacco barn through metal flues or ducts. The best Virginia tobaccos today, matured in pressed cakes and therefore called matured Virginias, have a subtle sweetness and a delicate fruit-like flavor. They are rather tangy and pleasant on the palate, reminiscent of a mild salsa. The best matured Virginias are naturally sweet and clean-smoking tobaccos that fill the mouth with flavor. You will notice a flavor curve that is zesty at light up and then turns richer as the tobacco is smoked.

    Virginia tobaccos are also important components of English Mixtures and aromatic, flavored blends.

    MARYLAND. Maryland tobacco is light air-cured and, therefore, a dull brown color. It is bland in flavor but has a nice, light texture and good burning qualities. Never especially popular in the United States or England, most Maryland tobacco traditionally has been exported to Switzerland, Germany, and France. The Maryland colony exercised special sovereign rights to export directly to France and the Netherlands. Perhaps this is why traditional Danish and Dutch Cavendish cake tobaccos, based on Maryland-style leaf, were made by adding sugars from the outset, whereas the English found it easy to go "natural" with naturally-sweet Virginia.

    BURLEY. Today's burley tobacco is all descended from the White Burley Mutation discovered by Ohio tobacco grower, George Webb, in 1864. It has a rich, nutty flavor and a certain gusto. Burley is light air-cured, with a brown appearance and a dull or matte finish. Most burley, which has virtually no sugar of its own, is "cased" or flavored with sugars of one kind or another and this rich, full-flavored tobacco has traditionally been the base of the majority of American-style sweetened blends.

    When smoked, cased burley starts light, mellow, and mildly nutty, with no sharpness. If it is of good quality and has been handled properly, it will produce a rich, full flavor somewhat like sweet oatmeal or granola, with a caramel character coming from the burnt sugars.

    ORIENTAL. This naturally aromatic, heady tobacco comes not from the modern Orient (the Far East), but from the old Orient, the Near East-Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and other Eastern Mediterranean countries. The finest Oriental, often called "Turkish" tobacco, has a flavor that is delicately spicy. Used in small quantities, it gives to "English" or "Oriental" mixtures a sweet, yet piquant character.

    Sun-cured Oriental leaf has a greenish-yellow to golden brown color. Second only to flue-cured Virginia in natural sugar content, the finest Orientals from Greece and Turkey are mildly sweet and have an herbal or spicy character with an incense-like aroma.

    LATAKIA. Latakia is sun-cured like other Oriental leaf and then hung in dense smoke from wood fires of oak, pine, myrtle, or cypress until blackened, a process that can take two months. The different woods impart different flavors.

    Latakia has an intense, incense-like fragrance but is surprisingly soft on the palate. It is cool-smoking and relatively tasteless in the middle range, an excellent condiment tobacco, basic to the natural Oriental or English mixtures. Usually, the fuller the mixture, the more Latakia is used.

    PERIQUE. Perique is a deeply aromatic tobacco with a fragrance somewhere between cooked fruit (prunes) and sautéed mushrooms. Like latakia, perique is a naturally fermented condiment tobacco and, as such, is used rather sparingly. Its rich, black color and leathery texture belie its delicate flavor.

    Before fermentation, perique appears most like Kentucky burley. During fermentation, the tobacco steeps in its own juices for 10 months before further aging. Perique is the truffle of tobaccos, rare and precious for its distinctive pungency.

    STOVED VIRGINIA. Not all that is black in an English mixture is latakia or perique. Bright flue-cured Virginias, blackened by cooking or stoving, create a measure of richness and a mellow, fruity sweetness in many natural, aged blends. Stoved Virginia has the type of richness we associate with dark chocolates. It imparts an aroma similar to warm chutney.

    CAVENDISH. Here's a term that is used so broadly with so many different nuances that Webster could spend a whole page in the subcategories of definition. Briefly, Dutch Cavendish is generally a mixture of different component leaves such as burley, Virginia, and Maryland, that have been flavored and pressed into cakes to age. Any tobacco that has been treated in this manner can be called a Cavendish.

    The term "Cavendish" also refers to the cut which is characteristic of matured Virginias and burley plug. The pressed cakes in which the leaves are aged are cut into bars and then the bars are cross-cut into thick or thin slices called flakes.

    BLACK CAVENDISH. Most black cavendishes that form the base of many American-style aromatics are sweetened, stoved versions of certain burley tobaccos from Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as some dark air-cured tobaccos from central Virginia. The best have a caramel flavor, reminiscent of syrupy pancakes-mild, sweet, full-flavored but with a slight aftertaste similar to the burnt taste on toasted marshmallows.

    Now that you know your components, you are ready to select a new smoking tobacco. Knowledgeable tobacconists will be your invaluable allies in this new adventure because, even when you learn to name the style of tobacco you want, you will need their experience to select a product likely to please you.

    You may find that, as the seasons change from warmer to cooler, and the day passes from morning into evening, you will want to change from a lighter to a more full-flavored tobacco. Keep smaller amounts of several tobaccos on hand rather than a large quantity of any one product. You don't want to eat the same thing at every meal and, in all likelihood, you will want variety in your pipe tobaccos.

    To give tobaccos an adequate trial, it is necessary to smoke all of them under similar conditions. Try them at various times of the day and year, always in clean, rested pipes of the same quality. Let your tobacconist help you to fill, light, and tamp the pipe properly so that the tobacco draws and burns slowly and evenly throughout, as would a fine, hand-rolled cigar.

    The smoke shop environment provides the best opportunity for you to become a connoisseur. There are distinctions in flavor and quality in all types of tobaccos, from the heady aromatics to the clean-smoking, naturally-aged ones. Discovering the subtle and interesting flavors of the full range of pipe tobaccos available from the different manufacturers is great fun, as many pleasant smoking experiences will be found, and fond memories created, on the road to that elusive perfect blend.

    For Individuals that want to get into pipe smoking, I will make a few recommendations for aromatics and a nice non aromatic to graduate to that are largely available, carried by most pipe stores or b&m's, and that a large majority of pipe smokers seem to enjoy. I am not going to reccomend "tinned" tobaccos as those generally run more expensive and while getting into pipe smoking one should test with flavors and blends before investing a lot of money on a blend or flavor you may not enjoy.

    Most of these blends are Made by Lane Limited or Peter and Stokkebye. I reccomend these to start with as they are usually the most common and readily available blends in cigar stores and tobacconists that aren't the more premium tobaccos. Without further adieu:

    Lane Limited 1Q - A mild to medium Virgina/ Cavendish
    Lane Limited Hazelnut - A very mild Virginia/ Burley (Discontinued, get it while you can)
    Lane Limited BCA - A mild Cavendish
    Lane Limited LL7 - A mild Virginia/ Cavendish/ Burley (Discontinued, get it while you can)
    Peter and Stokkebye Balkan Supreme - Cavendish/ Virginia/ Latakia/ Oriental
    Stanwell Melange - Very Very Sweet, almost a molasses and pancake smell

    Dunhill Early Morning Pipe
    Dunhill Nightcap
    Lane Limited HGL - Similar to the tinned "Dunhill Nightcap" - A Medium to full Cavendish/ Latakia/ Burley/ Virginia
    Mac Baren Virginia No. 1
    Peter and Stokkebye Navy Flake
    Peter and Stokkebye Twist Flake
    Peter and Stokkebye Virginia Long Cut - medium blend of 7 different Virginia tobaccos

    Once you find a basic flavor profile or combination of different tobaccos that you, your nose, your palate, and in many cases your spouse enjoy, then it is time to graduate to the more premium tobaccos. The reason many of the cost more is because of the quality of the tobacco. I have commonly found that tin tobaccos have less "bite" meaning they burn cooler in the pipe. If the tobacco does not burn your tounge, then it is usually a cool burning tobacco. Tobaccos that are very hot have a lot of "bite" and usually won't allow you to drink carbonated beverages (which some of us love to do) while smoking because it intensifies the burn and stings the tounge.
  2. BigJake6904

    BigJake6904 Fat Texan

    Tin tobaccos usually come in 2 different forms, pressed (Flakes, Slices, Curlies, Plugs, Bullseyes, Cakes, Etc..) or shredded (The General Pipe Tobacco Form). Generally you won't find "bulk" tobaccos that are caked or flaked, however, there are a few that do exist. Typically, it is more popular for tins to be of a pressed nature, though there are some that are shredded. I'd say it's probably a 65% Pressed to 35% shredded deviation.

    As Noted above, Pressed tobaccos release the naturally occurring sugars in the tobacco giving it it's distinct flavors. Many pressed tobaccos usually aren't aromatics, as it is significantly more difficult from a manufacturers standpoint to produce a decent and well balanced aromatic cake. So by rule of thumb, with few exceptions, Cake and Flake (pressed) tobaccos are usually the more traditional non-aromatic "english" blends, whereas shredded tinned tobacco is generally of a more aromatic nature.

    Tinned tobaccos are generally more expensive than "bulk blends." Keep in mind you are not only paying for quality, but the time and effort put into developing such a blend. Blending a good pipe tobacco is an extremely complicated process, and it requires talent, experience, and lots of patience. Having in mind the kind of blend that is required, the blender should consider, among other things: the taste, color tones, aroma, combustibility, humidity, cut, and feel of each blending tobacco, and then the same aspects all over again to evaluate the final product before offering it on the market. Good blends could take up to years to make and test before they land into your pipe, this is why they generally cost a lot more.

    In addition, while factoring cost, tin tobaccos are vacuum sealed which preserve their humidity and won't allow them to dry out and burn too hot.
    Dunhill Nightcap Tin (50g) If your tobacco is dry and unhumidified, then it will burn very hot and have "bite" which will in effect burn and sting your tounge. If the tobacco is over humidified, or too "wet" it will consistently go out on you and you will find yourself constantly relighting the pipe, which can be quite the hassle. This is typically why tinned tobacco is sold in such smaller quantities, usually not exceeding 100g, with of course, a few exceptions.

    Popular Tinned Tobaccos to get started with: (Descriptions from pipesandcigars.com)

    WO Larsen - Signature Mixture Tin (100g) A Danish Mixture blended with flue cured tobaccos from regions in Malawi and Virginia as well as Burley from Mexico and kentucky. Mellow Black Cavendish is added to round out the blend.

    WO Larsen - 1864 Perfect Mix Tin (100g) A modern version of an older Larsen with select Virginias from 3 continents. Fermented Black Cavendish and premium Burleys have been added for a seductive and delicate taste.

    Stanwell - Melange Tin (50g) Black Cavendish, toasted Burley, Orientals and bright Virginia are gently mixed with apricot and natural sweetness. Soft and mellow with a pleasing aroma and a delicate taste. Traditional flake slice cut.

    CAO - Blue Note Tin(50g) Mild, Golden Virginias which possess a naturally high sweetness, are mixed with a very mild Black Cavendish. These tobaccos are aged for weeks together in a pressed cake. A fresh flavor with essences of exotic fruits and a touch of Bourbon Vanilla is added to make this an extraordinarily mild blend.

    McClelland - Frog Morton on the Town Tin (100g) This is a softer Frog Morton blend. Frog Morton formulated this exceptionally mellow blend, fragrant with basma, smooth and rich with Latakia for his evening at the opera. This is a new blend and hailed as exceptional by all lovers of Frog Morton

    Dunhill - Nightcap Tin (50g) A mottled blackish-brown base with medium and light brown specks and threads throughout. For those who like the dark and strong stuff, this is great. There is *lots* of latakia (I think I read 50% somewhere) for a strong, smooth, smoky taste that gets peppery toward the bottom of the bowl thanks to the addition of perique. The flavour is relatively straightforward, not sweet and a tad bitter, tempered by very subtle Oriental perfumes (as in Sobranie's 759), which I find are just barely detectable at the beginning of the smoke. I like the way that its flavour develops strength and fullness while smoking. A medium cut blend that smokes dry to a fine light grey ash; slow burning.

    Dan Tobacco - Da Vinci Tin (50g) A delightful blend of light Virginia grades combined with Black Cavendish. Infused with Tuscan red wine, this blend has a pleasant aroma.

    Dunhill - Early Morning Pipe Tin (50g) Sweet Oriental carefully blended with Bright and Red Virginias, pressed and lightly stoved. Great as the `first pipe` arousing the palate for the further pleasures of the day.

    Dan Tobacco - Devils Holiday Tin (50g) Inspired by the 30's and 40's Swing music from the CD of the same name, our master tobacco blender has created this raven-black smoking mixture full of aromatic mysteries. Smooth and creamy Black Cavendish with a few tips of fluffy Golden Virginia, topped with a most refined flavour composition of tasty wild forest berries. Slow burning with pleasingly cool and gentle smoke full of fresh aroma and wonderful scent. Hellishly mild and heavenly delicious. There's music in the air.
  3. LilBastage

    LilBastage Meat is murder! Tasty, tasty murder.

    Excellent post! Very informative and just what this section of CP needed.

  4. bigwhiteash

    bigwhiteash Binge Responsibly

    Outstanding post, should be pinned :)
  5. edng

    edng New Member

    THANK YOU THANK YOU .....and THANK YOU so much for such a great tutorial that makes it easy for beginners like myself ! The other pipe-dedicated forums are great too but they rarely speak in layman terms like this and too often in bits and pieces here and there that only the initiated/experienced understands

    Thank you again.... please dont stop
  6. edng

    edng New Member

    THANK YOU THANK YOU .....and THANK YOU so much for such a great tutorial that makes it easy for beginners like myself ! The other pipe-dedicated forums are great too but they rarely speak in layman terms like this and too often in bits and pieces here and there that only the initiated/experienced understands

    Thank you again.... please dont stop
  7. BigJake6904

    BigJake6904 Fat Texan

    I will be working on the tinned tobacco portion (which won't nearly be as long) this afternoon. Should be finished by this evening.

    Your Welcome.

  8. CPT/VSG

    CPT/VSG New Member

    Terrific post. I second bigwhiteash's motion to pin.
  9. Dios de Fuego

    Dios de Fuego My drive to crazy isn't far.

    Jake excellent Commentary!
  10. joshmickelson

    joshmickelson New Member

    thanks for this post, very informative!
  11. DavidRat

    DavidRat New Member

    Thanks for taking the time to write this post. Good and useful information. I've been a pipe smoker as long as I have a cigar smoker and find that each has a different appeal and utility for me.
  12. Humidor Minister

    Humidor Minister New Member

    Fantastic post. I tried my first pipe last night. Your post helps me understand what to look forward to. Thank you.
  13. creamsherry

    creamsherry New Member

    [sub]what upsets me is I think pipe tobacco sales have gone way way down since the days of my grandpas. case in point, I'm in my mid to upper 30's now, and I was smoking pipe tobacco at 15. borkum riff, half and half, where are these today? All I can see as I wondered back to what I have loved all these yrs is big bags of flavored stuff or big bags nevertheless. Just give me original borkum riff and I am fine!! Let me add to that: original or the bourbon whiskey blend![/sub]
  14. Puros Locos

    Puros Locos Permanent FNG

    I'm expecting my first pipe soon and came across this post. Very informative. I'm sure I will be refering to this again. Thanks Jake
  15. Pipe Smoker

    Pipe Smoker Member

    I share you sentiment (bring back Edgeworth Ready Rubbed!!!), though I have good news, your two examples are still readily available. Pipesandcigars.com has both (half and half is under "All Time Favorites". My CVS actually stocks Borkrum Riff along with Carter Hall and Captain Black.

    Also, while its true that pipe smoking's heyday may be behind us, with blenders like McClellands, GL Pease, and the Cornell & Diehl I think we are experiencing a bit of a pipe smoking renascence.
  16. mickey2

    mickey2 New Member

    Wow this thread taught me everything, feels like a pro. Thanks to the contributors. 
  17. WindingDown

    WindingDown Member

    Very helpful post!!
    Given how cold the Buffalo winters were (and still are) I bought myself a corncob pipe when I was out at the University of Buffalo back in the day (2008-2009 semester) as a substitute to cigars. I figured I could stick  a smaller amount of tobacco in and have a quick (15 mins) relax session before hypothermia set in as opposed to a cigar which would have kept me out for 1 hour plus. Between frequent (probably incorrect) use I quickly burnt out the pipe and never bought another one. Long story short, back then I lost interest in pipes and found interest in Keystone Light, but, a conversation with a coworker today had brought back the memory of pipe smoking and how much I actually enjoyed it. I had aromatics and loved the smell but at that time my tastes in cigars were more of the light-medium/medium which has now changed to med-full/full.
    It is my intention to buy a pipe and some tobacco. The question I pose to those of you who smoke cigars and pipes is: do you find you enjoy the non-aromatics more in favor of the full tobacco flavors you seek in cigars or do you smoke pipe tobacco far different in taste compared to the cigars you prefer to smoke?
  18. punk_lawyer

    punk_lawyer Habeas Punkus

    That's a good question.  There are so many varieties of pipe tobacco that even saying aromatic brings up a huge number of options.  There is one aromatic that I keep around because it's of sentimental / nostalgic value to me.  Pipe tobacco is just plain different than smoking cigars.  Sure, non-aromatic is more appealing to me but I cannot trace that to cigar smoking. 
  19. bfreebern

    bfreebern Yada, Yada, Yada.

    It's a funny dynamic.  I don't like flavored cigars, but I do enjoy a few aromatic pipe tobaccos.  For me, it has more to do with the same sentimental/nostalgic reasons as the lawyer dude.  My grandfather smoked a pipe for years and the smells/process/cleaning/etc is something special to me.  Fall is the time I pick up the pipe and enjoy it until it gets deep into winter. 
  20. WindingDown

    WindingDown Member

    It's a funny dynamic.  I don't like flavored cigars, but I do enjoy a few aromatic pipe tobaccos.  For me, it has more to do with the same sentimental/nostalgic reasons as the lawyer dude.  My grandfather smoked a pipe for years and the smells/process/cleaning/etc is something special to me.  Fall is the time I pick up the pipe and enjoy it until it gets deep into winter. 

    Thank you both for the perspective. I think the best part of a pipe for me at the time was the aromatics which acted almost like aromatherapy. I do however think that I now would certainly appreciate a fuller more pure tobacco flavor profile. Thanks again for your thoughts!

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