Pipe Smoking—The Tobacco
“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis
In this series, I’ve been going through the steps of smoking a pipe (we’ll get to the theological part of this later on). The last two posts were all about procuring a pipe, the different parts of a pipe, and some tools you’ll need to smoke your pipe. This post is about what you put into your pipe—the tobacco.
Like the previous article on the diversity of pipe shapes, there are a variety of tobaccos, too. Below is a list of some of the more common tobaccos you’ll encounter. A more comprehensive list can be found here.
Virginia: By a wide margin, Virginias make up the bulk of most pipe tobacco today. It’s a naturally sweet tobacco that’s easy to light. However, Virginias can burn hot so smoking slowly is a must.
Burley: Burley is used mostly in cigarettes but you’ll find it in a lot of aromatic blends. It comes in “white” and “dark” varieties and is a cool, slow burning tobacco. However, Burley has really high nicotine compared to other tobaccos.
Cavendish: Technically speaking, Cavendish isn’t a tobacco but a way of processing Virginia and Burley tobaccos. It’s created by steaming the tobacco and then storing the steamed tobacco under pressure for a long time allowing the tobacco to ferment.
Latakia: This is a deep, smoky, earthy tobacco that originated in the Syrian fishing port of Latakia, but it’s currently grown in Cyprus. The tobacco is harvested and cured over fires of aromatic woods and spices. While one’s encouraged not to smoke Latakia by itself, you’ll find it in virtually all English blends. It reminds me of the incense used in an Orthodox church service.
Perique: Perique is another spicy tobacco and it’s only grown in one place—St. James Parish, Louisiana. Technically, it, too, is a way of processing tobacco. The tobacco (usually Burley but sometimes Virginia) is encased in wooden barrels for over a year to produce the peppery taste. It’s used mostly in combination with Virginia tobaccos sometimes called a “Va/Per”.
Just as there are different tobaccos, the combinations of those tobaccos create different tobacco blends. Those blends can be categorized simply as aromatic and non-aromatic.
Aromatic: Aromatic tobaccos are generally a blend of different tobaccos that have a casing and/or topping added to produce a different scent or added flavor other than the natural scent and flavor of the tobacco. Some of the most popular top notes are vanilla, cherry, whiskey, amaretto, and chocolate. Some of the top selling aromatic tobaccos are: Lane Limited: 1Q, Mac Baren: Mixture: Scottish Blend, and Dan Tobacco: Blue Note.
Non-aromatic: Non-aromatic tobaccos are pretty much everything else.1 They, too, can be made up of different blends of tobacco, e.g., virginia, perique, latakia, etc. But the big difference between them and aromatic tobaccos is they don’t have any casing or flavoring added.1 It’s just the natural taste and fragrance of the tobaccos. Some of the best selling non-aromatic tobaccos are: Peter Stokkebye: Luxury Navy Flake, Dunhill: Early Morning Pipe, and McClelland: 5100 - Red Cake.
Pipe tobacco, like the pipe itself, is very individualistic. Some people love aromatics while others can’t stand them. There are some people who only like English blends while others only like va/pers. Most people, however, generally speaking, fall into either the aromatic or non-aromatic categories. And while some people think that one should only buy “tin” tobaccos (tobacco in a vacuum sealed tin), others think that bulk tobaccos are just fine. But don’t let any of this fussing get confusing. I’ve found that pipe tobacco enthusiasts are a lot like car enthusiasts—some people love Chevy’s while others think their junk.
So, which blend should you try?
Well that’s the question, isn’t it. Some people say that a person coming into pipe smoking should start out on aromatic blends. Even though that’s the way I started (or, perhaps, in spite of that fact), now I’m not so sure. I think what might be best is to start out with a really mild English blend, like Kramer’s Extra Smooth or Sutliff’s Light English. Or perhaps an aromatic English blend, like Two Friends Chocolate English or Kramer’s Blend for Cary Grant. Or, even still, how about a nice Va/Per like Orlik Golden Sliced or McConnell: Scottish Cake.
Whichever blend your decide to try, remember that this is about your experience and enjoyment. I’ve found that some aromatics can be a bit harsh and some just taste like chemicals or soap. But that’s me. And don’t be surprised if your find your tastes changing. Mine certainly has. Currently, my tobacco rotation consists of some light to middle English blends and Va/Pers.
Here’s a list of the best selling bulk blends on Smokingpipes.com. I linked the bulk blends because you can purchase just an ounce at a time. So go! Look through the list! Click on a link to something that sounds interesting and see what they have to offer. Smokingpipes.com staff has great copy on the different blends, plus they rate the tobacco’s strength, room note (the fragrance that fills the room), and flavor. Plus there are customer reviews. As will everything “pipe,” though, take your time. Don’t rush it. Yes, you’ll find some blends that just don’t sit well with you but you might just find something magical, too.
In our next post we’ll talk about how to actually smoke your pipe.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. Although, some people classify English tobaccos in its own category.
2. While non-aromatics claim not to have any type of flavoring, almost all tobaccos have some kind of casing added. The difference is that the casing of non-aromatics doesn’t affect the fragrance or flavor of the tobacco all that much, if at all.