Do you remember your first cup of coffee? Did you drink it black? My guess is that you started out with cream and sugar or maybe even one of the flavored creamers. Then as time progressed you backed off the creams and sugars, so you could really appreciate the taste of the coffee. Well smoking pipe tobacco is really no different. Many beginners really are drawn to pipe smoking for the aromatic blends that are so commonly associated with pipe smoking. Then as time progresses the smoker begins to appreciate the different types of pipe tobacco that are available.
If you’re a pipe smoking beginner and looking for that first pipe tobacco selection let me make a recommendation. Visit your local pipe shop or any online shop and find a sampler of mild aromatics. These samplers are usually 5 – 7 tins of tobacco ranging in blends, aromas, and tastes which will give you a great start in developing your pipe smoking palette. When you’ve had your fill of the aromatic tobaccos you should purchase sampler packs from each of the major pipe tobacco types described below.
60% of the United States tobacco crop is grown in Virginia. This pipe tobacco has a delicate fruit-like flavor which makes them subtlety sweet. They are rather tangy but are pleasant on the palate, reminiscent of a mild salsa. The best matured Virginia’s 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 aromatic and flavored blends.
Burley tobacco is the next most popular tobacco for pipe tobacco blending. The technical term for Burley is “air cured”. This air curing is done in large open barns, by the natural air flow, for one or two months. The color is ranging from light brown to mahogany. 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.
Spice tobacco is not a single type of pipe tobacco, but a mixture or blend of sever different types of pipe tobacco described below. Most of these types below are used primarily in English blends. Many people refer to ‘English Tobacco’ when describing the types they like best. English tobaccos are simply tobaccos that have had no flavors added during the curing process. Therefore English tobaccos are usually a mixture of different types of tobacco, but have no flavors added during curing.
- Oriental: This naturally aromatic, heady tobacco comes from the Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, and other Eastern Mediterranean countries. The finest Orientals, 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. The best known types are Izmir, Samsun, Yedidje, Cavella and Bursa.
- Latakia: Latakia is the result of a curing process involving fire curing the leaves over controlled fires of aromatic woods and fragrant herbs. Probably the most well known spice tobacco. Mainly grown in Cyprus and northern Syria. After the leaves are harvested and dried, they are hung in tightly closed barns and smoke-cured. Small smoldering fires of oak and pine fill the barn with smoke, and covering the leaves with smoke particles. Latakia was “discovered” when a bumper crop resulted in surplus, and the excess tobacco was stored in the rafters. The peasant farmers traditionally used wood and when short of wood camel dung for cooking and heating in the winter. The smoke cured tobacco unique flavoring and taste was discovered the following spring. Latakia produces a very rich, heavy taste, with an aroma that has a “smoky” characteristic. Latakia is an indispensable ingredient of traditional English mixtures. The content can vary from a few percent to about 40-50%, or even more. A few smokers like it at 100%. This would tend to be harsh, not because Latakia is a strong tobacco, but because it burns and tends to dry out your mouth and throat.
- Perique: Perique is a Red Burley type of tobacco, grown and processed in St. James, Louisiana near New Orleans. Perique is a rare, slow buring, strong-tasting tobacco. Production is small which makes it a bit more expensive. 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 is used rather sparingly. Its rich, black color and leathery texture compliment 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.
Cavendish is a process of curing and a method of cutting tobacco leaf; the term does not refer to a tobacco, but a type of manufacturing process. The processing and the cut are used to bring out the natural sweet taste that is a characteristic of Virginia tobacco. This process will create a tobacco very light in taste, quite mild and easy to pack. English Cavendish uses a dark flue or fire cured Virginia which is steamed and then stored under pressure to permit it to cure and ferment for several weeks. Cavendish can be produced out of any tobacco type (mainly Virginia’s and Burley’s). The original English Cavendish is produced out of Virginia tobacco, which is slightly flavored and heated by high pressure. This will give you a very dark, black tobacco.
The modern version of Cavendish is generally much more flavored. The natural taste of tobacco is almost gone. The flavoring is also called “Casting”. This is the term used when you add a considerable amount of additives to the tobacco. This is usually done by producing a fluid mixture of sugar, liquorice or any kind of aromas in which the tobacco is soaked. The goal is to produce a sweet and smooth aroma. Modern Cavendish tobacco comes in numerous flavors, cherry, vanilla, rum, chocolate, strawberry, coconut, and many other flavors.
This by far doesn’t cover all of the different types of pipe tobacco, but knowing what each of the major types taste like will help you decide which is best suited for you. As you progress through this wonderful hobby your tastes will change and you’ll begin to appreciate a wide variety of pipe tobaccos.