All tobacco is not created equal. There are a varieties, cures, cuts and tastes that can all influence the pipe-smoking experience. How do you find out more about these choices? Simply keep reading. We’ve organized all the tobacco info to make pipe smoking for beginners as enjoyable as possible. So place that perfectly chosen or freshly carved pipe aside for a few minutes, knowing that soon enough, you’ll be packing it with juuuuust the right style of tobacco for your taste.
When shopping for tobacco, you may see reviews that include room notes. Tobacco doesn't necessarily smell like it tastes. So room notes help rate the ambient aromas that blends put out for those around the smoker. There's a rating system from one to five stars, with one being the harshest scent and five being the most pleasant. Choose wisely if you're going to be smoking your pipe indoors with someone who may be sensitive to your smoke.
If you like the rule of three, you’ll appreciate that tobaccos can be aromatic, non-aromatic or English blend.
Aromatic tobaccos have casings, or flavors, added during the manufacturing process. Some common casings are maple, chocolate, vanilla, rum, apple and cherry. Depending on the amount of casing used, one of these blends can also be deemed semi-aromatic or lightly aromatic.
Non-aromatic tobaccos rely solely on the natural ingredients of the tobacco for flavors and aroma. Frequently, to increase sweetness, the tobacco is specially aged or fermented.
English blend refers to English tobaccos that, up until 1986, didn’t allow additives. Today an English blend is any containing Oriental tobaccos. The most common consist of Latakia, Virginia and Perique tobaccos (more on those in a bit). The overall strength of the blend—mild-, medium- or full-bodied—depends on how much Latakia is mixed in.
This doesn’t refer to hypnotism, patches or other attempts to quit using tobacco. Quite the contrary. Curing is the post-harvesting process necessary to make tobacco consumable. In its raw, freshly picked state, tobacco is too wet to ignite or smoke. Because, you know, moisture and fire don’t really mix.
You probably didn’t think there was so much to tobacco, did you? Well, there is. And we’re still just getting started. Now it’s time to cut the tobacco. There are a number of ways to do so, some of which are more fun than others, but all of them make for a tasty smoke.
But wait, there's more...
The pursuit of the right tobacco flavor can be all consuming, but oh so delicious. With so many different flavors, it is hard to know where to begin, but let’s start here.
The mildest of all blending tobaccos, Virginia is a good burner. It lights easily, has the highest natural sugar content and is used in basically all blends. It’s got a light, sweet flavor and ranges from bright yellow to medium brown in color. The lighter colors are spicier and the darker colors are more complex in flavor. About 60% of the American tobacco crop is Virginia.
Thicker than Virginia, bet less popular—sorry, buddy—Burley has a soft, nutty flavor, burns slowly and coolly and is used in many blends. High in oil, low in sugar, it is the anti-Virginia. Since its flavor is pretty neutral, it accepts outside flavorings (i.e., casings) well.
A fire-cured Burley tobacco produced in, wait for it...Kentucky. Its aroma is not as heavy and is very aromatic and unique. The nicotine content tends to be higher, so it’s used in limited amounts.
Similar in character to Virginia, but not as rich in flavor. It is a good way to dilute a blend without changing character.
Bright is, well, bright. This very light tobacco is grown in the Carolinas and has a mild flavor.
A curing and cutting method, not an actual type of tobacco leaf, but its rakish-sounding name makes it more interesting, don’t you think? This flue- or fire-cured process brings out the naturally sweet Virginia flavor and creates a tobacco that is mild, light in taste and easy to pack.
A product of a Burley-growing process native to Louisiana. It is a slow-burning dark tobacco renowned for its very spicy flavor. Juices are pressed out of the leaf, fermented and then reintroduced to the tobacco. The process is repeated, which makes a dark reddish-brown tobacco that is tart, spicy and sweet. The nicotine content is kind of overwhelming, so Perique can’t be smoked by itself—about 5% is the maximum.
A very dark tobacco that has a robust, sweet flavor.
Yet another process/not actual tobacco. Syria- or Cyprus-grown, the leaves are hung in huts above fires fed by wood burning on the floor. Over time, the smoke saturates the tobacco, turning it black and giving it a distinct flavor and scent. Dark and full-bodied, Latakia gives off a smoky aroma similar to burning leaves. Weird fact: When short on wood, peasant farmers would use camel dung for cooking and heating in the winter. How about that?
These tobaccos refer to a general group that is spicy and fragrant and usually high in sugar. They’re grown in Western Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia and Syria, and different types include Xanthi, Komotini, Drama (as strong as its name suggests), Serrus, Samsun, Izmir, Yenidje (spicy, but smooth), Basma, Dubeck, Bashi Bagli, Smyrna and some others.
Although primarily used in cigars, cigar leaf is also at times used as pipe tobacco. This adds richness, sweetness and some spice.
More info on tobacco pipes for beginners...
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