Smoke a cigarette and, no matter the quality, its taste will always remind you any other cigarette’s taste. Light a cigar and you will start to feel what quality smoking means, but, more or less, a cigar tastes like…well, a cigar. Try different pipe tobacco types and you’ll enter a new dimension of smoking taste.
Maybe the best thing of smoking the pipe is the broad variety of types of pipe tobacco.
But if you never smoke any of them, how could you understand the several different blends on the market?
Well gentlemen, the time has come to make a short but comprehensive guide to outline the main characteristics and differences among pipe tobacco types.
Types of pipe tobacco
First thing you should know, is that pipe tobacco may vary greatly in taste, colour and cut.
There are of course pure tobacco blends, made up of only one type of tobacco, but blends on the market are usually created from a base made up of different tobacco types.
The various tobaccos can be divided into four main families that take their name from their respective areas of origin:
Based on the aforementioned types you can either choose a blend made for the market or mix them and find your favorite blend.
It is fundamental to understand the basic tobacco types, to be able to read the components that will create the flavors and to be able to give space to creativity and enrich the pipe mixes already on the market.
In addition, tobacco types and blends can be left to age and acquire fuller and richer taste and aroma. In fact, aged tobacco is sweeter, less aggressive; the flavors are deeper, softer and tongue bite is reduced.
Types of pipe tobacco
A personal favourite. It belongs to the oriental type (small leaf cured in the sun).
The whole dried plants are then smoked over aromatic wood fires, a process that gives the tobacco its typical dark colour and the distinctive smoky aroma.
Latakia is a widely used tobacco and meets the favors of many pipe smoking enthusiasts.
With a sweet and slightly cloying taste, it contributes to slowing down combustion also due to the massive presence of small wooden fragments (the leaves are not subjected to stripping).
It provides body and roundness to pipe mixtures, contributing decisively to characterize the taste of English mixtures where it is used to a greater or lesser extent.
Latakia tobacco ages very well. In fact, flavours and aromas gets more refined with aging.
There are two varieties:
- Syrian Latakia
- Cyprian Latakia
Nowadays it is virtually impossible to find real Syrian Latakia, which is traditionally considered the real and best Latakia tobacco.
Unlike other tobaccos, of which only the leaf is used, in Latakia are used also the stem and the ribs.
It belongs to the flue-cured type, the hot air cured tobaccos. Virginia is a broad and generous leaf tobacco, lemon yellow to dark brown in colour, depending on the degree of browning of the leaves.
If subjected to special treatments after care and seasoning, for example with the addition of sugars, pressure and cooking, it can be very dark or even black.
It has its own distinct and unmistakable aroma, penetrating and vaguely fruity.
With a sweet and characteristic flavor, it offers a rather quick combustion and tends to pinch the tongue, reduced phenomena in the “treated” versions.
It is a characterizing tobacco and is present in almost all types of pipe blends. Straight Virginia, more or less pure Virginia-based blends, generally pressed, are typically English.
Used in many pipe blends, it could be mistaken for a particular type of tobacco. Actually, it is a type of mixture in its own right, already complete in itself.
Generally composed of variable quantities of Virginia, Burley and Orientals (the light ones) and with the possible addition of Kentucky (for the Blacks).
The mixture is prepared by subjecting it to a sweetening process (with molasses, honey, maple syrup or other), with a first flavouring (with cocoa and/or coumarin and more) and ripening under pressure.
The subsequent operations may include a more or less intense cooking and/or fermentation phase (Black Cavendish) which removes the tingling of light tobaccos and some of the strength of dark ones, making the taste smoother and rounder.
As a final touch, flavouring based on natural or artificial essences with fruit or other is very frequent.
The final presentation of the product is generally in the form of pressed ready rubbed or mixed with other chopped (generally light Virginia and/or toasted Burley) or added moderately in English blends.
Light air-cured pipe tobacco, it is a light brown to reddish brown tobacco.
With a light consistency and good combustibility, it does not have a particularly marked taste or aroma, but it brings added aromas due to the sponginess of the leaf.
Widely used in flavoured blends, it is normally subjected to the most diverse treatments (tanning with sugary and aromatic liquids, pressure, heating, toasting, flavouring).
When the treatment is light, it gives the tobacco a nutty taste.
Of broad and consistent leaf, it belongs to the fire-cured or dark-fired (treated with direct fire of strong essences) types.
Dark brown, it has an intense and characteristic aroma of wood and fermentation and a typical and full taste.
Very strong, in pipe tobaccos it serves to give body.
Oriental or Turkish tobaccos belong to the sun-cured type.
Of different origins, they are grown in many countries with a suitable sub-humid or semi-arid climate, in the territories of the eastern Mediterranean such as Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Lebanon.
These tobaccos have smaller leaves than those so far considered. They are characterized by the small golden yellow leaf, but they can also be found in darker colours, from yellow-green to brown.
Light, with a herbaceous and delicate aroma and taste and excellent combustibility, they are present in all the blends for their excellent qualities in all fields.
They are usually found in English mixtures together with Virginia and Latakia.
Atypical tobacco, it is originally a type of Burley which, after the traditional air cure, undergoes a long process of double fermentation, obtained by successive periods of maceration of the leaves in its own pressure-squeezed juice.
To contain the Perique leaves in maceration, are used barrels previously used for Bourbon aging.
The long process of refinement of flavours, the long and difficult processing makes Perique the most sought-after and expensive pipe tobacco.
Very intense and strongly spiced aroma, in some respects comparable to that of certain wines, it has a dark and oily appearance and is presented in small fragments.
It tastes of plum and pepper but is capable of taking on many different shades depending on the tobaccos to which it is combined.
Very strong and of low combustibility, it is normally added in modest proportions in blends of American and English taste.
The combination with pure pressed Virginia is typical and excellent.
Types of pipe tobacco
Different pipe tobacco cuts
Pipe tobaccos available on the market can have different types of cuts. And tobacco cut enhances or weakens certain flavours. Furthermore, the different cut of the tobacco influences the smoking experience and yield of the mixture itself.
There are two main categories: the unpressed and the pressed.
The medium-large cut is recommended because it burns slowly and therefore heats the bowl less.
Usually you buy tobacco in an envelope or a tin. On average, quality tobacco comes in a tin.
Once opened, it is important to keep the tobacco in the best condition. Ideally it should be preserved from heat and kept at the right degree of humidity by storing it in special sealed containers equipped with a good humidifier.
Types of pipe tobacco – Unpressed cut tobacco blends
These are pipe tobaccos obtained simply by cutting, chopping the leaves. They are the most common type of cut since it does not involve particular operations before loading the pipe.
The blends of unpressed tobacco are easy to use and are suitable for those who want to approach the world of pipe tobacco.
The unpressed ones also burn easier and are therefore ideal for those who start smoking.
Let’s see in detail the different pipe tobacco cuts.
Most pipe tobaccos are mixtures of two or more tobaccos. The term actually designates as much a cut as a mixture of several tobaccos, unlike the term blend which designates only the simple mixture of tobaccos, but not necessarily a mixture cut.
This cut comes in the form of small pieces or thin and short strips of tobacco. The cut depends on the producer and the tobaccos, there is no uniform size, the coarsely cut mixtures are defined as wild cuts.
It is an easy to load cut and easy combustion.
The tobacco leaves are cut into very fine strips and a few centimeters long.
As for the classic blend cut, it is easily loaded into the pipe and given the small thickness of the filaments it is easy to burn.
It is frequently used in classic English mixtures.
Coarse cuts are thus defined with respect to a mixture and with more robust medium-long strips.
From a certain point of view a sort of cut halfway between the ribbon cut and the wild cut.
Types of pipe tobacco – Pressed cut tobacco blends
These are less common cuts, but much loved by more experienced smokers who appreciate their qualities of preserving the aroma of the leaves.
Most of these cuts require tobacco preparation before the pipe can be loaded. These tobaccos are also more difficult to burn due to their coarser cut and often higher humidity.
They are made with Virginia, Burley and Kentukcy tobaccos and usually contain more nicotine than normal mixtures.
For all these reasons they are not recommended for anyone who starts smoking a pipe.
Depending on the processing of tobacco there are two sub-categories: the pressed and the rolled ones.
It is a small stick of pressed leaves about 4 cm thick. Typically the plug is obtained by a double pressure process. The procedures may vary from one manufacturer to another.
Usually, a first press reduces a pile of leaves by about one meter to a 4 cm stick. A second pressure phase is then performed under controlled temperature and humidity conditions. This process, which also favors fermentation, can last several weeks.
To smoke it, you need to cut a thin bar, called flake, with a sharp knife.
The plug also allows a better conservation of the tobacco aromas and a better aging or refining.
American manufacturers offer a type of crumbly plug called crumble cake, appreciated for being able to be crumbled by hand without having to cut it with a knife.
These are thin slices of pressed tobacco generally 2-3 centimeters wide and of quite variable length. The flakes are made from plugs of pressed tobacco.
The plug variously fermented and subsequently cut into slices.
These characteristics make flake cut appreciated by the most expert smokers who consider it ideal to best express the qualities of Virginia.
Flakes are generally quite humid, which does not facilitate ignition and smoking and make it a cut suitable for experienced smokers. To overcome this inconvenience, some smokers prefer to take it out of the tin and dry it some time before smoking it.
There are essentially two methods of smoking the flake:
- folding the bar and inserting it whole into the pipe
- breaking it to obtain a cut more similar to mixture cut
The first method is not appreciated by everyone and requires a fairly long apprenticeship.
The chopping method has the advantage of ease of use and allows the smoker to choose the mixture cut.
Some flakes are sold already partially fragmented, in this case we speak of ready rubbed or broken flake.
Starting from the plug, tobacco cubes are made that can be easily crumbled inside the pipe bowl.