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Salt and pepper of tobacco blending

Let’s talk about the salt and pepper of pipe tobacco blending. First is Latakia, pronounced La-TACK-kee-ya. This pronunciation surprised me since I had been mispronouncing it for many years. Latakia was discovered in northern Syria when a tobacco farmer had a bumper crop and left the surplus tobacco hanging in his tobacco barn. Now in Syria people like to cook their food over an open fire made with hard wood. Because of the smoke generated, they cook in the barn, not in the house. The farmer discovered the cooking smoke gave his tobacco a very dark color and a smoky aroma and flavor. The tobacco processing was named after a nearby town of Latakia which is on the coast of the Mediterranean sea. I finally learned of the correct pronunciation from news reports about the fighting going over there. Now the current tale. No perique is produced in Syria today. It is all produced on the island of Cyprus.

There are very few pipe smokers that smoke Latakia straight because of its strong taste and aroma so it is used sparingly in blending. We call it the salt in blending.

The blending pepper is perique, pronounced per-EEK. When French-Canadians came to Louisiana in 1776 they found the native Indians growing and processing what is now called Perique. Originally Perique was made by pruning the tobacco plant to just a few leaves. While still green the entire plant is picked and tied into one pound hands. It is partially dried in air then packed in whiskey barrels and compressed with a very large screw press for a year. During that time the pressure is relieved occasionally to allow some air back into the tobacco. The tobacco is then processed (usually granulated). The whole process is very labor intensive. Less than sixteen acres produce the entire supply but that is not the whole story. Burley is also processed the same way and mixed in with the Louisiana perique to reduce the cost. In spite of this, perique is by far the most expensive pipe tobacco. Perique is dark brown, nearly black and has a fruity and slightly vinegar flavor.

So there you have it. I hope you found my story interesting. ~ Jack

Storing and Packing Pipe Tobacco

Some of you have heard me say this before but many have not. Tobacco moisture should be about 70% humidity at 70 degrees F. Now pipe smokers know what they like so some like their tobacco dryer while some like more moisture so if you keep your tobacco where you like it, by all means don’t let me influence you. Storing tobacco is easy. Get a pop (read “beer”) cooler and put a wide mouth glass with distilled water in it, into the cooler along with your tobacco. The cooler must have a tight fitting lid.

What happens next is the water evaporates until the air in the cooler can hold no more water vapor. At 70 degrees F the cooler air is now about 70% humidity, perfect for packing your tobacco in the pipe. I’ve heard of many ways to pack a pipe but there are three things to consider in order for the tobacco to burn which will determine how to pack. Your tobacco needs, 1 fuel,(the tobacco), 2 fire (your match or lighter) and 3 oxygen (air). So if you pack too tightly or too loosely your pipe will frequently go out. Too loose and the fire won’t transfer to the next bit of tobacco, too tight and the coal can’t get oxygen. It’s tricky to find the Goldie Locks point and it differs depending on the tobacco moisture and cut. I use the pick of my pipe knife to bore an air hole into the middle of the tobacco to allow air to be drawn down to the bottom of the bowl. We all know the pipe will go out on the first light as the heat drives out moisture and the pack loosens so when you re-tamp your pipe do it carefully, not too tight, not too loose. So until next time, thank you, my loyal customers for your continued patronage.

Jack Peterson, Tobacconist


Virginia: -red / black / lemon / orange / orange-red – Virginia is by far the most popular tobacco type used in pipe tobacco today. About 60% of the American tobacco crop is Virginia. Virginia is the mildest of all blending tobaccos and has the highest level of natural dextrose (sugar), which basicly gives it a light sweet taste. Virginia is used in virtually all blends, is a good burner and aids in lighting.

The mildest of all blending tobaccos, it has the highest natural sugar content. Used in virtually all blends as it is a good burner and aids in lighting. It imparts a light sweet taste when used in moderation

Pure Virginia tobacco is best known from flake types. Dunhill’s Light Flake is a very good example. Medium in strength and rather sweet in taste. Several blends by Rattray comes into mind. Marlin Flake being a rather heavy member of the family, but still very sweet. The Danish manufacturer A&C Petersen has the Blue Caledonian. Mild to medium in strength, and a nice pure taste of Virginia tobacco.

Bright – From the Carolinas

Burley: Burley tobacco is the next most popular tobacco for pipe tobacco blending. It contains almost no sugar, which gives a much dryer and fuller aroma than Virginia. Burley is used in many aromatic blends because it absorbs the flavorings. Burley tobacco burns slowly and is a cool smoke, which makes it a nice addition to blends that tend to burn fast and strong. – “white burley” – a natural tobacco taste with a soft character that will never “bite.”

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.

Pure Burley blends are mainly produced by U.S. and Danish companies. Blends like Blue Edgeworth, Old English and Half-and-Half are classic examples. The latter being slightly flavored. Burley is also the main ingredient in most of the Danish McBaren blends.

Spice tobacco: Spice tobacco is actually not one type of tobacco, but rather a broad variety of more special types, used in small amounts to create an interesting blend. These would include Oriental, Latakia, Perique and Kentucky among others. Most of them are frequently used in English blends.

Oriental: A variety of tobaccos, grown in Turkey, the Balkans, and Russia. The best known types are Izmir, Samsun, Yenidji, Cavella and Bursa. A common characteristic is a dusty, dry and sometimes slightly sourish aroma. Some of them are also used in “exotic” cigarettes from Egypt and other Arab countries.

Yenidji: From Northern Greece. A spicy but smooth tobacco with a unique taste.

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’s unique flavoring and taste was discovered the following spring. Latakia produces a very rich, heavy taste, with an aroma that has a “smokey” 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. Both Dunhill and Rattray have a number of blends that contain Latakia. Dunhill 965, Early Morning and London Mixture are from Dunhill, and Red Rapperee and Black Mallory from Rattray. Seven Reserve from Rattray has a moderate content of Latakia, and might be a good introduction to these kind of blends. Bengal Slices is unique – a flake tobacco with a moderate to high content of Latakia. A very lovely blend if you like Latakia.

Perique: Perique is a Red Burley type of tobacco, grown and processed in St. James, Louisiana near New Orleans. Perique is a rare, slow burning, strong-tasting tobacco. Production is small, so its value is quite high. Perique is cured like Burley, but for a shorter time. There after the leaves are put in large oak barrels under heavy pressure, which will squeeze some juice out and make the whole thing ferment. Once in a while the leaves are taken out for a period and then repacked and refermented. This process takes at least one full year. Some times even longer.The aroma of a tobacco treated by this method is full bodied. The nicotine content is overwhelming, thus Perique can not be smoked by itself. Due to its full-bodied nature, Perique is used on a limited basis in blends. About 5 % in a blend is the maximum. It is usually blended with Virginia to give it more body. Escudo is a good representative of a Virginia blend with Perique. Dunhill’s Elizabethan Mixture is a very nice example of Virginia mixed with a touch of Perique.

Kentucky: This is actually a specially treated Burley tobacco, produced in Kentucky. Unlike Burley, Kentucky is fire-cured. Its aroma is not as heavy as with Latakia, but very aromatic and unique. The nicotine content tends to be rather high, and therefore it is used in limited amounts.

Drama: From Macedonia – is a strong flavoring tobacco. A little bit goes long way.

Havana: Cuban and other cigar tobaccos are used in a limited range of Virginia blends and mixtures.

Cavendish: Cavendish is more a method to treat tobacco than a type. 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 days to several weeks. When done well, this tobacco is really fine stuff. Cavendish can be produced out of any tobacco type (mainly Virginia’s and Burley’s are used). The original English Cavendish is produced out of Virginia tobacco, which is slightly flavored and heated under high pressure. This will give you a very dark, black tobacco. A few English Cavendish blends exist on the market – Rattray’s Dark Fragrant and Black Virginia plus McConnel’s Maduro.

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.

The modern version of Cavendish is generally much more flavored. The natural taste of tobacco is almost gone. The flavoring is also called “Casing”. 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, licorice 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.

What About Tongue Bite?

Tongue bite has caused many a pipe smoker to quit before he really got started. Tongue bite is just what the name implies, a sore tongue. But it may also include other tissues of the mouth. It is caused primarily by a chemical burn but may also be caused by a heat burn. Let’s take the heat burn first because it’s the easiest to explain. I often smoke my pipe while working on some project or other and end up smoking too close to the bottom of the bowl. Then when I re-tamp and re-light there is little or no tobacco at the bottom of the bowl and the flame is drawn right up to my mouth. I know I’m not alone. I always recommend not smoking that last dollop. That’s the tobacco that has been filtering much of the tar and other chemicals we’ve been smoking from the start of the bowl. Usually when we reach the bottom there is a sudden change in the taste and enjoyment of smoking the pipe. That’s Mother Nature telling you the bowl has ended.

A chemical burn is more complicated. Whether you smoke burley, Virginia or some other tobacco or more usually a blend of several tobaccos, smoke your tobacco wet or dry, puff gently or hard, an aromatic or natural, all have an effect on the pH (potential of Hydrogen) of your smoke. Solutions are either acidic or alkaline. Acid is 1 (stomach acid), water is 7 and alkaline is 14. Different tobaccos have different amounts of sugar which will affect the pH of your smoke.

Burleys (and some other tobaccos) have little sugar and are alkaline, they are sun-cured or air-cured giving them low sugar content.

Virginias (and some other tobaccos) have much more sugar and are acidic, they are flue cured giving them high sugar content.

Some casings tend to burn hot, cherry is an example.

Moisture is very important. Dry tobacco will burn easily and just as easily will burn hot. Wet tobacco will be difficult to burn causing the smoker to puff too hard and also burn hot. You have to learn what the perfect moisture is for you. A good starting point is to squeeze a hand full of tobacco, when you release it it should remain packed for just a second or two before falling apart again. Tobacco too wet? Leave it open to the air and allow some moisture to evaporate. Tobacco too dry? Add just a little distilled water and in a few minutes it will be moist again.

Remember, pipe smoking is a leisure undertaking. Sip like you would on a hot cup of coffee.

Jack Peterson, Sterling Tobacco Co.

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