Pipe Smokers Notes

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

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

Ps: This is the first of four letters I sent out by email. If you would like to read the others please let me know and I’ll mail them.

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


I’ve discussed Latakia and perique in past papers so we’ll go straight to the biggies.

Virginias, the most popular tobacco used in blends. There are several varieties including red and orange red, orange, lemon and black. Bright Virginia simply comes from north and south Carolina. Virginia is a mild tobacco due to its high sugar content which provides a slightly sweet taste. Mild yes, but only if smoked correctly which means sipping (like sipping hot coffee) not puffing

Virginia tobacco is flue cured. Hung in a barn to age it is cured in smoke (usually oak) sent into the barn by way of a flue (pipe). Curing usually takes just a few weeks.

Burley and white burley, are very common pipe blend tobaccos. It has very little sugar giving it a fuller aroma than Virginia. Burley also absorbs casings readily making it the most common tobacco in flavored blends.

Burley is air cured, hung in open barns usually for one or two months but it can also be a lengthy process that can take up to two years.

Oriental, the name applies to tobacco grown in the near east (Turkey, the Balkans and south western Russia). Bursa, Cavella, Izmir, Samsun and Yenidji. With all the fighting going on in that area, orientals are very difficult to get these days. Orientals are Sun cured which is simply aging under sun light

Cavendish, not actually a tobacco type but a method of treating the tobacco. It is flue or fire cured and put under pressure for days to several weeks to ferment and cure ending up a very dark color.

Common cuts of tobacco are flake, cube, ribbon, shag and navy. Jack

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