All You Need to Know About Pipe Tobacco
The early explorers discovered that the tobacco plant was wide-spread around the USA (mainly the Caribbean basin). In the last five centuries, the two major species of the plant have been harvested with success all around the world.
Roughly two centuries ago, tobacco manufacturers had lots to learn about curing, quality and blending. There were no ‘brands’ – each town had its own tobacconist who prepared his own blend of tobacco from the bulk that was loaded onto carts. From these local shops came the great tobacco firms. Gradually, the qualities were graded, the blends were suited to specific tastes and the art of pipe smoking was well established. In fact, by the end of the 19th century, tobacco started to be known by its ‘brand’.
What are the Different Types of Tobacco?
Six types of the leaf are commonly used for general tobacco blending:
Virginia: this is a sweet tasting and light tobacco which has well-established popularity in the UK as it forms a large part of the content of pipe tobacco.
Burley: air-cured tobacco, with a mild yet distinctive flavour that provides the base for many different mixtures.
Latakia: grown mainly in Northern Cyprus and Turkey, it is sun-cured oriental tobacco with a distinct taste and aroma.
Perique: this is a blue-black, highly aromatic tobacco. It is often used as a seasoner for other pipe tobaccos as it helps to provide a distinctive taste and aroma.
Kentucky: dark fire-cured tobacco with a powerfully smoky aroma, it is used as a flavour in pipe tobacco.
Maryland: this is air-cured tobacco, like Burley, it is mainly used in mixtures.
The enjoyment of good tobacco lies within the blending process. Individual manufacturers guard their recipes with the utmost care. Beginners are faced with a difficult decision when choosing pipe tobacco.
A few key points to remember are:
– The lighter and more fine-cut the tobacco, the hotter and quicker it will burn
– The more moist, heavy and coarse the mix, the slower it will burn
The golden rule is to keep trying and experimenting with many different brands and flavours.
What is Tobacco Curing?
It is necessary to cure tobacco after it has been harvested, prior to it being consumed. Tobacco curing is also known as colour curing, as the tobacco leaves are cured with the specific intention of changing their colour and reducing their overall chlorophyll content.
All tobaccos are cured by one of the following four methods:
Air curing: the tobacco leaves are hung out in open barns which allows the wind to blow them dry.
Flue curing: a system of flues is used to blow hot air or steam into a barn in which the tobacco leaves are suspended.
Fire curing: the tobacco leaves are hung in a barn above smouldering fires of speciality wood and sawdust.
Sun curing: the tobacco is suspended outside in the sun to dry.
How to Take Care of Your Pipe
A pipe is made up of a number of different individual parts, that each has its own function. Whilst pipes can be made in a wide range of shapes and sizes, the parts which will be described below are common to all pipes.
The Mouthpiece – The mouthpiece forms the end part of the pipe; it forms an airtight seal with the stem, and for cleaning purposes, it can be removed. There are two basic mouthpiece shapes; tapered models (straight and simple) and saddle models. All mouthpieces have a flat or round opening and the majority of mouthpieces are produced from vulcanite which is a vulcanised rubber and sulphur mixture, ebonite or lucite.
The Bit – The bit is the very tips of the mouthpiece which is held between the teeth or lips. The most popular shape of the bit is known as the fishtail, which has a flat, right-angled end. Alternative types of bit include dental and ‘twin-bore’.
The Peg (or push) – The peg is the part of the mouthpiece which fits into the stem. The fact that the peg might break causes it to be one of the most vulnerable parts of the pipe.
The Bowl and Pot – The bowl is the round, broad part of the pipe which holds the tobacco.
The Stem or Shank – The stem is an extension of the bowl. The bowl and stem are always made from a single piece of material. The stem is hollow inside and leads the smoke from the bowl to the mouthpiece. The stem of a pipe should never be removed from the bowl just after smoking or if the pipe is still hot. As they are usually made of Briarwood, it expands when hot – so trying to remove it will often result in breaking the tenon of the stem. When cooled, the briar contracts and the stem can be removed without causing any damage.
The Flue – The hollow space through which the smoke is led from the bowl via the stem to the mouthpiece is known as the flue or draught hole. A system can be fitted within the flue to control or regulate the air flow.
The Carbon Layer – The layer of carbon that builds up around the inside of the bowl has three notable uses; it protects the wood against the heat, it absorbs the moisture released during burning and it provides an extra aroma. When the layer becomes too thick it should be carefully removed or the bowl may crack.
How to Correctly Fill and Smoke a Pipe
We know that smoking a pipe for the first time can be daunting, especially if you don’t have anyone to help guide you through the process. It doesn’t matter how good the tobacco is, or how good the briar, a ‘good smoke’ will be ruined unless the pipe is properly filled. If done correctly. The first bowlful should be relatively pleasant, but if the pipe has been filled incorrectly it might burn hot and bitter. Here is a helpful step-by-step guide on how to correctly fill and smoke a pipe.
To fill the pipe, hold the pipe upright, slowly trickle in the tobacco until overflowing. Tap down gentle and repeat the process two or three more times until the bowl is full, but with a slightly springy feel. Draw through the mouthpiece occasionally to ensure that it is not blocked up.
Lighting the pipe should preferably be done with a special pipe lighter or wooden matches. The initial light is known as the ‘charring light’. The purpose of this is to create a charred ‘lid’ of tobacco that will then be able to hold the second light. When creating the charring light, carefully move the flame all around the tobacco, igniting it completely, but do be careful not to scorch the bowl rim. Once this has been completed, tamp the charred lid down gently. Now you are ready for the second light – puff slowly and rhythmically as you ‘walk’ the flame over the charred tobacco.
As tobacco is a natural product, it will go out if it is not puffed regularly, so don’t be afraid to use numerous matches. It is only natural to eventually hear (or taste) a little gurgle of moisture in the pipe, this is a normal by-product of combustion.
It is paramount to look after the pipe properly. Taken care of, a pipe will last for many years, often improving with age. A pipe for every day of the week is desirable, but certainly having two pipes is better than one.
You should never refill a pipe when it is still warm. The stem should be cleaned regularly by the simple process of pushing a pipe cleaner through it.
Most pipe smokers will need some vital accessories; such as a generous supply of pipe-cleaners, a tobacco pouch, plenty of matches amongst others. Here is a list of the basics
any pipe smokers should have in their collection.
Pipe cleaners: in particular, pipe cleaners are completely indispensable to a pipe smoker, and regular use is vital for a good pipe smoking experience. They are used to clean the pipe stem and the mouthpiece.
Pipe lighter: a speciality pipe lighter is always preferable for lighting your pipe, there are many excellent pipe lighters available with a side-exiting flame.
Pipe tool: a good pipe tool is essential. They come in many styles but they will usually have a spoon-like device or blade for cleaning out the bowl, a spike for clearing blockages and a flat-ended piece for tamping.
Pipe rack: pipe racks are varied in design, their function is to hold pipes in a vertical position to cool and dry properly between smokes.
Tobacco pouch: the traditional method for carrying tobacco is in a leather pouch with either a rubber or plastic lining to keep the tobacco moist. There is a huge range of tobacco pouch designs available, in a variety of different materials.