One of the biggest questions a new pipe smoker has to deal with is what kind of tobacco to choose. The variety of pipe tobaccos is amazing. Virtually any type of flavor is out there, but the taste isn’t the only thing you should consider. I’ll outline the major categories for you, and I’ll rate them for their appropriateness for newbies.
Aromatics- This is the most popular category by a long shot. These are blends that usually contain some combination of Burley, Virginia and black Cavendish, but they may have one, two or all three, and sometimes other tobaccos are included. What makes a blend an aromatic is the addition of a top-dressing. This is a flavoring that is added to give the tobacco a pleasant aroma. However, don’t expect the tobacco to taste the way it smells. You’ll get some sweetness and a hint of the flavoring, but nowhere near as much as you’ll notice in the aroma. Even though they’re very popular, the have a few issues that may not make them the best choice for a beginner. They tend to be quite moist and can be hard to keep lit. This usually leads to puffing too fast or too hard just to keep them going, and that can lead to a fried tongue. Also, the flavor is pretty light with most aromatics, and, again, this can lead to smoking too hard trying to get more flavor out of the tobacco. The high moisture content can make your pipe gurgle, which is annoying at best and can lead to getting fluid coming through the stem. For these reasons, I don’t find these blends to be the best choice when you’re starting out.
Burley blends- These tobaccos are largely made of Burley, which is a type of leaf that doesn’t have a high sugar content. These blends are exemplified by a number of the old standard blends- Prince Albert, Carter Hall, Half & Half, Sir Walter Raleigh among others. They usually have a top-dressing, but it’s normally very slight. The flavor of these tobaccos tend to be mild, and they’re usually very cool-smoking. These blends are generally a good starting point, unless you’re looking for a lot of flavor.
Virginia blends- Virginia is one of the most commonly-used tobaccos, found in the vast majority of pipe blends. Virginia blends are ones where the tobacco is predominantly Virginias, possibly with small amounts of other tobaccos added. Virginias are high in sugar content which makes them burn a little hotter, but they add sweetness to a blend. They also produce a thinner smoke, which might cause the smoker to puff a little harder or faster trying to get more smoke. For these reasons, I’d avoid these blends until you learn how to smoke slowly.
Latakia blends- Latakia is a fire-cured tobacco from the island of Cyprus. It starts with a Turkish leaf called Smyrna which is hung in a building with an open fire on the floor. The fire produces an aromatic smoke which saturates the leaf until it turns black. Latakia creates a campfire-like flavor and aroma, and it’s usually combined with Virginias and Oriental tobaccos. It burns slowly and tends to make a cool blend. For newer pipe smokers who want more flavor than a Burley blend, these tobaccos may be the best choice.
The next post in this series will be about cleaning and maintenance.