Pipe Smoking is an old tradition with it’s own terminology and phrases. To help you decipher any unknown terms used throughout our website we’ve prepared this comprehensive glossary. Bookmark and return to this page to become an expert and help us preserve the unique tradition of pipe smoking.
The process of ageing tobacco is when either a tobacco leaf or a sealed tin of tobacco is left over a period of time to mature. This usually results in more prominent flavours as the tobacco naturally blends and develops over the resting period.
Air-cured is a term used for certain Burley that has been harvested and hung in shade (most commonly in a barn) with good air circulation. The leaves are then left for a number of months, turning from green through to a rich brown indicating they are ready for processing or further fermentation techniques.
Vastly popular among modern pipe smokers is the ‘American Blend’. A combination of Virginia, Burley & Oriental tobaccos that are further topped with a wide range of aromatic essences. These could range from fruit flavours to coffee, nuts, chocolate or alcohol and everything in between.
A style of pipe, the ‘Army Mount’ is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Military Style’. At a glance the ‘Army Mount’ is easily recognisable by a prominent metal ring (usually sterling silver). The stem has no tenon and is directly inserted into the morise. Size and shape can still vary after these few specific traits.
Aromatic is the term defining all blends that have been cased or topped in flavourings, deviating from the original tobaccos natural flavour. Commonly favoured by new smokers and any inhabitants residing with a pipe smoker as the room note is likely to be sweet and pleasant in comparison to harsher traditional blends. Due to the addition of flavourings and molasses if smoked too fast some aromatics may burn hot and cause tongue bite (a sensation similar to that of a sugar blister on the tongue).
A ‘Balkan’ blend is a loose definition given to a blend consisting of Latakia, Oriental and a lesser amount of Virginia in comparison to most traditional ‘English’ blends. Whilst not an officially recognised term amongst academics, pipe smokers and tobacconists frequently use this description and many popular ‘Balkan’ blends are found on the market.
A ‘Bent Pipe’ is a simple definition referencing the shape of the pipes shank or stem having a drop from the mouthpiece to the bowl. For a smoker who expects to mainly use the pipe outside, often a bent one will be recommended as it is easy to keep the smoke out of the users face when facing the elements.
Bit is a term used by smokers to refer to the stem or mouthpiece of a pipe.
A bite, or bite zone, is the part of a stem where the teeth meets the pipe. It is generally the last quarter of the stem that goes into the smoker’s mouth.
Also known as plume, bloom is a white coloured substance that appears on the outside of well aged tobaccos. Although the bloom looks like white mould, it is actually just the maturation of sugars emerging from the tobacco. This is a sign that a tobacco has taken well to an ageing process. Bloom is more commonly seen on cigars, but is also often appears on pipe tobacco.
The term used for the chamber in which tobacco is placed. Sometimes the term bowl is used to describe the whole stummel of the pipe.
Breaking in is a term used for the process of slowly building up a new pipe for continuous use by starting to build up the carbon in the bowl. When a pipe needs breaking in the smoker will at first only use it every second or third day until it has reached the desired smoking experience. Not all new pipes need this process as many come pre treated.
The No.1 material used for pipe manufacturing is Briar, a root harvested from the Erica Arborea tree found in the Mediterranean. Only once the tree has reached an age of around thirty can the roots then be taken, dried out and cut to then be sold on to pipe makers globally. The material is very robust and great at absorbing heat through the many minute air pockets naturally found through the wood.
Burley is the most common tobacco found globally but is mainly produced in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee, predominantly for cigarette manufacturing. Light in flavour and low in sugar, Burley often needs the addition of sweeteners to fit with most blends.
Cake is the slang term pipe smokers use for the build-up of carbon around the chamber walls of a pipe.
Casing is the flavouring, whether sauce or spray, that is applied to unfinished tobacco to sweeten it. On the other hand, top flavour is when the flavours are only added to the finished blend.
Cavendish is tobacco is tobacco that has been pressed and heated into a cake and then stored for a maturing/fermentation period. Whilst being pressed, more often than not, flavouring is added to the cake resulting in a distinct taste for each batch. This is a curing process.
The chamber is where the tobacco is placed in a pipe. The term chamber and bowl are often used interchangeably, although to do so is technically slang.
Char is a term referring to the blackening of the wood on a pipe, usually from excessive heat being applied.
Before the advent of briar use in pipe making cherry wood was one of the most popular choices for pipe manufacture. Since then its popularity has diminished drastically but many people starting out in pipe making use cherry wood for practice.
From the early days of European pipe making clay was the original material used. The potter would hand roll and shape the pipe or through a technique using slip casts which are moulded like plaster into a cast. Clay pipes are still bought today but many smokers find they burn to hot.
A coin, sometimes referred to as a ‘medallion’ is a thin round disk cut from a rope of tobacco. The consistency is the same to flake tobaccos just differing in shape.
The Corncob or ‘cob’ as its sometimes called is a simple, primitive pipe made from burrowing a bowl out of an ear of corn and a simple wood shank being inserted. Great for beginners and people sampling new tobaccos without tarnishing the taste of their everyday pipe. Some people also claim that the dry and cool smoke produced by a corncob is preferable to other materials.
A style of tobacco that has been pressed into a cake and then cut into even shaped and sized cubes.
Curing is the term given to the ageing of tobacco and all tobaccos will have had to go through some form of curing process. There are many different forms of curing; fire-cured, flue-cured, air-cured, sun-dried and fermented are all examples of curing processes.
A tobacco that has been curly cut has been pressed and twisted into a rope before being cut into slices. This cut is smaller and thinner than a traditional flake cut or coin.
A cut of tobacco is the term used for the different style of tobacco preparation some examples would be curly cut, coin, cube cut, shag, flake, plug, ready rubbed and ribbon cut to name a few.
A Czech tool is the most common and generally most affordable pipe tool. A traditional Czech tool is a three-in-one piece containing a tamper, a dottle shovel, and pick for clearing the air. First popularised in the Czech Republic these tools have come to be known as the ‘Czech tool’.
Dottle is the name given to the unburned tobacco and ash remaining in the heel of the bowl after being smoked.
The draft hole is the point in a pipe where the bore of the air chamber and the tobacco chamber of the pipe connect. The draft hole is most commonly situated at the back of the heel but can sometimes vary.
Though opinions may differ on the definition of an ‘English Blend’ the one thing universally agreed upon is that it must contain a generous portion of Latakia. Virginia & Oriental are then blended to varying degrees and Perique is often added to round off the blend.
An English Cavendish usually consists of Virginia tobaccos that have been either fire or flue-cured. Afterwards they are pressed and allowed to sit for an ageing process resulting in a tobacco that has a subtle, rustic and earthy flavour.
An estate pipe is the name given to a pipe that one has purchased second hand be it from a shop, through an auction or gifted by another smoker.
Fire curing is a process by which the tobacco leaves have been hung in bundles over an open flame causing a chemical reaction in the leaf in response to the heat. The result is strong, dark tobacco with an intense flavour. The most common tobaccos to use this technique are Dark Fired Kentucky and Latakia.
Flake tobacco is a popular old traditional cut of pipe tobacco. Cut from large pressed cubes of tobacco, flakes retain a much more deep flavour than most shag cuts. To prepare flake for use most people rub it down to a more favourable consistency whilst others choose to smoke it as is, just rolled and placed in the chamber.
Flue cured tobacco shares some similarity to fire cured tobacco in that it is heat that is the driving force in the process. The difference between the two is that where fire cured tobacco has the leaves being open to the smoke produced from the fire, flue cured tobacco has the smoke diverted through an intricate ventilation system allowing the tobacco to remain unflavoured by the smoke. A tricky technique to master requiring a lot of space, it is one of the less common methods used. The tobacco ends up a vivid yellow or orange and has a natural sweetness in comparison to tobacco that has been fire cured.
The foot is the very bottom of the bowl or chamber of a pipe.
Freehand pipes, sometimes also called ‘free form’ pipes have been crafted exclusively by hand and are one off pieces. The individuality of these pipes can be very appealing due to the sheer variety offered by different pipe makers. A good example of a manufacturer frequently making freehand pipes would be Erik Nording.
A ghost is the term used by smokers for a phantom taste usually left in the pipe with a less than satisfactory taste. Most frequently thee moisture levels in the tobacco or the cake are attributed to this.
The name given to a bundle of tobacco leaves that have been knotted up after harvesting.
The heel of a pipe is the bottom of the inside chamber.
Kentucky tobacco, often known as ‘Dark Fired Kentucky’ from the fire-cured process it often goes through is a smoky, strong tobacco.
Latakia is named after the port city in Syria where it originated and is by far the most common Turkish tobacco. This blend is cured over either a wood oak or stone pine fire, giving the tobacco a bold smoky flavour.
Mahale is a tobacco hailing from Turkey. Medium in flavour and aroma this tobacco is less known than other Turkish tobacco but has decadent qualities.
Maryland is an American tobacco that is light and easy going, often added to American blends to bring a nutty aromatic flavour.
Meerschaum translates from German to English as ‘Sea Foam’. An incredibly effective material for pipes as its hard to burn out due to its heat absorbing qualities. It starts off it’s journey coming from the Black Sea, and when wet is easy to carve making it a favourite for craftsman in Turkey to display intricate patterns. Over a period of time it absorbs the nicotine, changing colour from an ivory white to a brown speckled tortoise shell pattern. The meerschaum also vitrifies over this time period, becoming ever more durable.
A term used to describe the merging of flavours in a tin of tobacco left for ageing. Once the aromas start to marry one would say they are melding.
Mellowing is a term that refers to tobacco’s natural tendency to become less potent while ageing. A mellow tobacco is usually smooth and easy going.
Second only to briar wood, Morta is the most prized wood material for tobacco pipes. Morta is harvested from trees that were felled ranging from 2000 – 5000 years ago in peat bogs. After being petrified over vast periods of time the wood is then recovered. Morta is a nutrient rich material that is highly resistant to heat.
This is a more general term than stem or bit. The name more or less describes itself, for it is the part of the pipe designed to go in the mouth of the smoker.
Non-aromatic does not always mean there is absolutely no topping on the tobacco but will often imply there is very little to no flavouring and helps it stand out from English & Aromatic blends.
Olive Wood is another material used in pipe manufacturing. The tree is preferred for use in the production of olives the wood can be rather difficult to acquire, usually being small off cuts, and has recently being going through somewhat of a renaissance. Olive Wood has a unique scent and distinct grain that can be favoured by certain pipe smokers.
A broad term used for tobaccos ranging from the Mediterranean all the way to Indonesia. Traditionally sun-cured and strong with an exotic aroma and flavour.
True Perique tobacco is grown in only one place: St. James Parish, Louisiana. The tobacco is stored in large wooden barrels at high pressure and allowed to age and ferment for years at a time. This process produces a full-flavoured potent tobacco praised by pipe smokers.
Genuine Perique tobacco can only come from one place, that being St. James Parish, Louisiana. The tobacco is harvested and left in pressurised barrels to ferment and age for up to multiple years. The result is a strong tobacco with a very distinct taste and aroma.
The P-Lip is a patented design specific to one brand: Peterson of Dublin. A P-Lip is a stem that has an air hole on the top of the stem, rather than on the end. This redirects the ribbon of smoke away from the tongue, which decreases tongue bite.
Plug is a form of pipe tobacco utilising full tobacco leaves that are pressed and then aged. The result is a brick of tobacco, highly condensed that requires slicing before smoking.
This is the process of removing the carbon build up from the inside of the pipe, often using either a reamer, hedgehog reamer or Czech tool.
A cut of tobacco, thin and long strips that are light and often easy to burn, requiring no preparation.
Room note is the term used by smokers to describe the lingering scent left after the pipe has been smoked. Whilst many non smokers will find the room note of many aromatic tobaccos to be pleasing whilst others may be favourable to the hearth like traditional tobaccos. The time the room note can remain varies greatly depending on the blend.
Rotation refers to a pipe smoker using different pipes for different days of the week. It is recommended that a frequent smoker has multiple pipes to swap between, thus maintaining the integrity of the pipes by allowing them to rest for a couple days after use.
Rubbed out or ‘Ready Rubbed’ refers to the end product of a cake, coin, plug, flake or medallion that has been agitated by the fingers of the smoker, resulting in a product easier to fill in the pipe and to get smoking. Many blends come ‘Ready Rubbed’ for smokers who find this process irritating or taxing.
A decorative texture applied to the pipe, differing from sandblasted this style is usually done with an abrasive tool. Wood is stripped from the pipe and then brushed off usually with wire before the pipe is then finished. The rusticated effect offers better grip for some smokers. Some claim the heat is dispersed more efficiently through a rusticated pipe offering a cooler smoke.
A technique using pressurised air to direct sand onto the pipe to create a textured effect. The machinery used can be rather expensive and requires a good knowledge of the process, thus it is rarer to see smaller artisans performing this technique.
A ‘Scottish’ blend is more synonymous with an English blend than anything else, usually only differing slightly, most notably less Latakia is added to the blend.
A cut of tobacco, shag is less coarse than ribbon cut and looks large in portion size. Commonly used for cigarette smokers who roll their own.
The shank is the portion of a pipe in between the bowl and the stem. It is typically made from the same solid piece as the stummel.
An indication of over-smoking of the pipe, spider webbing is a definition given to the cracks that can line the inside of the chamber through exposure to long periods of intense heat.
Type of pipe with name given to the meeting of the tenon and shank on an army mount pipe. Usually both will be coated in a precious metal, sterling silver being the most popular.
The part of the pipe extending from the shank to the smokers mouth is called the stem.
The term to define a pipe with no curve or angle, having a linear horizontal axis from the bowl through to the mouthpiece.
The stummel is regarded as the whole of the pipe just without the stem. This would include the bowl, chamber and shank.
A traditional curing technique, sun curing allows the leaves after harvest to be aged in exposure to sunlight. Over time the oils contained in the tobacco leaves dry out as the shade of the leaf changes. By the time this process is complete the tobacco is rich tasting and easy to combust. Sun curing is still used by many tobacco manufacturers around the globe. Oriental tobacco is famed for this technique.
Tamper is a tool employed by a pipe smoker to flatten and prepare the tobacco in the chamber for smoking. Once lit the tamper is then used to keep forcing ash towards the bottom of the chamber whilst the smoker keeps puffing the tobacco on top. During this action the burning tobacco from the top will kindle the yet to be burning tobacco underneath.
Topping is a term used in the pipe community for the process of adding flavourings to a finished blend to turn it into an aromatic. Be it cherry, whiskey, coffee, walnut, vanilla, chocolate or any other aromatic these mixtures have all had the addition of topping.
Turkish tobacco is popular for both production of pipe and cigarette tobacco. Light in colour and with a natural sweetness, Turkish tobacco is used in many different pipe blends, usually coming in a shag or ribbon cut.
A very traditional form of blending tobacco into a rope that can then be sliced into smaller portions. Chewed as well as smoked by the working class miners of the 1900s, this tobacco still enjoys popularity to this day.
Virginia or ‘Brightleaf’ as its sometimes called is an extremely popular, mellow tobacco from the United States. The most common pipe tobacco across the globe Virginia tobacco is found in 8/10 blends. A great tobacco for ageing, Virginia is most synonymous with North Carolina, where the farmers grow it in a sandy soil.