In our previous pipe smokers guide we went over ‘how to choose a tobacco pipe’. This follow up will go through the steps of identifying the right style of pipe tobacco for you, and how to correctly pack the pipe for the best smoking experience. At first, it can be overwhelming when confronted with the vast multitude of different pipe tobaccos but, we intend to make the process of choosing less intimidating.
Traditional vs Aromatic
If you have met pipe smokers or spent but even a little time looking at online stores and forums, the most frequent point of contention will be that of traditional pipe tobacco versus aromatic pipe tobacco. As the former name implies traditional blends are based on the choice of tobacco used, and no extra flavourings are added. The latter on the other hand are tobaccos enhanced with a variety of toppings, usually to acquire a sweetness. Traditional doesn’t always mean it’s strong and likewise, aromatic doesn’t always mean it’s easy going.
A variety of countries are used for tobacco production and the respective climates impact the strength and taste of the end product. Whilst some forms of tobacco such as American Burley and Virginia are commonly used in mixtures for their smooth, sweet and unobtrusive qualities that work in tandem perfectly when blended with most other tobaccos. Perique on the other hand is a far more unique, full-flavoured tobacco that is not favoured by as many smokers but, those with a taste for it covet it. Stored firstly in large wooden barrels at high pressure, it is then allowed to age and ferment for years at a time. Due to the nature of Perique it would be unusual to find it in an aromatic blend. This is the same for the smokey, peat-like Latakia tobacco. Originally from Syria, this tobacco is black and smokes cool, making it a popular choice in traditional English mixtures. Only a few brands such as Germain’s for example, use it in mild aromatics.
When it comes to aromatic mixtures a common addition to the Virginia & Burley combination is a dash of Cavendish. This is usually a Virginia that has been pressed and heated into a cake, 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. Cavendish allows a blend to smoke slower due to it’s thick, molasses-like consistency. American Blends predominantly use these three tobaccos topped with flavours ranging from cherry, coffee, whisky, nuts, chocolate and rum to name but a few. Popular with the passer bye, these are the blends that will usually attract positive comments and remarks from strangers drawn to the alluring smell. The use of these additional flavours can, if smoked to hastily, result in a phenomenon known as tongue bite. This takes place when heat reacts with the sugars, leaving the smoker with a feeling of rawness on the tip of the tongue. To avoid this inconvenience one wants to take their time when smoking these blends. It’s not a race but rather, a slow stroll.
If you are intrigued by the idea of both traditional and aromatic tobaccos, it’s recommended to have a separate pipe for each. Heavy aromatic blends will leave the pipe with what smokers call a ‘ghost’. This trace of the previous tobacco could subsequently affect the impression of what blend is next smoked. To take it one step further, seasoned pipe smokers will usually try and use only one blend in each pipe they own, allowing them to fully appreciate the nuanced notes it provides.
Mixtures vs Flakes, Plugs & Rope
For beginners of pipe smoking, a mixture that is already prepared is the best place to start. This allows the smoker to simply take a pinch of ready prepared tobacco that they can promptly pack and light. Some other styles would be that of flakes, plugs and rope. These are more cumbersome to prepare but, many like the ritual believing the methods result in a richer taste. Flakes are slices cut from large pressed blocks of tobacco, whilst plug is similar but has been aged and pressed into a brick format. Flakes can be smoked as is or rubbed down by hand with fair ease, and both traditional and aromatic flakes are commonplace. Plug requires slicing, a pipe knife is preferable for this task, to shear parts off that can then be smoked. The final format is rope spun tobacco, known as ‘rope’ or ‘twist’ for short. An old method that requires spinning the tobacco into a long thick rope that is then sliced down into ‘coins’. This is usually un-flavoured but sometimes rum is used to add a bit of extra character.
How To Pack & Light The Pipe
Once you have taken the time necessary to choose the right tobacco for you, it’s time to grab your pipe and try it out. Take the pipe and hold it with the bowl facing upward. The first pinch should be placed loosely in the bowl and gently tampered, bear in mind can’t be so tight that it restricts the airflow. Next pinch should be put in and tampered tighter but, not so hard that it squashes the first one. Finally the third should be the one to seal it, this can be packed the tightest. Again, test the draw by gently puffing on the mouthpiece. If it feels unobstructed you’re ready to go on to lighting it, if not then empty it out and start again.
When lighting your pipe you will want to use either a match or soft flame lighter. Some lighters are designed for pipe smoking, allowing the flame to be drawn sideways. Jet flame or windproof lighters should always be avoided, as these will permanently damage your pipe by burning through the briar. The first stage is a simple charring of the tobacco on top, toasting away the excess moisture. To do this hover the flame around a half inch above the bowl, rotating it slowly in a circle whilst gently puffing. Next, allow this light to dissipate and gently tamper. Finally repeat the first action, this time holding the flame directly to the tobacco and puff more frequently than before, but still not too hard. Through this action the flame should be drawn deeper, igniting the tobacco properly. This technique will take a little bit of time to master, but don’t be thrown off if it doesn’t come naturally. Persistence is the key.
Once the bowl is finished you will need to remove the ash and prepare the pipe for its next use. Never tap the pipe off of a hard surface as the damage done can be irreversible. Instead turn upside down, with the bowl facing the ground, and use your index finger to tap on the base of the pipe allowing the debris to fall out. Then you can use your pipe tool to remove any leftover clumps. If using a reamer be careful not to scrape all the cake from the bowl. Carbon build up is a key component in moisture absorption, leading to a dry and cool smoke. 9mm pipe filters are also used to this effect, if using a filter remove it after a couple of uses and replace it to avoid a build up of residue. Lastly, a pipe cleaner can be used to remove tar from inside the stem. Simply slide down the mouthpiece whilst twisting, pulling it out the opposite end. This should do away with a lot of muck, drawing it away from the mouthpiece and resulting in a smoother smoke.
Taking time to experiment with different blends and formats is recommended to get the most out of your pipe smoking. What may first appeal to you through descriptions might not be as palatable as first expected. Do not be discouraged if the first couple of blends you try don’t quite hit the spot, perhaps try something a little different. There is a high chance you will be pleasantly surprised. As they say “variety is the spice of life”. See below; a few of the choice options of these different blends and formats.