Different Pipe Tobacco Varieties
Before we explore the various blends of tobacco on the market, we will begin by providing you with an overview of the different varieties. This will provide you with an insight into the different types of tobacco. By learning their unique properties, you will understand how they contribute to the overall experience.
Although the varieties of tobacco are vast, the following seven are the most well-known and commonly used in pipe tobacco:
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Primarily made for cigarettes, Burley is also heavily used in blending pipe tobacco. Burley is a light air-cured tobacco that’s mostly produced in Kentucky.
As it’s low in sugar and high in nicotine, Burley is often used as a base tobacco for blends due to its slow and cool combustion that produces thick smoke. Adding dark Burley varietiesto a blend provides it with more body and spice as well as a hit of nicotine.
Meanwhile, White Burley is known for easily absorbing flavourings. Therefore, it’s a popular variety of tobacco for making aromatic blends.
What Is Cavendish Tobacco?
Cavendish tobacco technically refers to the tobacco’s curing and cutting processes. However, it is often mistakenly perceived as either a tobacco variety or a type of flavoured blend.
This type of tobacco is the result of adding flavours by steaming toasted Kentucky, Virginia or Burley tobacco. The leaves are pressed beforehand into an inch-thick brick-shaped cake mould to ensure that the flavours are fully absorbed.
Before the tobacco is sliced and broken apart in a rubbing process, the cake may be stored under pressure over several days or weeks. Some of the most popular Cavendish flavours consist of cherry, chocolate, rum, and vanilla.
Discovered by Sir Thomas Cavendish in 1585 by dipping tobacco in sugar, the modern process is known for producing considerably fuller flavours than typical aromatic tobacco blends.
Dark Fired Kentucky Tobacco
A variety of tobacco similar to Burley, Dark Fired Kentucky undergoes a specific curing process as the name suggests. Although somewhat less common today in favour of Latakia or other condiment varieties, most tobacco grown in the US was fire-cured dark-leaf prior to the Civil War.
Cured over an open fire inside a barn, the result is a dark tobacco with a distinctively smoky flavour that delivers a strong nicotine hit. As such, Dark Fired Kentucky is sometimes perceived as a somewhat rustic alternative to Latakia due to the overall spicy and earthy flavour profile.
Consequently, it is often blended with young and sweet Virginia for an overall balanced accord.
Like Cavendish, Latakia is actually a tobacco curing process. Although it initially came from Syria, it is mostly produced today in Cyprus by curing bunches of tobacco over pine or oak wood fires.
Turkish Smyrna tobacco, also known as Izmir, is typically used for Latakia curing whereas the traditional Syrian method would use a native variety.
A black, smoky tobacco, it produces a thick smoke with an intense peppery flavour. As a result, it is often used as a condiment for blending to contrast the hot burn of Virginia varieties.
An old curing process taught by Choctaw Native Americans to French colonist, Pierre Chenet, Perique is still solely produced today in St James Parish, Louisiana. This is not only due to the tobacco’s heritage but also the unique Magnolia swampland soil that produces its distinctive flavour.
Furthermore, Perique is not just a curing process but also a specific variety of tobacco, which is sometimes referred to as Red Burley.
To produce Perique, the harvested tobacco is dried and then subjected to high pressure in whisky barrels over the course of a year. During this curing process, the tobacco ferments in the juices and oils it produces under pressure. The tobacco is then flipped and repacked every 90 days to ensure an even fermentation.
However, Red Burley is infamously fragile due to the region’s volatile climate. As it was also produced by very few farmers, Perique nearly became endangered. Therefore, there is also an alternative variety known as Acadian Perique, which consists of both Red and Kentucky Green River Burley.
Acadian Perique is produced by curing the two tobaccos separately and then blending them together afterwards in order to ensure a consistent production.
The result is a slow-burning and moist tobacco that is almost black in appearance. Perique produces a thick and cool acidic smoke with peppery notes of fig and molasses. As such, it’s often used as a spicy condiment in Virginia blends, which also reduces tongue bite.
There continues to be much debate on the origins of the tobacco’s name. As it became embraced by the Acadian settlers, it is widely believed that the tobacco is a variation of the Cajun word for “prick”. However, it is also suggested that “Perique” was originally Pierre Chenet’s nickname.
Turkish & Oriental Tobacco
Virginia and Burley tobaccos have vastly different levels of sugar and oils. Meanwhile, Oriental tobacco is known for its balanced composition. Harvested from small-leaf plants, Oriental tobacco varieties are often cured and dried under direct sunlight.
As the name suggests, Oriental tobacco is native to the Mediterranean region between Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria. In fact, Oriental tobacco is often a term used for a plethora of different varieties.
Greek Oriental Tobacco
Below is a selection of Greek varieties often referred to as Oriental tobacco:
- Basma: Pressed tobacco from Western Greece.
- Djebel: Mild, pressed tobacco from Thrace in Northeastern Greece.
- Drama: Sweet and subtle Greek tobacco.
- Kavala: Large and dark aromatic Greek tobacco.
- Katerini: Greek variety of Samsun with a mild flavour.
- Mahala: An alternative pressed Basma tobacco from Kavala.
- Trebizond: A Greek variety of Basha Bagli tobacco.
- Xanthi: Strong pressed Greek tobacco from Thrace similar to Basma.
- Yenidje: Famous strong tobacco from Greece with a reddish colour.
Turkish Oriental Tobacco
Here are a few well-known Oriental tobacco varieties that are native to Turkey:
- Basha Bagli: Strong and sweet Turkish tobacco with high nicotine.
- Baffra: More rustic alternative to Samsun-Maden.
- Bursa: Heavy and uncharacteristically large Turkish tobacco.
- Izmir: Mild but flavourful Aegean Turkish tobacco.
- Samsun-Maden: Mild yet flavourful Turkish variety from the Black Sea.
- Smyrna: Alternative name for Izmir tobacco.
Other Oriental Tobaccos
These are a few well-known Oriental tobacco varieties that aren’t native to either Greece or Turkey:
- Dubek: Sweet and aromatic Macedonian tobacco.
- Persian Shiraz: Rare Iranian tobacco.
- Shek-el-Bint: Syrian tobacco traditionally used for Latakia curing.
What’s the Difference Between Oriental & Turkish Tobacco?
Interestingly, tobacco was introduced to the Ottomon Empire by the Spanish from the Americas. As such, none of the above varieties are truly native to their countries.
Similarly, the monikers “Turkish” and Oriental” are often used interchangeably due to their shared Ottoman heritage. Today, many of the varieties that were predominantly “native” to one country may be grown throughout the region today.
Furthermore, the specific tobaccos listed above are hard to find separately but are usually blended together by manufacturers.
Given the many different strains that are referred to as Turkish and Oriental tobacco, they can greatly vary in flavour. Turkish and Oriental tobacco may be earthy and spicy or even floral and herbaceous.
Turkish and Oriental tobacco is often added to blends alongside Latakia to provide a bold smoking experience. However, they may also be used in combination with Virginia and Perique tobacco too.
Like Burley, Virginia is a popular tobacco variety that’s also used for producing cigarettes. Similarly, Virginia is often used as a base tobacco for harmonising blends. However, it is one of the few varieties that can be smoked straight.
High in sugar and low in oil, Virginia is overall quite sweet. However, it is also produces a naturally thin smoke and can get very hot, which is why Virginia is often blended with other tobacco. Nevertheless, this high sugar content means that Virginia ages very well when fermented in a sealed container.
Therefore, there are a number of different types, which are referred to by their colour. While other factors may be at play, their distinctive hues are usually a product of the curing and maturation process.
For instance, young Virginia is quite bright with an aromatic flavour but smoking too hard may cause severe tongue bite. Meanwhile, mature Virginia will be quite dark in appearance and will produce fruity vinous notes.
Different Pipe Tobacco Blend Types
Now that you have learned about the various types of tobacco varieties, we will explore the various ways that they may be blended.
However, there are no guidelines on the proportions of tobacco varietals that should be used in order to create a blend. Additionally, there are no official definitions of what constitutes each blend. As such, there are many disagreements and debates on the matter.
Consequently, we can only base ourselves on the general consensus of the pipe smoking community as well as significant historical examples of certain blends.
Therefore, it’s important to note that the following appellations of tobacco blends are far from standardised in the industry:
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American Pipe Tobacco Blends
Defining what consists of an American tobacco mixture is particularly challenging as its definition is remarkably vague. In fact, there is little general consensus among even the pipe smoking community as to what constitutes an American blend.
Nevertheless, most pipe smokers will agree that an American blend will predominantly consist of a Burley tobacco base. Since Virginia is often present in other blends, Burley is arguably more quintessentially American.
Nevertheless, American blends may include some Virginia tobacco as well as other US-grown varieties such as Kentucky Dark Fired and Perique.
Aromatic Pipe Tobacco
Although listed under blends, aromatics and non-aromatics are among the two most significant distinctions on the market. Nevertheless, the difference between the two is often surprisingly small.
Aromatic tobaccos are often understood as flavoured blends. Consequently, they are often associated with two conditioning methods known as casing and top-flavouring.
However, most tobacco today is cased to some extent when processed as tobacco in its natural form rarely offers a pleasant smoke.
During this process, tobacco is soaked in a sauce of flavourings such as sugar, molasses, alcoholic spirits, and liquorice. After having absorbed the sauce, the tobacco is sealed in large cylinders. The resulting flavours are deeply imparted into the tobacco as it dries.
Meanwhile, top-flavouring undergo of a light application of flavouring that is sprayed onto a finished blend before packaging. As the process is much more superficial, it has little effect on the tobacco’s humidity while providing only minor flavouring.
Overall, aromatic tobacco will consist of blends that have undergone a much more intensive casing process to yield greater flavouring. Sometimes they may also be top-flavoured too, but this is not mandatory.
Balkan Tobacco Blends
Today, we typically identify Balkan mixtures as a base of Oriental and Latakia tobacco with only a small amount of Virginia used for balancing the blend.
However, it is thought that the term is derived from the House of Sobranie’s original Balkan Blend. Although the original is no longer in production, there have since been re-releases. Contrary to the description above, the original blend actually consisted of a significant amount of Virginia tobacco.
Nevertheless, the term has outlived the original product and now refers to low-Virginia blends with high quantities of Oriental and Latakia tobacco.
English Tobacco Blends
Interestingly, English pipe tobacco blends have also experienced a semantic shift during the course of its history. For many decades, British tobacco adhered to the United Kingdom’s Tobacco Purity Laws, which allowed only pure tobacco and outlawed additives.
Therefore, early English mixtures exemplified by Dunhill’s 1928 London Mixture would feature significant proportions of Latakia to create fuller flavours. However, the British would begin to use Latakia and Perique tobacco more sparingly as condiments to cater to an evolving market.
Although the law was repealed in 1986, contemporary English blends continue to be associated with a Virginia base balanced by Latakia and occasionally Oriental tobacco too.
Oriental Pipe Tobacco Blends
As the name suggests, such pipe tobacco blends are often composed of several varieties of Turkish and Oriental tobacco. In many cases, they will often feature Latakia as the main condiment.
As you may have gathered above, many blends consist of a number of Oriental tobaccos. As such, Oriental blends tend to feature a significantly higher proportion of its native tobacco.
Although straight Oriental blends are rare, they do exist. Nevertheless, most will use a portion of Virginia to improve combustion and the balance of flavours.
Scottish Pipe Tobacco Blends
A lesser-known and underappreciated blend type, Scottish mixtures are similar to English blends in that they predominantly use Virginia. However, they feature considerably less Latakia and potentially no Oriental tobacco at all.
Meanwhile, Scottish pipe tobacco mixtures may also contain a greater proportion of Cavendish tobacco or may be slightly aromatic. Given the association of Scotland with whisky, it’s likely that this will be the flavouring used for the Cavendish or canning processes.
Yet, there are some enthusiasts among the pipe community that argue that Scottish mixtures are not a true tobacco blend. Given that Scottish blends are essentially aromatic English mixtures, their authenticity is a grey area.
Nevertheless, others believe that Scottish mixtures do have a distinctive character and can easily be defined as their own family of blends.
Different Types Of Pipe Tobacco Cuts
Finally, we will conclude this guide by providing an overview on the various ways the leaves are cut to create pipe tobacco. If the plethora of tobacco varieties and blends wasn’t enough, the way it’s cut can also play a significant role in the resulting experience.
As a general rule of thumb, thin pieces will naturally burn faster than thick tobacco. Similarly, its level of humidity will play a role as moisture slows down combustion.
Additionally, the air circulating in the bowl will affect the rate of combustion. Therefore, tightly-packed tobacco will burn slower than loose pieces. Finally, some mixtures may even consist of a variety of cuts in order to provide different flavours through varying combustion speeds.
We cover the following main tobacco cut families, which each go into further detail on their variants:
As with the previous sections, you can use the above links to jump ahead.
Sometimes also referred to as “plugs” or “bars”, cakes are made by compressing tobacco under steam. The resulting dense bricks are cut into smaller blocks that easily retain their moisture. Like flakes, cakes are usually rubbed out by hand. Sometimes, Burley cakes are cut into very fine cubes that can be smoked directly.
Meanwhile, a roll cake is the same approach but has a cylindrical appearance. Similarly, navy plugs are roll cakes that have been tightly wrapped in rum-soaked rope to add flavour. When sliced, these are referred to as “navy cuts”.
Finally, cake can be made from pre-ribbon cut tobacco, which results in aptly-named “crumble cake”.
Cavendish Tobacco Cut
As described in further detail above, Cavendish tobacco refers to both the curing process as well as the cut. After the pressed blocks have been rubbed out, they appear as long and fine irregularly-shaped ribbons.
Flake Tobacco Cut Types
Flake tobacco cuts consist of small, irregularly-shaped cuts extracted from tobacco having pressed into bricks under high heat. Flakes are typically 1 inch (2.5 mm) wide and 0.1″ (2.5 mm) thick, which won’t exceed 1/8″ (3 mm). Sometimes, they are sold as “broken flakes” or “slices”, which is somewhat thicker.
Having been pressed, the flavours of the different tobacco varieties used will marry well. Furthermore, they retain their moisture when preserved in their flake form.
Most types of flakes are usually rubbed out into strands between the palms. However, they can be crushed, folded or even smoked in their original form depending on the size.
Alternatively, flake tobacco can be mechanically rubbed out before being sold, which is referred to as Ready Rubbed.
Ribbon Cut Tobacco
Most tobacco today is sold in a form of ribbon cut. While common ribbon cuts vary from 1/16″ (1.6 mm) to 3/32″ (2.4 mm), there are a variety of different shapes and sizes:
- Broad Ribbon: Extra wide ribbon cut.
- Coarse Cut: Ribbon with small chunks.
- Crimp: Smaller pieces than granulated below.
- Cross: Twice-cut broad ribbon.
- Fine: Thin ribbon strands normally cut for cigarettes.
- Granulated: Small strands of varying sizes.
- Loose: Long, thin ribbon cut.
- Shag: Longer strands of 1/19″ (1.3 mm) to 1/16″ (1.6 mm).
Like many things in the tobacco industry, the terms and measurements above are not standardised. Nevertheless, they should provide you with a sufficient rule of thumb.
Unlike with a cake, whole leaves of tobacco are twisted rather than compressed into a long, thick cylinder. While it ages, the rope or “lanyard” tobacco resembles a long hose pipe. The cylinders are then cut into slices, which are referred to as “coins”, “medallions”, “curly cuts”, or even “spun cuts”.
Like cake and flakes, they are rubbed into strands between the palms before being smoked.
Now that you have learned all about the different types of pipe tobacco varieties, blends, and cuts, feel free to explore our other guides: