If you've smoked cigars for a while, you may have considered trying out pipe tobacco. After all, a pipe forms a nice supplement to the cigar-smoking habit--and, like cigars, pipes offer some of that old-fashioned, old-world charm.
But one of the problems for the cigar smoker who may want to "expand his operations" into pipe smoking is--surprisingly enough--the very tobacco that makes both kinds of smoking such a pleasure. After all, if you've been smoking cigars, one of the most important choices--the blend of tobacco you're going to smoke--is made for you long before you're ready to light up. A premium cigar is made from world-class tobaccos that are blended together by a master of the art. If you're buying tobacco "raw" to smoke in a pipe, on the other hand, you've got to make that choice--what tobacco you'll smoke, or what combination of tobaccos will taste best together--all by yourself.
Half the excitement of smoking--whether cigar or pipe smoking--comes from the diversity of the tobaccos that are available. On the other hand, that's where half the intimidation comes from too. Taking the time to learn about the basic "genres" of tobacco that are available out there will take a lot of the fear and trembling from pipe smoking, and enable you to choose the taste that's right for you.
The most popular American tobacco is Brightleaf or "Virginia" tobacco - which actually hails originally from North Caroline, where it was discovered in 1839. The key to Virginia tobacco is that it's light and charcoal-cured--with a less acrid, smoother taste to show for it. And Brightleaf is important, as well, because it created an economic use for the infertile Appalachian Piedmont area. Some compare the taste of it to salsa.
Then there's Burley tobacco, which is milder than Virginia--almost caramel-y. It was once known as White Burley tobacco, to distinguish it from the now-extinct Red Burley from which it evolved during the nineteenth century. (Its discoverer, George Webb, at first thought it would have no use except as a novelty plant. He soon thought better of that idea, however, and now his name is immortalized by a Midwestern chain restaurant.)
"Oriental" or "Turkish" tobacco (apparently the people who make these labels are still stuck in the mid-nineteenth-century) is spicier, with a natural sugar content rivalling that of Brightleaf. It's similar to the stuff you'll smell in the open-air markets of Middle Eastern countries. Anyone who has smoked that fruity, heady stuff--perhaps from a hookah--knows that the experience is a hard one to forget.
Latakia is rich, heady, and, on its own, an acquired taste, though as a spicy ingredient in a blend it's very popular. This stuff can be strong, so be careful.
Perique is one of the few kinds of Red Burley still cultivated--it's hard to get and expensive, leathery, and strong-tasting (hence farmers' nineteenth-century search for a less sanguine variation).
Cavendish (or "casting") is not a kind of tobacco but a kind of processing some tobaccos are put through. It ends up so sweet-tasting that the tang of tobacco is nearly gone--but it might make a good choice for a first-time smoker.
Some first time pipe smokers buy a sampler of mild aromatic tobaccos, figuring that this is the easiest "way in" to the world of pipe smoking. Experienced pipe smokers, however, have been known to advise against this course of action. They say that it leads to "oversmoking" (the new smoker will puff so hard to try to pull out some taste as to ruin the smoking experience), and that a weaker taste is not necessarily a more pleasant or memorable one. So don't be afraid to start with something a little stronger.
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