Pipe Tobacco and Tobacco Pipes
Some people don’t seem to realise that there are significant differences between pipe tobacco, cigar tobacco and cigarette tobacco
The cut of the tobacco is one of the key differences between pipe tobacco, cigar tobacco and cigarette tobacco. Pipe tobacco smokers and cigar smokers usually enjoy the same pastime – perhaps they will smoke their pipe on a regular basis, but also enjoy a cigar in the evening after dinner or at a special event, for example. It is not necessarily the same for cigarette smokers however, as cigarette smokers don’t usually swap between cigarettes to smoke a pipe or indulge in smoking a cigar after dinner – they usually just head straight for the cigarette packet!
The curing methods used for pipe tobacco and cigar tobacco is also a little different..
It’s impossible to smoke the tobacco leaf straight from the plant as there is too much moisture in it to ignite properly. When the plants are eventually harvested the whole plant is cut down and they are then hung up to dry on wooden battens in well ventilated ‘barn like’ structures to draw out the excess moisture from the leaves. All of the moisture has to have dissipated from the central vein of the leaves and the leaves have to have reached the desired colour before they can be turned into your favourite product. The humidity within these structures has to be strictly regulated to ensure that the leaves don’t get mould on them or that the leaves don’t rot…
When smoked, air-cured tobacco tends to have a higher nicotine content with a lovely mellow flavour due to the low sugar content in the leaves.
There is one small difference between air cured tobacco and sun cured tobacco, and that is the way the tobacco is dried – air cured tobacco is hung up to dry on battens in the sunshine to allow all of the nicotine to go to the leaf tips and sun cured tobacco leaves are laid out on racks in direct hot sunlight to lock in the natural sweetness of the plant – quick drying locks in some of the natural sugars in the leaves.
Dokha Arabic pipe tobacco, for example, which utilises the ‘air curing’ method, is grown at high altitude and benefits from the cooler evenings/nights and the hot sunshine during the day – fresh water channels amongst the plants help to keep the plants from wilting in the heat of the day.
Fire cured pipe tobaccos explained
If you think of a food product which has been smoked such as ‘smoked salmon‘, then you can more easily visualise the picture of fire curing where salmon is placed on racks in a ‘smokehouse‘ – basically, with tobacco, the leaves are still hung up to dry but small wood fires are gently kindled under the leaves. When the leaves are being fire cured the barn needs to be more tightly sealed to keep the smoke inside….this is a lengthy process and depending on the expertise of the farmer involved, and the taste that they are trying to achieve, the whole process can take up to two to three months! Obviously the kindling fires are not under the leaves all of this time, but the whole process is still a lengthy one….
The flavour of western pipe tobaccos also depends on the woods being used in the kindling – some hardwoods produce very strong flavours so sometimes farmers will mix the woods to achieve a more delicate flavour..
As a general rule, Pipe Tobacco is more finely cut so it can be easily packed into the bowl of the pipe. A pinch of the loose tobacco is put in the bowl of the pipe and pressed down gently with your finger – or by using a tampering tool which has basically got a flat circular top on it (like the top of a nail) to tamper down the tobacco…. a small pinch then tamper down – another pinch and tamper down again – another pinch and tamper for the third time to allow the tobacco to spring back then light it…
Pleasurable and leisurely pipe tobacco smoking has been enjoyed by millions of people over the centuries. The essence of the hobby hasn’t changed much over the years, although the design and styles of pipes has ….
Cigar tobacco, on the other hand, has several more complicated manoeuvres to complete the task of putting together a great tasting cigar. Crafted by hand, the filler leaf is concertinaed and bound by a binder leaf which is then all held together with a wrapper leaf. There is a ‘cap’ on the end of the cigar, which is the very last step of the rolling process, which is used to hold the outer wrapper leaf in place on the cigar. It takes great skill to cut a cigar correctly, ready for a great smoking experience. There are several methods of cutting a cigar, however the most popular method is the guillotine cut – this little gismo has a double blade to make a straight cut across the end of the cigar. It is just the very end of the cigar that is placed in the cutter to quickly snip off the tip of the cap. If this is done correctly the cut will create a small opening while leaving the majority of the cap in place to keep the wrapper attached to the cigar. If you are using the little guillotine gismo then you must cut with confidence so you don’t damage the cigar by procrastinating!
What materials are used to make tobacco pipes
Tobacco pipes have evolved over the centuries and have been made from just about every natural and man-made material you can possibly imagine. For the purposes of this post, we couldn’t possibly go into any depth to describe the hundreds of thousands of different tobacco pipes that are available around the world. Tobacco pipes come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and some tobacco pipes have evolved specifically to reflect a country’s culture.
In days gone by, probably the cheapest, mass produced tobacco pipes were made from CLAY. Although clay pipes were fragile, they were cheap to produce and in fact when they became so popular across Europe, clay pipes were sometimes embossed with decorative designs on both the bowl and the stem to distinguish one pipe maker from another…
France, in particular, fast became a centre of excellence for the manufacture and production of unequalled clay pipes and although the original clay pipes have long since gone out of fashion, the French have maintained their position by using Meerschaum and Briar wood for their pipe making – you may well ask what Meerschaum is: fossilised shells of ancient sea life that have collected and been compressed by wave movement over millions of years. Meerschaum has been used for pipe making since the early 1700s when its use replaced the original clay pipes. Over time, and to this day, smoking pipes made using Meerschaum or Briar wood have become a favourite smoking implement…
Although the word Meerschaum is basically German as the first syllable of the word ‘meer‘ roughly translated means ‘sea’ and ‘schaum’ means ‘foam’, most of the world’s supply of Meerschaum is harvested from mines spread out across the plains of Turkey. Generation upon generation of proficient Turkish miners harvest the Meerschaum from deep underground mines and once brought above ground, they grade it based on size, colour etc. At this point pipe manufacturers from all over the world purchase the Meerschaum from the mining companies to make all sorts of wonderful concoctions, often incorporating other materials and intricate detailing. Because Meerschaum is a soft malleable material it can be easily manipulated into whatever shape the tobacco pipe artisan wants..
The very best artisans in the business of making collectibles are Turkish, although there are many, equally masterful craftsmen/women around the world now fashioning fabulous tobacco pipes and selling their artistry globally.
Medwakh Arabic tobacco pipes are distinguishable from western tobacco pipes by the much smaller bowl and straight stem
Dokha pipe tobacco is smoked through a Medwakh (sometimes spelled Midwakh) which is a straight pipe with a very small bowl on the end of the shaft. Most traditional Medwakh pipes are either made from Briar wood, Cherry wood or Maple wood, however, nowadays there are lots of other combinations of materials being utilised such as animal bone (Deer or Oxon), for example. Resins and aluminium are also being used – in some instances stylising with precious metals such as gold or silver and even diamonds and sapphires are being used to embellish the stem (shaft) of the Medwakh smoking pipe…