I will preface the list with information that I feel may be beneficial to the beginner pipe smoker looking for blends to try. However, you can skip right to the blends with the table of contents below.
Here are the best pipe tobaccos for beginners:
- Cobblestone Maple Walnut
- Peter Stokkebye PS 23 B&B
- Hearth & Home Classic Burley Kake
- Sutliff 504C Aromatic English
- Cornell & Diehl Good Morning
- Newminster No.17 English Luxus
- Arango Balkan Supreme
- Capstan Gold Navy Flake
- Astley’s No. 2 Mixture
- G. L. Pease Cairo
With so many options and opinions, choosing the best pipe tobacco for a beginner pipe smoker can be a difficult process. Myriad factors determine one’s reaction to a blend—from personal taste right down to the chemistry of their tongue. What bites one tongue may not another, what makes a “strong” nic-hit is a personal perception. One experienced smoker’s advice might sound like a sadistic joke to another. “You recommended what?!”
No doubt, this is a symptom of what makes pipe smoking the enigmatic delight that it is—an indulgence that is boundless in exploration and personalization—one that you can bask in with others while knowing your experience is all your own. But before that enchantment touches ground, the beginner pipe smoker has some searching to do, and some technique to learn.
Every facet of pipe smoking—be it the blend, cut, or pipe shape and material—carries pros and cons in terms of new-smoker-friendliness. The most palatable blend to the new smoker might also be the one that teaches them the pain of tongue bite; the cut that’s more difficult to pack might have a more seamless burn. It’s hard to say precisely what will and won't be best for someone learning about pipe smoking. But what we can do is explore the common wisdom and try to find some context for choosing the best tobacco blends to start with.
Given that no advice is sure to apply universally, this guide will make suggestions for a wide range of blends. Even though some may be a bit easier than others to work with at first, I think trying a bit of everything is important to both exploring your taste, as well as developing an adaptability to the many variables involved in pipe smoking. But we’ll definitely orient those suggestions toward those which are inviting to beginners, making recommendations that navigate the hurdles of inexperience.
Basically, I hope for this list of the best pipe tobaccos for beginners to not only help new smokers find blends that agree with them, but that can help along in the exploration of pipe smoking as well.
Types of Tobacco Cuts
Before we get into blends, let’s have a brief overview of the different types of tobacco cuts. The cut of a blend factors in to how hospitable it may be to an inexperienced pipe smoker. The suggestions in this guide will have a few different cuts so I want to make sure you have context for each.
Remember that, while you may develop a preference for certain cuts, all of these are conducive to a great smoke, some just take a little more trial and error to get right. Packing is a balancing act.
Although I do think trying a few different cuts early on is a good idea for a beginner to get the sense of the impact each variable has on the smoking experience, ribbon-cut should probably comprise a good deal of your early blends.
Ribbon is the most common pipe tobacco cut. It often refers to a handful of other more specific cuts such as shag or broad. Much like pipe shapes, blend types, and all matter of things pipes and tobacco, there’s not really an industry standard to go by.
Due to the loose, fine cut of ribbons, they don’t inherently require any steps before packing (although you may want to let dry for a bit depending on the blend). The narrower cut varieties such as shag can be easy to pack too tight, but in general these cuts making the packing process easy and have little temperament in taking a light.
Most of the suggestions in this list will be ribbon-cut.
Flakes come in jerky-like slabs of tobacco that have been pressed under heat. This process leads to a mixing of flavors between the tobacco varieties.
Flake will most often be “rubbed out,” or rolled in the fingers or palm to break up the flake into strands to be packed, but sometimes they can simply be folded into the chamber. Because flake is generally tougher, it can be finnicky getting the pack just right, but it’s a rewarding cut once you get it down. Having to rub out the flake gives the smoker a lot of control over just how fine they want it. Many seasoned smokers may even strategically stratify the consistency of tobacco in their chamber. And some attest that, once you do have a better gauge for packing flake, it can offer a more controllable burn rate.
You may also see ready-rubbed as a cut. Ready-rubbed looks to be between a ribbon-cut and a flake—it’s strand-like but less fine than ribbon. This is simply flake tobacco that has been somewhat rubbed out before packaging.
If you’re coming from cigars, you might want to consider trying some flakes, as they tend to have a dense smoke similar to that of cigars.
Often referred to as plug or bars, cake looks similar to flake but a bit thicker usually. Cake is made under steam compression, pressing the tobacco into large bricks before being sliced. The resulting slices are easily rubbed out like flake, and sometimes they are diced smaller still into cubes. This cube-cut can be packed as is.
There is also crumble cake (often spelt krumble kake), where a fine ribbon-cut is compressed and sliced into blocks. As the name suggests, this block is very easy to pull a piece off of and crumble into the ribbon. Cake however holds moisture better than ribbon-cut.
Additionally, there is rope cut, but I wouldn’t concern you with that as a beginner.
We’ll focus in on three blend families: Aromatic, English, and Virginia. However, this is just a broad divvying up of infinite possibilities. With all the tobaccos that can be blended in different ways, these distinctions can categorize blends based on their components and star players, but there are many sub-genres within them and none of it’s standardized. They’re convenient categories for grouping blends and discussing them, but many blends challenge an easy classification. Even between these broad categories there can be plenty of overlap. Take an English, give it a top flavoring, and you would best describe it as an Aromatic English, no more one than the other.
I only belabor this point because I remember as a beginner, I was dizzyingly confused thinking I didn’t understand how it all worked, but I was really just over thinking it. I’d hear a blend categorized one way, then another, and think “which is it?” I was expecting to find some objectivity.
These are convenient ways of categorizing while we go through some different blends to try to understand why they may be right for you, but there are always exceptions.
I often think of it like music genres. Some English blends might be quintessentially English, like Chucky Berry to Rock. Sometimes the label is more of a “close enough,” like Bohemian Rhapsody—a piano ballad, wall-of-sound bridge, and operatic anthem idiosyncratically harmonizing in one composition most would still not hesitate to call a Rock song.
Remember, all of the pros and cons ahead are not sure to apply to all beginners but are sourced from common experiences. Another reason to give all things a fair shake.
We’ll start with Aromatics as they’re often recommended pipe tobacco blends for beginners and seem to be where many start out.
Since Aromatics feature one or more added flavorings (aside from casing which most blends have), they are often regarded as more palatable pipe tobaccos for beginners. With flavors of fruit, chocolate, liquors, etc.—they offer a more civilian introduction.
Other blends may impart their forward flavor through condiment tobaccos such as Perique and Latakia, which may be an acquired taste. Other blends may use tobaccos that aren’t exceptionally potent, the nuances being what tells the story. These may not pique the interest of a pipe smoker who has yet to pick up on the subtleties of flavor .
One other positive to Aromatics for beginner pipe smokers is that while they can be forward in flavor, they are often Cavendish heavy blends, and thus aren’t especially bold in terms of body. Cavendish is a mild tobacco (really a Virginia or Burley that has undergone a particular process). Their own flavor isn’t especially bold, and they take on other flavors well, making them especially useful in Aromatic blends.
Keep in mind that really all kinds of blends that fit into other categories can be flavored and may be classified in a number of ways. This however is a benefit too. While the wealth of Cavendish Aromatic blends poses an opportunity to find pleasant-tasting, light-bodied blends, heavier blends that use flavoring with condiment tobacco are great for exploring these more robust varieties.
Aromatics are certainly inviting in their flavor and scent, but because of their heavy casing, some can be difficult for inexperienced pipe smokers to puff without getting tongue bite.
There are a lot of factors that go into what causes tongue bite. Some tobaccos are more prone to it, certain people are more susceptible. Tobaccos that smoke more wet often smoke hotter. The top-flavor on Aromatics often makes them smoke more wet, thus they can be notorious deliverers of tongue bite.
As you gain more experience, you get a handle on all the little nit-picks that can keep your pipe burning cool. More than cadence, how you dry, pack, and light your tobacco are all relevant to controlling how hot you’re smoking.
Finally, I think the supposition that non-Aromatics will prove less palatable may be over-assumed. It will often be the case, but far from a rule. It’s avoiding harsh nic-hit that I find to be most important in these early searches (provided you aren’t coming to pipe smoking with tolerance from other mediums of nicotine use). To be fair, this point isn’t exactly a con toward Aromatics as beginner pipe blends; it makes them no less inviting that they aren’t alone in their approachability.
- Tobacco: Burley, Virginia, Black Cavendish
- Flavoring: Maple, Nut
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Mild
Cobblestone’s Walnut Maple Pie, part of the Indulge series, is a great place to start for those not looking for bold tobacco flavor out of the gate and want that mild Aromatic with little nic-hit. Black Cavendish and Burley wonderfully embrace the top flavoring, the Burley offering a mild body. Maple and nut make for a great mix that isn’t syrupy-artificial tasting. Behind the top flavors, a slightly grassy sweetness from the Virginias pokes through.
Walnut Maple Pie is only one blend in the Indulge series which also includes Crème Brulee, Cherry Delight, and Vanilla Custard. If the properties of this blend seem right to you but any of these other flavors seem more up your alley, they are all excellent choices.
- Tobacco: Black Cavendish, Burley
- Flavoring: Vanilla
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Mild
A good vanilla is crucial in the arsenal of any Aromatic smoker, and you can’t go wrong with PS 23 B&B from Peter Stokkebye.
Another great mild Aromatic with a light nic-hit; perfect for beginners looking to get their feet wet with an easy pack and cooler burn than some other Aromatics. This one will especially get some attention for its fantastic room note.
- Tobacco: Burley, Kentucky, Virginia
- Flavoring: Cocoa, Rum, Anise
- Cut: Crumble Cake
- Strength: Mild – Medium
For a little variety, here’s a great, mellow Aromatic that departs from the light Cavendish blends. The Classic Burley Kake from Hearth & Home gives us a wonderfully flavored Burley blend. Four Burley varieties, Red Virginias, and natural cocoa, rum, and anise top flavors coalesce in this easy to prep crumble cake.
I thought this would be a great inclusion because, unlike most mild Cavendish Aromatics common to beginners, Classic Burley Kake gives us a mild, yet dynamic Aromatic. The Burley varieties with several top flavors gives this blend a unique complexity—it’s easy for blends with a lot going on to taste more busy than harmonious, but blender Russ Ouellette certainly pulls it off.
That isn’t at all to knock the Cavendish Aromatics, many of which I love for a right-over-the-plate, tasty smoke. But the guiding principle of this list is broadly exploring all kinds of options through a beginner friendly lens.
- Tobacco: Black Cavendish, Burley, Cavendish, Latakia
- Flavoring: Liquor
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Mild – Medium
Sutliff’s 504C is actually the third blend I ever had. I tried two mild Cavendish Aromatics and wanted to step into some bolder tobacco flavor and figured that an English/Aromatic would be a good bridge. I certainly think it was, and I still enjoy this blend very much. The Latakia gives it the woody, smokey flavor of an English, the Burley adds body, but it still sits in that mild range, maybe a bit shy of medium.
As well as being a great introduction to Latakia, I see 504C working well for a cigar smoker looking to discover pipe blends.
An English blend in the broadest terms is one that uses Latakia as the dominant flavor—often joined by Turkish/Orientals and Virginias. When the Turkish/Oriental varieties play a larger role, we’ll often hear the blend referred to as a Balkan. Remember, blends in these categories might be parsed differently depending on who is smoking them, don’t get too frustrated on the smaller details.
English blends are great for some beginners because they offer a non-Aromatic that is still rich in flavor. However, instead of the topping imparting a forward flavor, it’s the assertive Latakia—a condiment leaf that has been through a smoke curing process which gives it that smoky, campfire essence.
Anyone will pull out that distinct flavor from the jump. No doubt, there’s more complexity to find as you develop your taste—how the different tobaccos complement each other, how the ratios of the tobaccos used bring out different properties—but in the meantime, it gives the inexperienced palate something interesting and overt to grab onto while getting acquainted with all the nuances.
English blends are also generally easier to keep a moderate burn temperature on. This can depend on the Virginia to Latakia ratio, but Latakia is a useful tamer of hot-burning Virginia varieties.
Although English blends also offer a pronounced flavor to the beginner pipe smoker, Aromatics are often recommended for the variety and familiarity of the flavors. Aromatic flavors come in many of the same varieties as juices, candies, and liquors. It isn’t as though all Latakia tastes the same, especially when abutted by different tobaccos in a blend, but to the budding pipe smoker, much of the difference in flavor may not be so readily noticed, and the flavor that is pronounced might be an acquired taste.
- Tobacco: Latakia, Orientals, Virginia
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Mild
After the discontinuation of infamous Dunhill blends, blenders throughout the pipe tobacco world went to work trying to fill the gap that was left on the palates of pipe smokers everywhere. Good Morning was Cornell & Diehl’s crack at Early Morning Pipe, the infamous Dunhill English. I cannot speak to the accuracy of this pursuit, but that shouldn’t mean much to a beginner anyway. All I know is I thoroughly enjoy this blend on its own merits as a flavorful, yet tame English.
Red Virginias and Latakia share centerstage. The Virginias tone down the drama of the Latakia smokiness, while the Latakia cools the Virginias’ hot burn.
- Tobacco: Black Cavendish, Burley, Latakia, Perique, Virginia
- Cut: Coarse
- Strength: Mild - Medium
Here’s one of the occasions where we really need to make peace with the flexibility of category in tobacco blends. Also, one of the times we need to celebrate it, because this blend, which you might call American/English, is complex. This dual citizen has a lot going on.
American blends are a vague descriptor even less standardized in the collective glossary of pipe smokers than other blend families. But the gist of it is American blends have a significant presence of American tobaccos such as Burley and Perique (despite the name, Virginias are grown in many places in the world).
Perique is expertly applied here as a subtle, not-too-busy addition. This would make a great introduction to the spicy condiment for anyone who has stayed more around Latakia blends.
I thought Newminster’s No. 17 English Luxus would be a good choice for our list because (in addition to being a great blend) it wonderfully showcases the fluidity of blends and demonstrates how categorizing gets us only so far. It is also a great example of a complex blend with forward players in harmony.
- Tobacco: Black Cavendish, Latakia, Oriental/Turkish, Virginia
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Medium
We had to feature at least one Balkan, and Arango’s Balkan Supreme is a favorite. It even took home Best English Blend at the 2014 Chicago Pipe Show.
My only caution here, I recommend coming to Supreme having developed some taste for English blends. The nic-hit is around the medium mark, but the body of flavor is closer to full. However, if you’re coming to it with a taste for English (which would assume you have built some nicotine tolerance) this could be a quick favorite. Though it might be a bit strong for a day one smoker, Balkan Supreme has all the accommodable features of a good beginner pipe tobacco blend. It’s easy to pack, takes a light with little to no fuss, and burns cool.
One thing that’s especially beginner friendly, I find this blend needs little to no drying time. Moisture level is a matter of preference like most anything else, but I can’t imagine it’s too far from anyone’s ready-to-smoke threshold out of the bag. Even though experimenting with drying is all part of the learning experience—progressing through trial and error to find that optimal smoke—sometimes we want a great smoke that’s accessible right then and there.
Virginias are one of the few pipe tobaccos often smoked without any other varieties. Virginia blends often feature Orientals, Burley, and/or Perique, but there are also some beloved straight Virginia blends.
A great thing about Virginias is the nuance and range of flavors you can get with them. The different varieties (Red, Stoved, Bright, etc.) are designated by how the leaf is processed. Generally, Virginias are noted for their hay-like, grassy, sweet, lemony taste. Their high sugar content makes them a great candidate for aging and offers a more natural sweetness than we often get with Aromatics.
Virginias are an excellent base for bringing a blend together, so there’s a lot of different things you can get under the Virginia blend umbrella. It’s a good playground for trying the different condiments and exploring the palate.
Maybe “cons” isn’t the right word. Really, the biggest drawbacks of Virginia blends to beginner pipe smokers are sort of benefits too. You’ll see what I mean.
The first thing you’ll be told about Virginias as a beginner is to watch out for the tongue bite. Although the high sugar content of Virginia tobaccos has its benefits (aging, sweetness), it also can lead to a hot burn and some Virginias are notorious for tongue bite for the inexperienced, and even many experienced pipe smokers.
That being said, this shouldn’t necessarily be a disqualifier for a beginner. One of those straight Virginia blends notorious for tongue bite is Mac Baren Virginia no. 1, but I attribute that blend with really helping me find my cadence as its hot combustion made me all the more conscious of my pace, draw and how I was packing the ready-rub. So, I wouldn’t discount straight Virginias altogether as a beginner, they can be very helpful. But maybe come to them with a little experience with an English or a Virginia blend that is mixed with tobaccos that will tame the hot combustion.
Another issue a beginner might have with straight Virginias—they may not seem all that flavorful at the onset the way Aromatics and English blends are. There’s a lot of nuances to their flavor and what they bring to a mix, but most Virginia varieties aren’t going to sit on show like the cherry from a top flavoring or the smokiness from Latakia. This however makes them really interesting once you’ve developed your palate a bit, because once you notice their subtlety, it can really unlock that appreciation for the nuances in all kinds of blends that use Virginias.
So, similar to the hot burning of Virginias, this is a half con half pro really. In addition, with helping my cadence, that Mac Baren Virginia no. 1 offered an early instance of picking up on discreet tastes, and I distinctly recall trying blends I had already been smoking and finding the Virginias in them in a way I hadn’t before. So once again, sometimes obstacles are a good opportunity to learn. And more than appreciating Mac Baren Virginia no. 1 from a utilitarian standpoint, it’s a favorite straight Virginia even now.
I’ll also include as part of the Virginia blends the ever-popular Virginia Periques, usually referred to as VA/Pers. Perique is bold and isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. When it is, it often didn’t start that way. The condiment has a spice to it, and being made from Burley tobacco, has a high nicotine content. So, it may or may not be for you as a beginner, but Perique is a slow burning condiment tobacco that is great for taming the bite of Virginias. A VA/Per that is light in the Perique might be a great way to navigate cadence without too hot-burning of a blend while also giving a palatable introduction to Perique.
- Tobacco: Virginia
- Flavoring: Fruit, Citrus
- Cut: Flake / Ready-Rubbed
- Strength: Mild - Medium
As I discussed, some of the drawbacks to Virginias—especially straight Virginias—for beginners, can be positives if used as a learning opportunity. So, a good straight Virginia seems appropriate here. That said, Mac Baren Virginia no. 1 just happened to be the one I picked up, and it’s notorious for bite, even among Virginias. If I had to recommend one that can help train your cadence and develop the palate, but which offers beginners more than a lesson, that would have to be Mac Baren’s Capstan Gold Navy Cut.
This blend is right down the middle in strength, has a good mix of Virginias, and gentle embellishments from the flavoring. While you still have to respect it on the draw, it’s not the same biter as some other straight Virginias.
I also appreciate this one for the options it presents. You can try the ready-rubbed or the flake, and there’s even Capstan Original Navy Cut, which is a good option if you want something that kicks up in strength a bit.
- Tobacco: Perique, Virginia
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Mild – Medium
Astley’s No. 2 Mixture is a great VA/Per introduction for tobacco pipe beginners. It offers a dynamic mix of Red and Gold Virginias that are complimented by just a bit of Perique. If you’re looking for a blend that delivers Perique in a less busy mix but still subtle enough to ease into, this blend is ideal.
Although, the limited Perique only slightly tames the enthusiastic burn of the Virginias, so make sure you’re keeping a slow pace.
- Tobacco: Oriental, Perique, Virginia
- Cut: Ribbon
- Strength: Medium
Cairo is one of my favorite cities in the near-East, perhaps even the world. When I was there, the energy of the place inspired me in ways I'd never imagined. This tobacco has a distinctly oriental character, reminiscent of the spice markets in the bazaar. What else could I call it?
G. L. Pease
Here’s another instance where the categorical lines get a bit blurry. One niche blend we sometimes see is Oriental. As you can imagine, this category refers to a blend with a significant Oriental/Turkish presence. Although there are some straight Orientals, they are often Virginia based and can sit comfortably in either category.
Cairo is one of renowned blender G. L. Pease’s Original Mixtures which showcases the creative, artistic approach to blending for which Pease is revered. This blend will give you a wonderful awareness of Oriental and Turkish qualities. I recall it being one of the blends that helped shape my consciousness to this versatile tobacco family when I couldn’t seem to pick it out beyond faint hints in the English blends I was smoking. The small amount of Perique adds its own intricacy, more on the raisin-y side rather than spicy. The Virginias bring a nice citrus and grassy forward flavor to the ensemble.
When I get a new blend, I try to devote myself to it for a bit (how long that bit is varies blend to blend). I’ll try it in briar, meerschaum, corn cob—I’ll smoke it in the morning, at night—with coffee, with tea—I’ll smoke it in a box, with a fox, in a house, with a—okay you get it. I’ll try to refrain from packing another blend until it feels like I’m getting a more fleshed out, intimate sense of the new one. Admittedly, that’s sometimes difficult to do if my initial reaction to a blend is dull. I’m tempted to pack a bowl with a tried-and-true favorite. Often it works out and that blend that didn’t initially inspire comes into view in dazzling revelation. Sometimes not.
Cairo was one of those blends I had no trouble devoting my smoking to. I’m not even so sure that I was initially enamored with the blend so much as I was fiercely intrigued—the way that the Orientals and Virginias defined and played off one another just didn’t seem to belong to any formula I had precedence for. It was a square peg for which I had to drill a new hole. These sorts of fixations are part of what took my curiosity about pipe smoking and gave it life. It’s like, sometimes you want to read the book you’ve read one hundred times because you know it resonates so. Sometimes you pick up something new and maybe even difficult to wrestle with because, infuriating as it might be, it asks something of you.
Things to Keep in Mind
Here are some tips and other information to consider so that you’re making as informed a decision as possible and getting the most out of your pipecraft.
Don’t Choose the Tobacco on Smell Alone
What we call the tin note or bag note is the aroma you get right when you open that container. It’s easy to think this scent translates to the taste of the tobacco, but that isn’t always the case. In fact, it may not even be very accurate to the room note.
This cuts both ways—a wonderful aroma may not be so pleasing of a smoke, but an offensive tin note may not mean a bad smoking experience.
Starting With a Few Small Quantities of Bulk
I know bulk makes it sound like you’re buying Costco quantities, but not quite. Bulk tobaccos generally come in a range of sizes. But this usually includes a 2 oz. option, sometimes even 1 oz.
I made sure to include a number of bulk options here because (in addition to them being blends I genuinely love) they’re cheaper and perfect for exploration. You can start uncovering your taste without spending too much on something you end up disliking, then apply what you learn about your taste when you want to try some boutique blends.
Just remember, bulk usually comes in bags, which are fine as temporary storage. But you’re best off getting some other means of storage, even if you’re not cellaring them and just using them for your current stock.
But speaking of cellaring…
Cellar What You Don’t Like
To the new pipe smoker, cellaring might sound like some real aficionado, obsessive behavior. It’s really not (I mean, it can be if you want). “Cellaring” makes the whole practice sound like a grand undertaking. It’s simply storing in airtight containers—usually unopened tins or mason jars—stowed away from sunlight in a consistent, not too humid environment. Not need to convert the basement or build a bunker. You can read our blog on the subject to learn more about cellaring tobacco.
If a blend really isn’t working for you, go ahead and start aging it. Tastes change in more ways than one, both the qualities of the tobacco will change as will the preferences of the smoker, especially if they’re new to pipe smoking and haven’t ventured much into more full-bodied blends or haven’t found the nuances in varieties like Virginias. You already bought the stuff, so what do you have to lose?
The exception however is that many Aromatic blends shouldn’t be aged long. However, if their flavor was imparted from an exposure such as barrel aging as opposed to spray casing, by all means.
Give a Little Bit of Everything a Chance
When it comes down to it, you like what you like and there is no shame in that. If you get into fruity Aromatics and that’s all you ever enjoy, well, the key word there is enjoy. You’re enjoying your Aromatics, ergo you’re enjoying a pipe. You’re doing it right in my book.
But I do encourage beginners to be curious about everything and try everything. Not only is it good for developing and navigating your preferences, but it’s good for your technique as well. One blend might work better in one pipe and then it’s a whole different experience in another. One cut might need to be packed a little bit differently than another to get it right. You like to dry out this blend for this long but when doing it with that one it’s too dry.
Learning about pipes and pipe tobacco and finding your rhythm is like stepping into another culture. It’s good to go in with some best practices, have some idea of how it all works and any self-sabotaging behaviors to avoid. But it’s engaging that truly begets clarity. It’s through osmosis that the intricacies of customs and practices start to be understood not in isolation, but in relation to a larger cooperation.
Hopefully this guide has provided a good place to start your exploration.