With so many things in life, getting started can be the hardest part. No doubt that applies to pipe smoking. So if you’ve ever wondered how to start smoking a pipe, this guide is for you.
One of the best things about smoking a pipe is the vastness of options. Pipes come in any number of shapes, materials, and sizes and there are seemingly infinite options for tobaccos. Even methods of packing and smoking are varied. This fertile ground for exploration is one of the hobby's greatest charms, but it can also be a daunting deterrent for newcomers. It can feel like you have to be an expert right out of the gate and you start to think the question of “how to smoke a pipe” is actually a million other questions.
We assure you it isn’t. Getting started is not the headache it may seem and all the personalization will come in time. Even the seemingly tedious aspects of smoking a pipe—prep, packing, cleaning—soon become part of the beloved ritual. Like any field, the knowledge goes deep, but getting started really is quite simple.
What You Need to Start Smoking a Pipe
Here’s a list of everything you need to begin pipe smoking:
1. The pipe - If you really want to start smoking a pipe, we recommend a low to mid-range factory pipe. Brands like Molina and Lorenzetti have some great affordable options—dependable and you can choose from all kinds of shapes. No point in putting the big bucks down on an artisan pipe just yet. But you also can’t go wrong starting with a good ol’ Corn Cob—especially if you’re still just flirting with the idea of pipe smoking. The Legend Corn Cob from Missouri Meerschaum is still a pipe of choice for me, and for only 6 bucks.
2. Tobacco - Of course you’ll need something to pack that pipe with. The best way to start here is probably with a mild aromatic. There are all kinds of flavors and cuts, but the sweet taste and scent of a good aromatic is a solid, newbie-friendly option. If you’re a scotch, black coffee, chew on bark type and you’re pretty sure that smoky stuff is for you, a medium English blend might be a good place to start.
3. Flame source - Can’t smoke without a light. If you must, you can get the job done with your standard gas station lighter like a Bic, but matches are probably your best bet for starting out. They burn cooler and won't affect the taste. Pipe lighters are the right investment if you’re sticking with it as they offer the convenience of a lighter but it’s much easier to keep the flame from charring the rim of your pipe as is often the result with standard lighters.
4. Pipe cleaners/tamper tool - Finally, it’s important to have everything you need to keep your pipe clean. After a smoke just run a pipe cleaner through to clear the gunk build up. Tamper tools help you pack your tobacco and clear remaining ash. You could manage without one, but they’re a great convenience at little cost. If you’re really taken with the hobby and smoking regularly, you’ll definitely want to learn some more general maintenance, but for now, keep it simple.
Getting Started Smoking a Pipe: The Essentials
Now, our goal here is to offer a comprehensive guide with all the fundamentals you could want to know about how to start smoking a pipe without overwhelming you, so let’s break this up—we’ll start with the bare bones, then get into the nitty-gritty. That is to say, this section will offer everything you need to get started without overcomplicating. Then we’ll expand and really get in the weeds.
There’s a lot of jargon that goes into the different parts of a pipe and all their varieties—we don’t need to worry about all that now. Let’s just look at the basic anatomy so you’ll have context and something to refer back to with the bit of terminology we’ll be using here.
- Stummel - The stummel refers to the total pipe minus the attached stem. This includes the shank, bowl, chamber, and other materials that make up the end of the pipe.
- Chamber - The chamber is where the tobacco is placed in a pipe. The term chamber and bowl are often used interchangeably, although to do so is technically slang.
- Bowl - The bowl more specifically refers to the chamber’s exterior. Although it may be colloquially used to describe the entire stummel, it doesn’t technically include the shank.
- Shank - The shank is the portion of a pipe in between the bowl and the stem. It is typically made from the same solid piece as the stummel.
- Stem - A stem is the part of the pipe that you put into your mouth. It extends into the shank of the pipe.
How to Smoke a Pipe
1. First you’ll need to pack the bowl. There’s a bit more method to this than one might assume. Stuffing the chamber all at once will lead to an uneven pack and restrict air flow. Fill the chamber halfway but without applying any pressure—just feeding the tobacco in and letting it lie. Repeat until the chamber is three-fourths full, then tamp down with your tool or finger. Don’t use too much pressure, remember, you want it nicely compact without compromising airflow. Finally, fill once more to the rim and tamp again.
2. Next is to light the pipe. For a good even burn, start by circling the flame around the top of the chamber, charring the whole surface layer of tobacco, being careful not to scorch the rim. Lightly puff your pipe while doing so. Gently tamp again, then wait about one minute. Finally, repeat the circling method.
4. You’re smoking your pipe! Go at a slow pace, and don’t draw too hard. The flavor comes from the smoldering of the tobacco, so you don’t want to be incinerating it. This can overheat your pipe and cause dreaded tongue bite, the bane of pipe smokers.
5. Once you’ve smoked the tobacco through, clear out the ash and clean the schmutz from the stem and shank with your pipe cleaners. Repeat this until the cleaners are coming out with little to no residue.
And there you have it, you’re a verified pipe smoker!
A Few Important Things to Keep in Mind:
- Each pipe is different, tobaccos are different, folks’ preferences are different. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t immediately find the right touch when packing your smoking pipe. Trust us, you do it a few times and you’ll naturally pick up on what feels right for you and your kit.
- Relighting is normal, you’re not doing anything wrong—even the most seasoned pipe smokers relight. You also may want to give another light tamp before you do. Just like finding the right balance of pressure when packing, you’ll find that happy medium between puffing like a dragon and “hey, is this thing on?!” Remember, piping is a time to feel unhurried—to sit in a moment and treat your senses. A few relights are nothing if you’re finding that bliss.
- Your pipe needs to cool off after you smoke it. And never separate the shank and stem while they’re still hot, it could damage the pipe. If you want to give it a thorough clean, wait till it’s cooled off.
- Finally, take advice as a foundation on which to build your individuality as a pipe smoker. Every piper has their methods and positions they swear by. We want you to have the know-how to get started and avoid otherwise easily avoidable pitfalls, but ultimately, pipe smoking is an art we get to personalize—be creative and let yourself explore.
How To Start Smoking a Pipe—Unabridged
Well, now that we’ve covered what you need to know, let’s leave no stone unturned and no pipe unsmoked with a comprehensive, unabridged guide for curating your pipecraft specifically for you.
Choosing your Tobacco Pipe
The first step for any new pipe smoker is to buy a pipe. Choosing what smoking pipe is best for you can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Follow these four steps and choose the first pipes in your collection with ease.
Choose the material: Briar, Corn Cob, or Meerschaum.
The first choice you will make is what material will be used to construct your pipe.
Briar is the most popular material used for crafting tobacco pipes. Most of the pipes you see in your local retailer or online are made from this unique wood. Briar comes from the roots of the Erica Arborea tree, primarily growing near the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its saltwater-tolerant growing conditions, briar is exceptionally durable, heat resistant, and breathable. Briar is porous on a microscopic level, which allows it to absorb the heat and oil produced by burning tobacco.
Corncob, often shortened to cob, is the most affordable material. Corn cob pipes are made by drying out a cob of corn, drilling out the center, and attaching a stem. Smokers love cob pipes because they are inexpensive, easy to maintain, and culturally nostalgic.
Meerschaum is a material found in Turkey near the Black Sea. Authentic meerschaum is significantly more expensive than corn cob or briar. This is because meerschaum is a material that is easily carved. Most of the time, meerschaum pipes have an intricate design, which puts them in the premium price category. Despite their expense, Meerschaum pipes are highly sought after. Tobacco pipes made from meerschaum smoke smooth and cool. They also tend to be lightweight. You can get a deep dive into meerschaum here.
Pick Your Shape
Once you’ve chosen the material, it is time to decide what shape will work best for you.
There are many different ways to decide what shape to buy. Some smokers only want fat pipes while others only want skinny. Some enjoy long stemmed pipes, but others prefer the stem to be as short as possible.
Some smokers just pick the shape that “speaks” to them at that moment.
There is no correct shape. Whatever you choose is “right” for you. However, a few guiding principles will help you get the most out of your early smoking experiences.
To see an intensive guide of pipe shape options, visit A Complete Guide to Tobacco Pipe Shapes.
Consider these four things when choosing the perfect pipe for you:
Chamber Shape and Size
The chamber is where the tobacco goes into a pipe. Learning about the differences here will help you understand how the chamber’s size and shape affect your smoking experience in many ways.
Simply put, the more tobacco you have, the longer and stronger your smoke will be.
If you’re sitting down to smoke for a long time, a bowl with a large diameter or a deeper depth is preferable. If you just want the occasional short smoke, you don’t have time to take a long break at work, or you want to smoke multiple tobaccos in one sitting, you should stick with a smaller chamber.
As for the shape of the chamber, there are only a few variations.
Most pipes have a perfectly cylindrical chamber. But some pipes, such as a Dublin, have a conical chamber that tapers in diameter down the bowl. This usually speeds up the burning process and intensifies the flavor at the end of the smoke.
However, the shape of the bowl is not the only part of the pipe design that affects how the pipe smokes.
Straight or Bent Stem
Deciding between a straight or a bent stem is much more important than you might think. The choice is about more than aesthetics. Straight and bent stems perform in different ways.
Straight Stems - Have a classic look and feel. Also, straight stems allow smoke to flow directly to the mouth, which could result in a more intense flavor from your tobacco.
Bent Stems - They are often beloved for comfort. The bend makes the pipe easier to clench in the jaw, hold in your hand, and even light. A bent stem also assists in keeping moisture away from the mouth of the smoker.
There are pros and cons to either stem choice. That’s why so many smokers have both in their collections. However, most pipe smokers tend to lean towards one type or the other. The choice is yours. There is no right place to begin.
Smooth and Rustic Finished Pipes
You have most likely noticed a plethora of pipe shapes, styles, materials, and finishes by now. We understand how it may be a bit overwhelming. While most aspects of the construction of the pipe directly or indirectly affect the performance of the pipe, not all do.
To be honest, the finish of a pipe has no legitimate stakes in the pipe’s performance. Some say it makes a cooler smoke, but we couldn’t verify that it actually does. The choice between a smooth, rustic, sandblasted, or other custom finished pipe will not affect your pipe smoking experience at all at the beginning. The choice between them is yours to make.
Practical and Collectable Pipes
Something you should keep in mind is what exactly you plan to be doing with your pipe.
Are you going to be smoking it while mowing the yard?
Will you pull it out at a friend’s barbecue?
Or will this pipe of yours only be for special occasions?
Our point simply is that you may not want to mow the yard while smoking an artisan pipe that costs a few hundred dollars.
We suggest that new pipe smokers start with a moderately priced pipe--perhaps a pipe that costs between $25-50. As you fall in love with the hobby, you may want to expand your collection to include more expensive pipes.
To Filter or Not to Filter
In the United States, most tobacco pipe smokers prefer unfiltered pipes, but in many European countries only filtered pipes are available. So what gives? Is one better than the other?
Well, it depends on who you ask.
Here are some things to keep in mind when deciding whether or not to use a filter:
Types of Pipe Filters
There are three common styles of pipe filters: pass-through filters, absorption filters, and condensers.
- Pass-Through pipe filters are the most common style filter. The Pass-Through filter specializes in reducing the amount of nicotine and tar present in tobacco. The most prevalent complaint of Pass-Through filters is that using them inhibits the flavor of your pipe tobacco because of their high absorption levels. However, because they absorb so much moisture, it greatly reduces the odds of contracting tongue bite. There are two types of pass-through filters:
- A thick cotton tube with a hollowed-out center, such as the Dr. Grabow Pipe filters,
- Or a carbon-filled canister style filter, such as the Vauen Pipe filter.
- Absorption filters are another classic pipe filter style. The 6mm and 9mm Savinelli Balsa Wood filters are the most common form of an Absorption filter. Absorption filters work by drying out and cooling off the smoke flow before it strikes the palate. Unlike the Pass-Through filters, Absorption filters allow the smoke to flow directed in-between the bore and filter, thus allowing the smoke to contact a greater surface area for dispersing heat resulting in a cooler smoke.
- Condensers are different from the other pipe filter types. Often called Stingers, Condensers are designed to stop moisture from entering the stem of your pipe. They consist of a metal insert in the stem that has a small bore on the top. The Condenser is believed to keep moisture from entering the stem of the pipe. The largest problem with condensers is that they make cleaning your pipe incredibly difficult. The intention seems to have been that you would take the pipe apart while it was warm, but that is, in fact, exactly the worst thing you can do for a tobacco pipe. Thankfully, these filters are much less common now than they once were.
Why Smoke with a Filter
1. Smoking a filtered pipe is believed to be healthier than an unfiltered pipe. The idea behind using a filter is that the carbon, paper, or balsa pipe filter will absorb excess tar and nicotine. This is thought to make the risk to the smoker’s lungs smaller, especially if you accidentally inhale the smoke. There are very few studies that look at pipe smoking in particular--most are concerned with cigarettes and cigars--which means we do not know for certain if this hypothesis is correct.
2. Beyond the possible health benefits, pipe filters can reduce tongue bite drastically. Tongue bite is often caused by the “junk” that filters absorb. However, it is important to frequently replace your filters, as per the instructions for each box. Neglecting to do so may negate the filter’s positive aspects and increase the severity of tongue bite.
3. A filter is a useful tool for a pipe with a larger than average draft hole size in the bottom of the bowl. A larger bore makes it more likely that ash or small tobacco cuts will be drawn into the stem, and consequently, onto your tongue. The use of a filter catches these small particles in the filter, not in your mouth.
4. Filters block and absorb excess moisture. This is incredibly beneficial for smokers who enjoy heavily cased and moist tobaccos. Smoking a wet tobacco--especially in a straight or half-bent pipe--often means that spittle will collect in the stem. Pipe filters help to negate this issue.
5. Filters help control draw. Some pipe smokers find that they smoke too quickly and with too much force. The natural resistance a filter adds to the draw helps slow down the smoke, keeping it cooler and more flavorful.
Why Smoke Without a Filter
The popularity of filterless tobacco pipes in the USA happens because smoking without a filter has many experiential advantages. The super absorptive qualities of pipe filters can take away what pipe smokers really want from the tobacco: taste.
Especially for smokers who do not inhale, some feel that the filter detracts from the taste. Using a filter can make cleaning your pipe more difficult. You cannot run a pipe cleaner through your pipe while smoking, which means you must wait until the end of your smoke--after the pipe is cool--to take it apart, remove the filter and clean it properly. In addition, leaving the filter in for too long can cause major gunk build up in your pipe. A used pipe filter should not sit in a pipe for more than 24 hours. The moisture and tar absorbed will not dry up. Neglecting to remove the filter will mean that you are giving your briar a chance to be affected by what essentially is a wet sponge. Not something any collector wants to think about doing to one of their “babies.”
Using filters properly is the only way to use them, and some smokers see this as a large additional expense, better spent on new tobacco blends. In the USA, a filter will run between .20-.30 each, which can add up over time.
Should You use a Filter?
Here is our best, attorney-like answer: It depends.
No one can answer this question but you. Pipe smoking is such a personal hobby, and your decision to use a filter should not be affected by others. It should be your decision.
Use this information and choose for yourself. Try them both. See what you prefer. That is the best advice we, or anyone else, can give you.
How Much To Spend
The cost of a pipe varies wildly. It is easy to find and order a corn cob pipe for less than ten dollars. Two clicks later, you could find a briar pipe for over $1,000.
So what should you do? Start low or shop for the best?
We would never recommend a beginner start with a pipe that costs thousands (or even hundreds) of dollars. But knowing which end of the range you should begin on comes down to a few simple questions:
How Will You Smoke?
A better way to phrase this is, “where will you smoke?”
It is important to know the setting in which you will be smoking. If you plan to immediately join a pipe club, where smokers take pride in their quality pieces, then it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend a bit more money on a higher grade briar or meerschaum pipe.
But if you plan on just filling up your pipe with whatever tobacco you can find and want to smoke while fishing, biking, or some other outdoor hobby, a trusty cob or low-grade briar pipe will do nicely.
For our purposes, think of factory pipes as brands that are produced on a mass scale, like Vauen or Peterson. Most tobacco pipes fall under this category.
An artisan grade pipe is a one-of-a-kind creation made by the hands of a pipe carver. Artisan pipes come from both large brands (like the Savinelli Autograph Series) and small one-person shops (like OWL Pipes).
Typically, artisan grade pipes tend to have a steeper price point than factory pipes. If you are just looking to smoke, a factory pipe will do you nicely. However, if you desire to jump headfirst into pipe collecting as many smokers do, a more affordable artisan pipe would be a good choice for you.
Suggested Price Ranges for Pipes
This section is not intended as an absolute model for pipe buying. Rather, use this as a basic guide for weeding out how much you should begin spending on a pipe.
- Basic Cob - A decent corn cob pipe, like a Missouri Meerschaum brand pipe, should cost between $10 and $25, depending on the type you choose.
- Low-Grade Briar - An affordable briar pipe would range somewhere between $25-75.
- Intermediate Pipe - A moderate briar pipe, or low-grade meerschaum, could range anywhere from $80-200.
- High-Grade Pipe - For more of a strong-willed briar pipe, artisan grade pipe, or pure meerschaum pipe, you should expect to pay $300 and up.
Creating a Pipe Rotation
Pipe rotation refers to how often the smoker changes pipes. Most pipe smoking enthusiasts agree that a briar pipe needs to rest in order to keep it in good condition and ensure the pipe lasts for years to come. A collection of smoking pipes is needed to accommodate this.
Proper pipe rotation is a particularly heated topic. Some long-time tobacco pipe smokers use the same pipe all day, every day. Other smokers rotate two or three pipes. Some pipe enthusiasts have large collections and only smoke the same tobacco pipe every few weeks.
In our opinion, there are four different ways you can build your pipe collection to accommodate your rotation. But first, we will explain why you probably should have more than one pipe.
Why do briar pipes need to rest?
Several things happen to a pipe when it’s smoked that changes the pipe’s structure.
First, the bowl of the pipe heats from the burning tobacco inside of it. As the smoke moves through the stem, the stem begins to heat as well. When wood is heated to high temperatures, we all know what happens--it burns! That is why Meerschaum pipes do not need the rest time of briar--they aren’t made of wood.
If a briar pipe isn’t allowed to cool fully between smokes, holes can form in the bowl. The pipe can also develop cracks and will begin to smell sour.
Tobacco contains 10-14% moisture when smoking conditions are optimal. This moisture causes steam to pass through the pipe with the smoke, and the pipe will “sour” without proper time to cool. If your pipe ever has a distinctive sour odor, don’t smoke it! Let it sit for a couple of days.
One: Let the Pipe Rest for at least a Week
The term 7-Day Set comes up often in the pipe world. This refers to the long-standing rule that an aficionado will have at least seven pipes, one for each day of the week.
A full seven-day rest ensures that your pipe is completely dried out before reuse. However, there are obvious drawbacks. Acquiring seven quality pipes can be a fairly large investment. If you only own one or two, waiting a whole week to smoke a bowl again can be a distressing thought.
Two: Rest the Pipe for a Day
Most modern smokers follow this rule of thumb, giving the pipe 24 hours to rest. Unless the bowl is especially thick, you’re probably in the clear. The 24-hour rule allows for at least one bowl per day with a smaller rotation of two or three pipes. Especially if most of your pipes are factory-made, you should be safe and satisfied with a one-day rest.
Three: It depends on your smoking style
Some tobacco pipe collectors believe that your personal style should determine how often you rotate your pipes. Ask yourself the following questions:
How wet do you smoke?
How hot do you draw?
Are you a puffer or a sipper?
Do you smoke tobaccos that are on the wet side or the dry side?
How high quality is the briar your pipe is made from?
The hypothesis believed by those who follow this method is that your style will either lessen or extend the time a pipe needs to sit. However, most beginners probably can’t answer these questions. We suggest skipping this method until you’ve become comfortable with your personal smoking habits and tried a variety of pipes and tobaccos.
Four: Do Whatever you Want
As long as you’re not getting an unpleasant sour taste, you can smoke your favorite pipe whenever you want.
We know many 30 or 40-year veterans of the hobby who smoke the same pipe four or five times a day and like it just fine.
Pipe rotation is largely based on your preferences and the type of tobacco pipes you smoke. It takes patience to figure out a rotation. Choose the method that you feel comfortable with and adjust your practice as you develop a style that works for you.
Choosing your Pipe Tobacco
Now that you have your tobacco pipe, the next step is to pick out a tobacco blend.
Different Pipe Tobacco Components
Understanding the common components of pipe tobacco blends can help you choose the right one.
Pipe tobacco blends are a combination of many flavors and textures. Much like making sausage, each component causes a slightly different experience for the palate. You may know that you like breakfast links, spicy Italian, or kielbasa. You might love one kind but hate the other. Understanding the varieties comes down to understanding the individual ingredients that make up the whole. Like sausage varieties for a diner, pipe tobacco’s different ingredients create entirely different experiences for the smoker.
Let’s take a look at a few of the most common “ingredients” that come together to make a pipe tobacco blend:
Burley is the second most common form of tobacco.
George Webb and Joseph Fore discovered white burley tobacco in 1864. While discovered in Ohio, 70% of burley tobacco is grown in Kentucky today. The remaining 30% is produced in Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, and Ohio.
Burley is air-cured, which means the tobacco leaves are hung from a farm’s rafters to dry. Leaves are hung for approximately eight weeks, allowing the environment around the tobacco to impact both the flavor and the texture. Burley is an intrinsically light tobacco containing natural sugars. Its simple molecular structure makes it easy to mix, breed, and cure with other flavors. Burley can take on many different flavors and can be concentrated to produce a stronger flavor.
The mild and sweet nature of Burley makes it a natural fit for many popular blends. It is always added to soften the flavor and intensity of a blend.
Cavendish isn’t actually a type of tobacco. It’s a process used to cure and cut Burley. However, it’s commonly referred to on its own due to Cavendish’s unique properties.
Sir Thomas Cavendish, an English immigrant to Virginia in the late 16th century, discovered the process we now call Cavendish. He decided to dip his “plain flavored” Burley into a barrel of sugar and discovered a delightful new treat.
Cavendish begins as white Burley and Dark Fired Kentucky tobacco. Technically, any tobacco can be made into a Cavendish, but these two are the most popular choices, by far:
- The Burley is pressed into one-inch-thick squares.
- The squares are pressed using steam or fire.
- The squares are sealed into a barrel and left to ferment.
Typically, Cavendish consists of 54% tobacco, 22% water, 8% alcohol, and 16% sugar or flavoring. Cavendish is often found as a straight blend, sold as an additive. This allows the user to modify any of their own blends with a sweeter, more mellow taste.
Virginia Pipe Tobacco
Despite its deceiving name, Virginia tobacco grows all over the world. Virginia tobacco is the most common blending ingredient and is beloved for its flexibility and complexity.
Virginia is a favorite of personal tobacco blenders and connoisseurs alike. Like a fine wine, Virginias are complex and develop new characteristics and flavor when aged. Young Virginia is a bright lemon color and is characterized by a light, often citrusy flavor. As it matures, it will darken into a honey gold color. The strongest and most mature varieties are a rich red hue and full of flavor.
Virginia has a high sugar content, which often results in a sweet, tangy flavor. Because of the high sugar and oil content, Virginia can cause tongue bite if smoked too quickly or too hot.
Oriental is a classification for tobacco grown in the Mediterranean region. It includes blends such as Turkish and Latakia, but also numerous other blends unique to the area.
Orientals are known for being very aromatic. They generally have a “sweet and sour” flavor, meaning there will be a fruit or nut flavor accompanied by a pepper or bread taste. Just as Oriental blends are famous for being sweet and sour, Turkish blends always carry a sweet undertone with a spicy kick. Turkish tobacco is added to blends to deliver more body and flavor without compromising the English nature.
Making Dark Fired Kentucky Tobacco
Dark Fired Kentucky (or DFK for short) is similar to Burley. They are primarily produced in the same state and the same climate. The difference between DFK and Burley is that DFK is left to cure over an open fire. This unique and direct curing process gives this blend an incredibly smoky flavor. Fire-curing also chemically alters the plant, delivering a substantially higher nicotine dose to the smoker. DFK tobacco has an earthy flavor and is smooth on the tongue.
What Exactly is Perique Tobacco?
Perique is specific and unique. It can only be produced in one small part of the world. Much like champagne, if it is not made in that one location, it’s not really Perique. That location, St. James Parish, Louisiana, is the only place that produces true Perique tobacco. While environmental factors help in this reasoning, it is also due to the process the tobacco undergoes and the people who grow it.
The Choctaw Indians first made Perique. The Choctaw Indians took the tobacco, stored it in a hollowed-out log, subjected it to fire, and then let it cure. This process was witnessed by 19th century farmer Pierre Chenet, who leaped onto the idea and started cultivating his own crops. When subjected to high levels of pressure, the natural juices of the tobacco seeps out, beginning a fermentation process that gives Perique the flavors for which it is known.
With modern times came a modernization of the process. Today, Perique is stored in old bourbon barrels and squeezed to remove all the air from the barrel. If there is any air in the barrel, the tobacco can rot, so it is vital the air gets pressed out. Once this process is finished, the barrels are stored for around three months, then opened to allow the tobacco to breathe. After 12 to 24 hours, the barrel is re-sealed and pressed again, repeating three times to properly age and prepare the Perique.
The flavor profile of Perique features peppery spice with hints of fig. Popular on its own, Perique also works as an excellent enhancer when combined with other types of tobacco.
Because of the small production area, true Perique is difficult to find. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the area, which nearly eliminated Perique tobacco from existence. However, thanks to the dedicated farmers of the area, we are still able to enjoy this unique form today.
Latakia Pipe Tobacco
Latakia tobacco is produced by hanging to cure and then either steamed with pine or smoking with fire. This method of curing and aging gives it a spicy flavor. It is the strongest and most upfront flavor of the common tobaccos.
Latakia tobacco was discovered and originally produced in Latakia, Syria. It is now produced wholly in Cyprus.
Latakia is generally the tobacco added to English blends that gives it the smoky “punch” so many smokers are looking for. It is a plaguing myth that Latakia is cured by hanging over a camel dung fire. This is a ludicrous claim, and all smokers can be assured this does not happen to their tobacco.
Styles of Pipe Tobacco
Now that we’re all more familiar with the variations of the “ingredients,” it’s time to talk about how the individual components come together to make a tobacco blend.
On a chemical level, every tobacco plant is the same. The region of growth and aging process gives each type its unique flavor. Each tobacco blend contains a unique crop and mixture of crops to give it a distinct flavor. While it may not be chemically complex, the characteristics of each type are unique.
There is a blend out there featuring just about every combination of tobacco imaginable. To help us understand this complex field better, it is helpful to separate the blends into different family classifications.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it is long enough to give you an in-depth look at pipe tobacco blends.
Aromatic tobacco is the blend most smokers begin with. As its name implies, this is a family of tobacco with a pleasing, usually sweet, aroma (that bystanders tend to adore). For tobacco to be considered an Aromatic, some sort of added flavor must top it. For example, Comoy’s Cask No. 2 is complemented with aged port wine, giving it a slightly alcoholic and rich fruity texture.
A large majority of Aromatic blends contain Cavendish tobacco and are then supplemented by Virginia and Burley. Because aromatic tobacco is an oily substance, it is prone to causing tongue bite. We suggest that first-time smokers avoid heavy aromatics.
Despite its deceiving name, Aromatic and Non-Aromatic blends are incredibly similar. The difference between them is that Non-Aromatic tobacco is not topped with additional flavor. This blend type relies on the natural sweetness of each tobacco type to deliver sweet taste, varying texture, and aromas to the smoker.
Non-aromatic blends, compared to Aromatics, are usually dry and easy-smoking, which is why we suggest Non-Aromatic tobacco for a first-time smoker. Not only will the blend be easy on the tongue, but it will also deliver a pleasant experience for those nearby.
We should note that not all Non-Aromatic blends have an intrinsically sweet nature. Some unique blends that cannot be labeled in other categories are listed.
Virginia/Perique Pipe Tobacco
Virginia/Perique tobacco may be the most common unknown blend around. This mixture is often called Va/Per for short. Many smokers who have a delicate palate, but love tasting exotic rich flavors, find themselves attracted to Va/Per blends.
The name of this tobacco variant hints at its two main components: Virginia and Perique tobaccos. Va/Per blends typically have a sweet and sour flavor and can come across as a bit swampy in their tin note.
English Tobacco Blends
After aromatic, English is the most common pipe tobacco blend style. English tobacco blends can range from soft and delicate to full-flavored and nicotine packed. When choosing an English blend, it is important to read the product description to ensure that it is a mixture that will appeal to you. Particularly when you’re first starting out, it’s important to pay attention to the strength level. No one ever enjoyed a headache from too much nicotine!
A significant portion of Latakia tobacco defines English blends. The Latakia gives English tobaccos a strong smoke flavor, very similar to the smell of a campfire. An English blend nearly always has a combination of Virginia and Oriental tobacco to complement the Latakia. Often the proportions of an English blend’s three main components are tinkered with, and a new family, like Balkan, of pipe tobacco blends is created.
Choosing your Tobacco Cut
Blend types are only part of the equation when it comes to choosing your pipe tobacco. The next step is to learn about the different forms of tobacco. Each family of tobacco blends can be found in different shapes and sizes, and each smoke a little bit differently.
Loose Cut Pipe Tobacco
The majority of pipe tobacco mixtures, and probably all the ones you have ever seen, come packaged loose. This means that there are little ribbons of tobacco leaves scattered about. Often called Ribbon Cut, loose tobacco is made by shredding the individual tobacco leaves (like shredding paper) and then mixing them together.
Ribbon Cut is the easiest pipe tobacco to light and smoke, which is why we suggest it for beginners. It is easier to control the pack of the bowl and intensity of flavor when working with ribbon cut tobacco.
When you first see a flake of pipe tobacco, you might be confused. It doesn’t seem like the paper-like flat piece would fit in your pipe.
Flake tobacco is a sheet of pressed tobacco, containing all the different components of that blend pressed together. Flake tobacco is usually denser than ribbon cut, which results in a more concentrated flavor. It can burn at a hotter temperature and usually give the smoker a longer-lasting smoke.
Flake is made by packing different leaves in a high-pressure press and exerting tons of psi for hours at a time. The pressed leaves are then vertically sliced, giving the smoker a single sheet of cut tobacco.
To smoke flake, rub the sheet in between your fingers or hands until it falls apart. Then load it into the chamber and smoke.
Cake Pipe Tobacco
Tobacco in cake form shares many characteristics with flake. A cake is just pre-sliced flake tobacco. Many times whole tobacco leaves are pressed together, and in this case, we call it a plug.
The easiest way to smoke a cake is to take a knife to the brick. Shave off a corner, or even make your own flake. Then proceed to rub it out to your desired size, load it into the bowl, and begin smoking.
What is Coin Tobacco
Coin tobacco is the least common form of pipe tobacco we will cover here. Coin is similar in form and function to flake tobacco, even though it looks quite different. Coin happens when tobacco is rolled into a tightrope, called a twist, aged for a time, and then sliced (imagine a pepperoni being sliced).
Just like flake, coin can be smoked by rubbing it out in your hand before loading your pipe.
Pairing a Pipe with a Tobacco Blend
The most important thing for a new smoker to learn is what exactly they love to smoke, not what they should smoke it in. That being said, many smokers appreciate a bit of in-depth guidance on the issue. Use this short guided section to help you. It is not an absolute guide, merely our own opinions.
Billiard Shaped Pipe Pair
The Billiard is the most recognized and common tobacco pipe. It is perfect for beginners who want to learn about pipe smoking and perfect for the distinguished pros who enjoy smoking a few bowls every night.
Any tobacco blend will work in a Billiard. With its straightforward design, thick bowl, and long stem, it’s a flexible shape. If you are looking for a pipe that can handle any blend, choose this shape.
Poker Pipe Pairing
Experienced smokers love pokers. The Poker shape is one of the smoothest smoking pipe shapes. It is also notorious for being the working man’s pipe because the short shank makes it easy to hold in the mouth, and you can set it down while working with your hands.
Due to the short and straight stem on a Poker, it’s often suggested that Virginias and heavily coated tobaccos are poor choices for this shape. When smoking a Poker, you are more likely to produce a buildup of spittle in the shank. If you tend to do manual work while smoking, odds are you will be in a position where the spittle can run up the shank, a most unpleasant experience.
We prefer smoking a strong Latakia flake in a Poker. Pokers also work well with high nicotine blends. The Poker’s thick walls help absorb flavor, and after a few uses with the blend, the taste will start to amplify and develop with every bowl.
Tobacco for a Bulldog
The bowl of the Bulldog resembles two cones stacked on top of one another. The bowl’s thick center allows an exceptional amount of heat and oil to be absorbed into the pipe. This cone shape gives this shape a thick briar bowl, which makes it the perfect choice for smoking heavier blends.
The suggested minimal thickness of your bowl-wall is a fourth of an inch. While the Bulldog keeps a quarter-inch thickness at the top of the bowl, the cone shape expands the thickness of the bowl towards the bottom, usually becoming around half an inch thick. The thicker bowl makes The Bulldog the perfect shape for smoking flake tobaccos.
Tobacco for a Bent Pipe
There are a plethora of pipe shapes that come in bent versions: Apple, Billiard, Calabash, Rhodesian, Bulldog, Pear, and Freehand, to name a few. While there are differences in each of these, what matters here is the bend in the stem. Bent pipes are, without a doubt, the best pipe for smoking Virginia blends.
Virginia blended tobaccos are notorious for giving smokers tongue bite. The chemical make-up and the hot burning temperature require a patient smoker. When smoking a bent pipe, the stem is generally built longer so that the bowl is still the same distance from the mouth. The longer stem allows the smoke more time to cool off and to disperse its energy through the stem before hitting the tongue.
Bent pipes are also perfect for smoking heavily cased aromatics.
The casing on some aromatics is what gives the pipe smoker the occasional spittle attack. The bent nature of the pipe sets physics out against runback. Most of the time, the spittle will be unable to travel upwards toward the bit. When you find that your favorite Aromatic smokes super wet, try smoking it in a bent pipe.
How to Smoke your Pipe
Part of what makes pipe smoking so special is the ritual of gathering your tools and sitting down for a smoke. Unlike other forms of smoking, where you can light up with only a moment’s notice, smoking a pipe requires a thoughtful plan and decisive action.
Since the path to proper smoking is full of trepidation and a bit mystical, frustration can arise. With a pipe mentor (or this handy guide) and the proper tools, you can easily get a jump on the process and immediately begin enjoying a relaxing new hobby.
Packing Your Pipe
The pack is critical to enjoying a satisfying bowl of tobacco.
Packing--or how the tobacco goes into the chamber--can be done in many different ways. The method we recommend trying first is by far the most popular, and in our opinion, the most flavorful way.
Preparing the Tobacco
Ribbon or loose cut tobacco does not require any preparation. But if you are smoking a flake, coin, cake, plug, or twist, then the tobacco will need to be manipulated.
The sure-fire way (pun intended) to prepare these blends is to take an amount and place it between your palms. Slowly rub your palms together. After a few seconds, the tobacco will fall apart and is ready for loading in the chamber. If you find that the pieces are too large, simply repeat the process. If the tobacco is too small, then reduce the pressure and intensity with which you rub the tobacco out.
Packing your Pipe
The Three Pack Method is our favorite and the most popular way to pack a bowl. As the name hints, there are three steps to loading up the perfect bowl of tobacco:
- Grab a small pinch of tobacco and drop it into the chamber of the pipe. This small pinch should not be denser than the tobacco just laying on a table in a pile--it should be completely loose.
- Add tobacco to the bowl until it appears the chamber is half full.
2nd Pack: The second step to packing your pipe will begin the same way as the first.
- Pinch a light pile of tobacco and drop it into the chamber of the pipe. Fill the pipe until it is three-quarters of the way full and then stop.
- Now, take your finger or a pipe tamper and gently tap down the tobacco. Press down hard enough to remove the empty space between the leaves without compacting the tobacco itself.
- Drop loose tobacco into the chamber of the pipe for a third and final time.
- Fill it to the top of, or even just a bit over, the chamber rim of your pipe.
- At this point, take your finger or a pipe tamper and push down on the tobacco harder, but not much harder, than the previous pack. The tobacco should end even with or slightly below the top of the chamber.
This process works because it causes the tobacco to be evenly packed from the top to the bottom of the chamber. If the tobacco is uneven, then it will not remain lit throughout the bowl. A bowl packed too tightly will also reduce the flavor of the tobacco. The unsmoked portion acts as a filter in the sense that it dilutes the flavor.
The key to making sure this process works is to periodically draw (to puff on the stem of the pipe) and make sure that it does not become more difficult to draw at any point. It is important to note that you are not inhaling the smoke. A tobacco pipe is not a cigarette, and you should not smoke a pipe the same way you do with a cigarette. You want to allow the smoke to rest in your mouth, swirling around so you can appreciate the flavor of the tobacco.
If there seems to be a block or the draw is significantly thicker than it is with an empty pipe, then it would be best to empty the bowl and begin again. When the chamber is filled and ready to be lit, it should feel as if there is no air-flow resistance.
If you have difficulty with this technique at first, don’t get discouraged. It takes some smokers years of daily smoking to perfect this packing method. But once they have it down, it is obvious that all the work was well worth it.
Lighting the Tobacco
Now we come to the last step before you can finally begin enjoying pipe smoking: lighting the tobacco. Unfortunately, lighting a pipe isn’t as easy as firing up a cigarette or even smoldering a cigar. But with a little thought and intention, you will have absolutely no problem.
Deciding on a Flame
Many smokers believe that choosing the proper flame source is nearly as important as packing the pipe. Whether or not you have an opinion on the issue, it is helpful to be familiar with the most common style of lighters people use.
Matches: Matches are the most common choice. To use a match, simply strike it and hold it until the sulfur is burned (usually about one count). Then, bring the match to the surface of the tobacco and gently puff through the mouthpiece while moving the fire around the filled bowl in a slow circle.
Fluid Lighters: The lighter you’re most likely to think of when imagining a fluid lighter is the famous Zippo brand. These lighters hold up well and are the most reliable, in pretty much any weather. But, be careful! These lighters may char the rim of your pipe bowl, and if you use them too liberally, they will give your tobacco an unpleasant taste.
Butane Lighters: Butane lighters are an attractive and convenient way to keep your fire with you wherever you go. Unlike fluid lighters, the risk of hurting your tobacco’s flavor is much lower. Using a butane lighter, specifically designed for pipes, will help you avoid burning your fingers and keep the flame right where you want it. A butane lighter can be a bit of an investment, but it’s a pipe smoking accessory you’ll have for the rest of your days if you treat it right.
How to Light your Pipe
Just as packing well is crucial for a good smoke, so is the actual lighting process. There are three simple and easy to understand steps to light your tobacco:
The Charring Light: The first light, called the Charring Light, is done with a gentle circle of fire at the top of the tobacco applied in a lazy circle while puffing gently at the mouthpiece. This light will char the top of the tobacco, hence its name.
The Preliminary Tamp: After the tobacco has been subject to fire for the first time, it will expand and slightly rise from the top of the chamber. To keep the tobacco tighter together, lightly push down with a tamper (we should note that you will need to repeat this periodically through smoking the bowl, on an average of 2-3 times).
The Second Light: Now it is time to wait. We suggest giving the tobacco a 60-second break before implementing this third and final step. Light the pipe tobacco again, in the same lazy circle as before.
Finally, you can smoke your pipe.
Smoking Your Tobacco Pipe
We made it to the point where you can sit back, relax, and smoke decadent tobacco leaves in your new pipe. At this point, you could stop reading and just enjoy your smoke. If you want the best experience possible and set up for success, our tips and guidelines for pipe smoking will greatly benefit you.
Consider Smoking Pace
The rhythm of your smoking is paramount to your experience. As a new smoker, don’t get discouraged. It takes practice and patience to get the pace just right. No two smokers do it exactly the same way.
In general, your goal is to take a puff often enough to keep your tobacco lit but slowly enough to keep the smoke fairly cool.
Smoking hot will cause the dreaded tongue bite and could damage the bowl of the pipe. Hold your pipe by the bowl. If your fingers are too hot, slow down. It’s always better to relight than to smoke too hot.
Learning how to light and pace your puffs properly takes practice and experimentation. Don’t get discouraged if your first few dozen smokes require dozens of relighting or cooling stops. Just like anything else worth doing, you’ll improve with practice.
What about a Relight?
Sometimes your tobacco will go out. Despite what you might read, it’s no big deal (well, unless you’re trying to win a competition). This could be due to a bad pack, inconsistent pace, tobacco that was too moist or too dry, or a plethora of other reasons. It happens to new smokers, and it happens to smokers who have been practicing the hobby for decades.
Of course, you don’t want to waste your tobacco and only smoke the top half of the bowl. So how exactly should you go about relighting it?
The first thing you should do is softly tamp down the remaining ash. Then, turn the bowl upside down and gently let the ash, also known as dottle, fall out.
Don’t force anything out of the chamber. You wouldn’t want to lose any good tobacco!
At this point, we suggest letting the pipe rest for about a minute. This allows the pipe to cool and to have a more consistent temperature in the tobacco.
Once the tobacco has set, simply light it with a match or lighter. You will notice that it no longer tastes good--rather, it tastes like an ashtray. That is simply because the ash at the top chamber is transferring the embers down to the tobacco below. If you want to avoid a few puffs of this sour taste, very gently exhale through the pipe. The added oxygen will speed up the burning process, and the smoke will go away from your mouth while the ash is burning, not towards it.
At this point, you should be able to resume smoking your pipe as usual. If the tobacco goes out again, simply rinse, lather, and repeat. If the tobacco is going out over and over again, it may be a good idea to experiment with your pack, light, and type of tobacco you use.
Breaking in a Tobacco Pipe
From this point forward, cake is no longer a yummy treat.
Okay, it still is, but not in our world.
In the pipe world, cake refers to the buildup of carbon and other materials on the inside walls of the pipe’s chamber. It is the thick black stuff you see on the inside of tobacco pipes. To break in a pipe means to slowly introduce tobacco to the pipe so that a healthy and beneficial cake can build up.
But Why Develop Cake?
Developing a proper cake is a critical step in ensuring your pipe lasts for years to come. This can be one of the most frustrating parts of learning to smoke a pipe--knowing when you have just the right thickness.
The cake creates a barrier around the entire bowl chamber. Cake refers to the carbon deposits that are left behind by the smoked tobacco. These carbon deposits insulate the chamber and keep the briar from charring.
In addition to protecting the chamber, cake helps make your smoking experience sweeter. The carbon builds up forms from the sugars in the tobacco. These deposits blend with some of the flavor of the briar, resulting in a mellow smoke.
How to Develop Pipe Cake
To develop the initial cake, you will use a gradual buildup process that is a little different than a regular smoking experience. Learning how to do this properly takes time and patience. Follow these steps carefully for the best results:
Fill the bowl a quarter full with tobacco. We start with a partial bowl to give the carbon room to form evenly. This process ensures that every bit of the chamber will be exposed to charred tobacco.
Light the partial bowl evenly. Take your first draw, then tamp with your tamper and do your second light.
Smoke the bowl slowly and completely. Take your time, even more so than usual, with this smoke. Draw slowly and methodically, which will help you form an even cake. Make sure to smoke the whole bowl, all the way to the heel, which is the bottom of the bowl. Developing cake at the bottom of the bowl is the most difficult part of the process.
Continue this process for 3-5 smokes.
Next, follow steps 1-4 with a half-bowl, then three quarters. By increasing the amount of tobacco in the bowl gradually, over time, you will build a more even cake, from bottom to top, inside the chamber. Most pipes need at least a dozen smokes to begin forming a nice cake.
The last and possibly most crucial step in developing a pipe cake is to be careful when emptying your pipe.
When the smoke is complete, let the tobacco smolder in the chamber for a few minutes; don’t immediately dump it out. After a few minutes, gently dump the bowl, and if possible, tap the pipe on a cork knocker to dump out the rest.
DO NOT scrape out the tobacco with a pipe tool. This will reverse much of the caking process that took place during the last smoke. If you have to loosen the ash with a pipe tool, that is fine. Just refrain from scraping the inner walls of the chamber.
Maintaining Your Pipes
Now that all the jargon is out of the way, you can enjoy smoking your tobacco pipe time and time again.
At this point, the mere act of smoking ends, and the fantastic hobby of pipe collecting and pipe smoking begins.
Most new pipe smokers are looking for more than just a new way to smoke tobacco. In fact, many newcomers aren’t looking for a way to smoke tobacco at all! Most people enter the community of pipe smoking because they feel it is a compelling lifestyle.
To get the most out of every pipe you own, taking preventative measures will keep them healthy, beautiful, and smoking great! We can do this with the proper pipe accessories and tools for consistent and needed maintenance.
How to Ream a Pipe
We just talked about building up the carbon, or cake, of your tobacco pipe. But like everything, you can have too much of a good thing.
Building up too much cake in your pipe is a bad thing. When cake heats, it expands. Once there is too much cake, it will expand a bit too much and could crack your pipes.
We believe the optimal cake thickness is 1.5mm, or about the thickness of a dime. Once the cake exceeds 2mm, it is time to ream--remove some cake.
The Tools of the Trade
Before we go into what types of pipe reamers you should consider, a word of warning: DO NOT use a knife.
We know it is tempting. So tempting, in fact, that a few of us may have learned this lesson the hard way by ruining a perfectly good pipe. We know you probably have some sharp pocket knives lying around. But we want you to say no! Using a knife will strip the carbon from your pipe rather than sand it off. Besides, you are likely to stab or scratch your briar bowl, which is bad news.
Pipe Tool Attachment: Most smokers have an abundance of 3-in-1 style pipe tools nestled around their home, office, and car. These tools come with a tamper, pick, and a reamer. While the scoop tool is called a reamer, its purpose is to loosen and shovel out the ash. The reamer attachment was not designed to scrape the carbon from the inside of the bowl. Attempting to ream with this tool can result in taking out chunks and damaging the briar underneath the cake.
Sandpaper: Some people love the direct, hands-on approach. They like to take a thin piece of sandpaper, apply it to a finger, and slowly sand down the cake. This tool can be precise, but only in the hands of experienced woodworkers and crafters who know how to properly sand. If you’re a novice with sandpaper, we don’t recommend this method.
Dremel Tool: Another tool favored by woodworkers is the Dremel tool method. A rock sander attached to the end of the tool can be a quick and easy method, but only in the right hands. This is a dangerous way to ream. It takes a steady hand and perfect attention to detail to do it correctly. We advise you not to try this method unless you are a very experienced restoration expert.
British Buttner: The British Buttner is a classic tool and the most economical at that. This reamer is spring-loaded, causing it to always fit snugly in the bowl. These are typically three-quarters of an inch thick, which fits most standard pipes. This tool is perfect for pipes with a U-shaped chamber. What makes this tool so popular is its ability to reach the bottom of most chambers quite easily, a characteristic which most other tools have trouble with.
Multi-Tool T-Reamer: A Multi-Tool reamer is the preferred tool of restoration artists and those who have multiple sized pipes to care for. The advantage here is the T-Reamer’s flexibility in accommodating various. The downside to this is the lack of adjustability. If you happen not to have a reamer that fits your pipe, you are out of luck.
Senior Pipe Reamer: The Senior Pipe Reamer is the most popular quality pipe reamer. With tapered sharpened edges, and a V-shaped bottom (which obviously works well with V-shaped chambers), this reamer is perfect for most every pipe. This reamer is beloved because with a little torque, the diameter of the reamer changes. As you ream, you can slowly enlarge the reamer to match the cake, making it the safest reamer to use on your pipes.
Reaming a Pipe
Once you select your tool of choice, it is a bad idea to jump in and start reaming your favorite pipes right away.
We suggest you go to eBay or a local antique market and buy a few beat-up estate pipes with loads of cake. Use these to practice. If you haven’t practiced, the odds are pretty high that you will mess up your pipe instead of repairing it. Please practice first.
First and foremost, have a stable and secure workplace. You will want to have a steady hand when reaming. The couch, in your lap, car, or some other unstable place can keep your hand from being steady.
The key to reaming is gentle and consistent torque. When you insert your tool, you only want a small amount of friction between the cake and your tool. At this point, you will twist until the friction disappears. Dump the dust out, expand your reamer, and continue the process. You should be creating a fine dust of carbon. If you are taking out chunks, scrape more gently and see if you can decrease your reamer’s size.
It is tempting to ream inconsistently around the bowl, such as pushing harder on the shank side of the pipe. Avoid this—Ream equally all around the diameter of your bowl.
Do not ream all the way to fresh wood! This is a mistake many, including us, have made. Even professional pipe restorers don’t always ream down to the fresh wood. It is best to leave a light layer.
When you make your way to the heel of the bowl, be careful! There is often only a little, if any, cake at the bottom of the bowl.
Once you have completed reaming, you will want to clean the pipe carefully. Dump the carbon dust out and begin running pipe cleaners through your pipe. For those of you that use alcohol to clean your pipes, Everclear is a great place to start. If using alcohol is not your thing, then using a pipe cleaning solution will work well as an alternative.
Cleaning a Tobacco Pipe
There are three different levels of pipe cleaning.
The first is a quick clean after each bowl, and the second is a more thorough method used periodically as maintenance, and the last a special treatment for severely dirty pipes.
This level of cleaning is not strictly necessary.
You can, and many do, skip this step and have a perfectly fantastic smoking life. But if you follow this simple step, we believe that your next bowl in the same pipe will be significantly more flavorful than if you skip it.
All you need for this step is a pipe cleaner. Then, follow these two simple steps:
- Once you finish smoking, insert a pipe cleaner through the stem into the pipe as far as it will go. Leave the cleaner in for a few minutes.
- Once the tobacco has cooled, dump it out. Then remove and discard the pipe cleaner.
This method removes unnecessary sludge from the stem, shank, and heel of the pipe, which clears up the flavor of the tobacco the next time you smoke the pipe.
Note: It is a bad idea to remove the stem from the shank of the pipe right after smoking. If you plan on running a pipe cleaner through the two pieces separately, it is crucial that you let the pipe cool down completely before removing the stem. Taking the two apart while the pipe is hot will cause the stem to expand and contract at a different rate, resulting in a loose joint.
Regular Pipe Cleaning
You should give each pipe you smoke regularly a good cleaning treatment every month in an ideal situation.
The process we will outline below promotes the long-term health of each pipe and reduces small amounts of grime that build up in the nooks and crannies of a pipe.
Tools you will need:
- Pipe cleaners,
- Paper towels,
- Everclear, or other alcohol (we strongly suggest you avoid rubbing alcohol and absolutely avoid water. Many smokers prefer using sugar-based alcohol, like rum or brandy because they believe it gives the pipe a sweeter flavor)).
Once you’ve gathered your tools, follow these steps to get your pipes back in tip-top shape:
1. The first step is to prepare your set-up. Lay down a rag or paper towel to work on. Then, disassemble your pipe.
2. To clean your stem, dip the tip of a pipe cleaner into the alcohol. Insert the cleaner into the bit of your stem, and push it through in one direction. Repeat the process until the cleaner is no longer attracting grime.
3. To clean the shank, take another pipe cleaner and dip it into the alcohol. Insert it into the mortise (where the stem resides) and rub back and forth, picking up as much grime as possible. This may require more than one pipe cleaner. Once you are satisfied with the amount of cleaning, it is time to move on to the chamber itself.
4. It is at this point we prefer to switch to a paper towel. Ball up the paper towel so that it will fit in the chamber. Add a small amount of alcohol to the paper towel. Insert the paper towel into the chamber and lightly twist. This will remove a large amount of dirt and ash. Repeat the process until you are satisfied.
It is important to give the pipe time to dry out after cleaning. To be safe, we suggest waiting at least 12 hours until you smoke that pipe again.
Sometimes a pipe can go sour from all the moisture of the tobacco. This takes a while to happen, but it does occasionally occur. The solution to this problem is simpler than you might expect. All you need are a few inexpensive tools.
Tools You Will Need:
- Pipe cleaners
- Everclear, or other alcohol
- Non-iodized salt
How to Clean:
1. Insert a pipe cleaner through the stem all the way to the chamber. Be sure the cleaner is not in the chamber, just in the bore protecting the shank.
2. Fill the pipe to the chamber rim with non-iodized salt. It is important to use non-iodized salt. Salt with iodine can damage your pipe.
3. Once it is full, take 10-15 drops of Everclear and drop them onto the top of the salt (it is crucial to use Everclear in this situation, not other types of alcohol). The salt will instantly begin turning brown. Don’t be alarmed; that is what we want to happen.
4. Now it is time to wait. It will take 12-24 hours for all the alcohol to evaporate (which is why it is important to use a high-proof liquid, like Everclear). Once you believe the liquid is gone, you can scrape out the musky salt. Warning: if you do not get every last grain of salt out, you will most likely get a piece of disgusting salt on your tongue, resulting in one of the worst tastes you could imagine.
If this process fails to restore your pipe’s smoke-ability, it may be time to send it off to an expert pipe restorer for repair.
Making Pipe Smoking Unique to You
Congratulations! If you’ve made it to this point in the guide, you are now a pipe smoker. You have all the tools you need to love and enjoy this hobby for the rest of your life.
If you’re feeling pretty good and don’t have a lot of curiosity, you can stop right now and be perfectly happy.
If you are like us, you will soon be asking the question, “Isn’t there more?”
Absolutely! Pipe smoking is an art form that no one ever completely masters. There are so many facets to this lifestyle that make it unique. No two smokers have the same experience. The rest of the information in this guide is designed to help you make pipe smoking unique to you. From creating a tobacco cellar to pairing drinks with your favorite blend, these topics will help you customize your experience.
Assembling a Pipe Kit
Your pipe kit should include all the essential things you need to enjoy a great smoke. A few of these are constants, and no one will have any fun without a favorite pipe tobacco and something to light it with. Beyond the simple requirement of pipe tobacco and fire, there are a host of possibilities.
We think that every basic pipe kit should include at least three things in addition to your favorite pipe: a lighter, a sturdy 3-in-1 tool, and a great pipe and tobacco pouch. Here’s how to choose the right accessories for your needs:
Choosing a Lighter
Matches and/or a basic BIC-style lighter will get the job done--but with a few drawbacks. If you’re just getting started, use one of these.
If you are building a collection of pipes and spend a fair bit of time smoking them, we think the investment in a good-quality lighter is a sound one.
A reliable lighter will run in the same price range as a mid-range pipe. Just like your favorite pipes, the more artisan accents and stylish customization the lighter has, the higher the price will be. A perfect choice for lighters that are both beautiful and functional are Tsubota lighters. These lighters are made specifically for pipe smokers and will work even outside on a breezy day.
Finding the Proper Pipe Tool
A basic Czech tool will get you through, and the four dollar price point is hard to beat. We have these laying all over the office, and the car, and the house. The downside is their durability. You will have to spend that four dollars more than once. Just like a lighter, a good-quality tool is a small investment that can substantially enhance your enjoyment. Whatever type of pipe tool you choose, look for these signs of quality and durability:
Strong metal construction: Steel or other durable metals will last longer than aluminum or other cheaper materials.
Well-made joints: The most likely place for a 3-in-1 tool to break is at the joints. Look for smooth movement back-and-forth and sturdy construction here.
Simple construction: A few adornments might add enjoyment. However, we recommend staying away from tools with lots of decorations that are likely to break and/or show wear. Remember, a good tool is meant to be functional; if you want a fun additional element, spring for a handmade pipe tamper.
A Pipe/Tobacco Pouch
Once you put your pipe kit together, you will need something to hold it all in. Ideally, your kit will be convenient for travel, compact, and maybe even a bit stylish. At home, you may have a large pipe cabinet or a humble tackle box for storing your tools, pipes, and tobaccos. However, when you’re on the go, you’ll want something that you can hold in your hand without dropping your whisky.
Pipe and tobacco pouches come in a plethora of colors, shapes, sizes, and designs. There are some leather tobacco pouches that do nothing other than hold tobacco for only a few dollars. Then, there are large multi-item bags that hold numerous pipes and everything in-between.
Pick the pouch that will best accommodate your needs.
Cellaring Pipe Tobacco
There are many benefits to aging and storing our tobacco. The main reason cellaring tobacco is a great idea is because tobacco--just like wine and wisdom--improves with age. When stored properly, the flavors and aroma of the blend mature and gain depth.
We are living in the golden age of tobacco blends. This is likely to be the cheapest pipe tobacco will ever be. With government regulations, inflation, and fewer farms, the price of tobacco is only going to go up.
Cellaring tobacco is a clear and wise investment in the future of your favorite new hobby. If you are a committed pipe smoker and plan to continue for years to come, it might not be a bad idea to stock up now. Think of it like a savings plan for your future happiness.
How Different Tobaccos React to Aging
Virginia Tobacco: The natural sugar content and unique chemical structure make Virginia ideal for aging. No matter how long it is aged, its quality will only increase, at least in our lifetime.
Orientals: After a few years in the cellar, Oriental tobaccos will move away from the intrinsic spice and begin picking up flavors of fruit. There is no universal “sweet spot” time for aging Orientals; they all age differently. However, it is safe to say that the peak will be sometime around 30-40 years in the cellar and will decrease in flavor after that.
Burley Tobacco: Burley is almost always blended with Virginia tobacco, so the same rules of aging apply.
WARNING: be careful in aging certain aromatics. Some tobacco companies put a heavy coating on their Aromatic blends. This coating, if too heavy, will actually hurt the tobacco with age.
Latakia: Like Orientals, Latakia will mellow out after a few years. It will start to lose its punch. This could be a good or bad thing, depending on the blend. If what we affectionately know as “Lat Bombs” are your thing, don’t age it. If you prefer a milder experience, aging will take the rough edges off.
The Do’s of Cellaring Tobacco
Cellaring tobacco is much easier than you may think. By following these simple steps, you will be on your way to building up your own personalized pipe tobacco storehouse!
Control The Temperature And Humidity: Controlling the temperature and humidity of your tobacco is the key to proper aging. Here’s how to do it: Store your tobacco in a place that is somewhere between 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Too much heat will spoil the tobacco (a lot like meat), while not enough will prevent the aging process from really beginning.
Store your tobacco in a place that has the lowest amount of humidity possible. Storing your tobacco in places of high humidity can threaten the seal of your tins, jars, or whatever you store with. If the metal corrodes and the seal is broken, your tobacco can no longer age properly.
Store Your Tobacco In A Dark Place: Limiting the light exposure will protect your containers, thus protecting your tobacco. Your system doesn’t need to be fancy, do what is practical for you. Closed cardboard boxes protect the tobacco from light exposure. They also work well because a closed cardboard box will absorb the humidity before it has time to corrode the metal in the jars and tins.
Use Unopened Tins Or Sealed Glass Jars For Storing: Having an unopened tobacco tin is ideal. However, if you are storing bulk tobacco or did not buy a spare tin, we suggest using canning jars, such as mason jars. Canning jars easily create airtight seals, and they happen to look really good stuffed with tobacco!
Create A Plan For Smoking Your Tobacco: We recommend always taking taste notes. Not only will this be helpful, but it will enhance your experience. Have a set time when you will open your aged tobacco. A great place to start is to let tobacco age periods of six months, one year, two years, five years, and ten years. This is where taste notes will be helpful. Not many people can clearly remember the nuances of a tobacco five years after they smoked it.
Don’ts of Cellaring Tobacco
Do NOT Store with cigars or in a humidor: Pipe tobacco and cigars are both aromatic. Storing them together in a humidor is not a good way to store your tobacco. The last thing you want is for your tobacco and cigars to start taking on the taste of each other as they age. A humidor works for cigars because you need to keep your cigars at a balanced humidity. Too low will make your cigar dry out. A dry cigar loses its aroma and flavor. Too high, and your cigar will develop mold or rot. You will want to keep your tins in a low level of humidity. A humidor is meant to keep the humidity level balanced at a higher level than your pipe tobacco should be at.
Do NOT store in plastic: One of the worst crimes a smoker can commit is to store their tobacco in plastic long term. People believe it is acceptable to store tobacco in plastic, mostly because when they buy tobacco from their local tobacconist, they store the tobacco in a plastic bag. The intent behind that bag is that you take it home and store it in a jar or that you smoke it relatively quickly. We are never given plastic bags to keep as storage containers.
The chemicals in the tobacco will begin to erode part of the plastic. This is then absorbed into the tobacco (not good). On top of that, the plastic will itself absorb the tobacco. It will begin to ghost (change colors). Just like how you store chili in a tub container, and after a few days, the container is no longer clear but brown, your tobacco will do the same.
“Pounds of tobacco are often delivered to shops in plastic,” you may say. The truth is is these plastic bags have been chemically engineered to store tobacco for up to five years. So they are safe from the effect.
Do NOT add moisture: If you add moisture to your tobacco, chances are you will find that your precious aged tobacco has molded. The tobacco has been stored and sold with the moisture content at the level the blender would like it to be. It is our personal opinion that if you want to get the most out of your tobacco, you should smoke it the way the “chef” intended.
Pairing Drinks with Tobacco
There are many reasons why you should pair your tobacco and drinks together. The key to a great recipe, whether it’s a tobacco blend or a dinner entree, is the correct combination of flavors. Tobacco and drinks work much the same way.
Consider a parallel in the culinary world. Few things in this world are as delicate and expertly crafted as homemade Italian pasta served with a homemade marinara sauce. While this entree is delectable and as perfect as it can be by itself, it is still missing something: a drink.
Of course, you could always eat this Italian dish while drinking water, but that doesn’t enhance the flavor. What you need is a decadent red wine. Red wine will act as a magnifying glass, making it easier to detect some of the more subtle flavors in the dish.
Without the right drink to match your food, you will forever lose some of the best flavors. In many ways, pipe tobacco works the same way.
You may have a perfect tin of Virginia tobacco that has been aged for 30 years. You can crack it open, smoke it, and enjoy it for what it is. But unless you are enjoying it under the right conditions, you will miss something.
Another reason to pair these two is that it makes your smoking experience more personal. Before you enjoyed smoking your tobacco in your pipe, and it was wonderful. But now you can start adding another layer of flavor to your already delicious hobby.
Now that you are motivated to begin refining your smoking experience, you have to figure out what goes well together.
Many of the same principles for pairing tobacco and drinks are overarching principles in the larger world of pairing food and wine. While the specifics may change, the basic principles of flavor pairings are similar. With this in mind, it is not as difficult as you may think to match your tobacco with a drink that enriches its flavor.
Flavors Should Have An Equal Body
This is the most important rule for pairing drinks with your tobacco. It is imperative -- if you want to have the best pairing possible -- that you pair a medium-bodied tobacco with a medium-bodied drink, full with full and mild with mild. Smoking a big-bodied tobacco while sipping on a “weak” drink means that the tobacco will overpower the drink, and you will not be able to taste the subtleties in the drink. Likewise, do not have a strong drink with a mild-bodied tobacco.
Here are some examples of good mild, medium, and full-bodied combinations:
Mild: Mac Baren Modern Virginia and a lager, such as Yuengling.
Medium: McClelland Frog Morton and an Old Fashioned cocktail.
Full: Samuel Gawith 1792 Flake and bourbon, such as Woodford Reserve.
The whole purpose of smoking, and drinking too, is to taste as much as possible. You want to taste the subtle little notes that sometimes hide underneath more powerful flavors. If you do not balance the body of smoke and drink, then one will disappear, and the pursuit will become rather meaningless.
Here are some common drink classifications that will help you in choosing the right pairing:
Mild Bodied: Water, most tea, flavored waters, clear fruit juices, most lagers, pilsner beers, many dry white wines, light rums, gin, and vodka.
Medium Bodied: Enhanced teas, most other fruit juices, ambers, red beers, ales, heavier white wines and blushes, golden Rums, lighter Scotches and Whiskeys, lighter liqueurs and cordials, and most mixed drinks.
Full Bodied: Medium to dark roast coffees, dark juices (grape, dark berry), Stouts and Porters, dark Rums, full Scotches, Bourbons, and deep red Wines.
Match Complimentary Opposite Flavors
Perhaps the most well known pairing of opposite flavors is sweet and salty. When you take a bite of salted caramel brittle and then eat a piece of kettle-corn, you understand how well salty and sweet flavors complement each other. The same principle applies to pairing pipe tobacco and drinks. If you are smoking a very sweet aromatic blend, then a slightly salty drink would pair well.
Other great flavor combinations are smoke and oak, acid with richness, sweet and spicy, and even sweet with other sweets. Another great way to compliment is by using the tobacco’s or drinks’ origins as a means of pairing. For example, McClelland tobacco (made near St. Louis, MO) and a St. Louis crafted beer, like a Perennial Artisan Ale. They may not match together perfectly with flavor, but the theme and reasoning you put into the decision make it worthwhile.
Notice When and Where you are Smoking
This may seem like common sense, but there is a right place and a right time to smoke and drink.
For example, no matter what type of tobacco you smoke first thing in the morning, a good cup of coffee will always pair well. Conversely, when smoking late at night, a cup of caffeinated coffee may not be the best choice, even if the flavor is right. On the other hand, a stiff scotch may not be the best choice to pair with your tobacco in the morning or at lunch but should instead be enjoyed in the afternoon and evening.
It is also helpful to know where you are smoking. If you are traveling through Kentucky, it may be nice to smoke with bourbon. If you are on the coast of North Carolina or in the mainland of California, a good wine may be a good choice.
There has been a ton of information learned about smoking a tobacco pipe. This is a hobby filled with passionate people who eagerly enjoy it, and there are many ways to make it a hobby you love too. If you just want to collect smoking pipes, or if you want to appreciate the various flavors of different tobaccos from around the world, we hope this comprehensive explanation covered it all.