The distinct joy of smoking a tobacco pipe draws every kind of person at every stage of life. That’s the power of the leaf. From the seasoned veteran with decades under their belt to the newbie who buys their first Dr. Grabow at the drugstore on their eighteenth birthday, every piper is on their own unique journey learning the basics—and then mastering the techniques—of smoking a tobacco pipe.
The challenge, however, is keeping all of that knowledge in mind at once; it’s maintaining the fundamentals once you’ve been at the pipe awhile. Bad habits, and even simple forgetfulness, are insidious foes that can rob you of an optimal smoke. To help bring a few obvious best practices back to center stage, we’ve compiled a list of eleven pipe smoking essentials that all new pipers need to learn and that every experienced pipe smoker knows but may have lost sight of along the way. Without further delay, the 11 Things You’re Forgetting to Do:
1. Shop Intentionally
It’s a great feeling, laying eyes on some magnificent pipe and knowing it’ll soon rest in your collection. That spark of attraction, like love itself, is a necessary part of the pipe buying experience. Still, when resources are limited and you’re going in on the long-term commitment of buying a pipe, it’s worth stepping back to ask yourself a couple of questions about why this pipe over all the others. All the standard purchasing considerations apply—read the reviews, consult the pictures, handle it if you’re able. Especially if you’re new to collecting, you’ll also want to reference your existing collection. Plan to try out pipe shapes and styles that add depth and nuance to your smoking experience rather than purchasing a shape that you already own. Expanding your collection also affords you flexibility for cooling and tobacco blend dedication. Among the pipe community, there are frequent discusses about setting aside specific pipes for certain categories of tobacco. The thinking here is that the residue from varied blends—your Periques, Virginias, Latakias, and so on—is prevented from compromising the intentional and distinct characteristics found in other blends of tobacco. Perhaps a worthy consideration for the seasoned palate, the beginning smoker can hold off from this strategy for awhile. Lastly, a pipe collection should reflect your evolving tastes. As the piper develops their interests and proclivities, the collection should expand proportionally. Once you’ve smoked a Nose warmer, a Bent Rhodesian, a Bulldog, and a Horn, then you’re poised to build out your collection through a favorite shape by different makers.
2. Cleanliness is Fundamental
Everyone knows the importance of cleaning your pipe. Some pipers are fastidious about their pipe care by nature. For these folks, upkeep is synonymous with smoking and you can bet that there isn’t an untended pipe in their collection. For others, the time it takes to properly clean a pipe may be prohibitive; when we’re ready to pack a bowl, sometimes we’ll skimp on this necessary step for an expedited path to bliss. We get it, but count this entry as a reminder that pipe smoking is after maximal pleasure, not just a quick hit. Whenever possible, as much as possible, the piper ought to consider their cleaning as a ritual. This brings a kind of sacredness back to what can at times feel like routine. There’s the standard stuff. Your bristled and tapered pipe cleaners, your pipe tool to scrape out residue. This part isn’t complicated. The more challenging component is discipline. Instill best cleaning practices, including resting and aftercare, and that intentionality alone improves your pipe process and flavor every bowl.
3. Really Let Your Pipe Cool Down
Just as the act of smoking a pipe brings ease and relaxation, so does the instrument of that pleasure need its own time away from the action. While it can be tempting to run a favorite pipe too often, veteran pipers have developed a preternatural capacity for sensing that a pipe has reached its limit. A soft palm on the briar, the taste of the tobacco, and a cognizance of back to back bowls all aid in this effort. The best recipe of all is rotation. It takes much more than just resting a pipe for fifteen minutes to sufficiently cool it down. Some pipers recommend rotating a different pipe for every day of the week so as to afford a weekly cadence for the cool off period. For those taking increased bowls a day, the collection can likewise be increased to maximize the benefits of a sufficiently rested pipe. See above for thoughts on how to build out your collection in accordance with your stage of smoking and experimenting with different shapes.
4. The Necessary Dry Out
Few things are more exciting than an anticipated tin of fine tobacco. When you’ve got something new from G.L. Pease, or a limited-edition bit of wonder like Cornell & Diehl’s The Beast, who can blame you for wanting to pop the tin the second the package arrives. But veteran pipers know that good things come to those who wait, and that maxim rings true with many blends of pipe tobacco. If your tobacco is overly moist, such that it sticks together when you take a pinch, there’s wisdom to letting the tobacco rest to maximize the ensuing flavor and keep your mouth safe from tongue bite. Sometimes this can be as quick as pulling out the pinches that you’re about to smoke and leaving them in the open air for an hour; other tins may require a longer dry time. Some pipers advocate for packing a bowl in the morning and letting it sit until evening, a strategy that gives you something special to look forward to. Take caution to not let it go too far; desiccated tobacco will lose its flavor.
5. Slow Your Cadence
Pipe smoking is all about intentionality. When you’re setting yourself down with a fine book or gathering with your friends or simply sitting in the solace of your backyard, the ambition is never a rush to burn through the contents of your pipe. Indulging your pipe is a long-game and that means paying keen attention to the time you’ve set aside. It goes without saying that piping is not like smoking a cigarette; it’s not a quick fix. That’s why developing your cadence is so essential. Even when the conversation is roiling, or a scene in The Walking Dead is ratcheting in intensity, the piper has to take control and modulate their smoking to keep the mouth and the pipe cool. It’s a challenge that comes with practice. Seasoned pipers, however, have come up with novel techniques to stave off even the most adrenaline inspired circumstances.
One of these is the Breath Smoking Technique, and it’s a favorite among advanced pipers. By closing your lips around the stem and breathing through your nose, then gently breathing the smoke out through the pipe, a gentle and flavorful mouthful of smoke accumulates without any heavy puffing. This staves off tongue bite and helps keep your pipe lit. Others suggest properly dry tobacco and slow puffing with a consent that your pipe may go out.
Alan Kerslake on the Breath Smoking Technique
6. Broaden Your Collection
Of all the delights in the pipe smoking world, one of the grandest is collecting. And once you’ve caught the bug, this bug will keep on biting. While there’s something particularly satisfying about finding the dream shape, it’s worth remembering that pipe shaping reaches back into history and stretches into the horizon. There’s a veritable infinite to reckon with, and a piper would do well to experiment, to broaden their purview, and to remember that a new favorite shape may be just around the corner. This is especially true of independent makers who are innovating in their own ways, bringing new shapes and perspectives to a longstanding conversation. The important point here is to resist any rut. Know your preferences and indulge them but keep a sharp eye toward new ways to mature your pipe smoking experience.
7. Pick the Right Pairing
Smoking a tobacco pipe is one of those practices that’s enhanced with what you pair it with. Settling on the perfect accompanying material takes a pipe from notes plucked on a guitar to a full-blown symphony. The most obvious is your choice of beverage. While the piper ought to indulge any drink that strikes their fancy, certain libations are recommended for how they bring out the nuance of your tobacco. Many pipe aficionados favor tea and coffee, and it’s easy to see how those robust flavor profiles can interact with your blends. Others say go with sparkling water for a palette cleanser that’s crisp and refreshing in the mouth. To that end, anything cold—like a gin & tonic, iced tea, or iced coffee—helps keep your tongue nice and cool. Next up is music. For a full-blown sensory experience, treat all of your faculties with something nice on the stereo. Pipe smoking is a leisurely activity, so while we love the harder stuff in the right setting, putting on something that slows down the heartrate is always a good choice. And last of all, don’t forget the mind. The contemplative pleasure of pipe smoking renew the psyche and so be conscious of turning it on with a grand novel, a notebook for your best thoughts, or a meaningful conversation with your pipe compadres.
8. Smoke on a Full Stomach
Nothing is worse than sitting down to enjoy a bowl and then finding yourself turning queasy halfway through. While certain tobaccos are much lighter in nicotine, others will knock even seasoned smokers flat if they’re not prepared. To mitigate any potential negative experiences, gird yourself in advance and put a little something in your stomach. Or, in step with the beverage recommendations above, enjoy some light fare while you’re smoking, paying keen attention to the interaction of flavor profiles and how they change. Salty foods, like pretzels, are often popular, while others prefer a sweet pastry or a nice charcuterie board with a lick of Dijon mustard and some sharp cheese. The important thing is to safeguard your smoking satisfaction by ensuring you don’t get green around the gills.
9. Get the Right Mouthwash
Pipers know that while they might exalt their favorite hobby, their spouses, friends, and colleagues may not share in some of the side effects. That’s right, we mean bad breath. Brushing and tongue scrapers do good work but a sometimes overlooked essential is a good bottle of mouth wash. While any mouth wash will improve your breath, certain products are made with aloe vera, which carries an additional benefit. Often labeled as treating “dry mouth,” Aloe Dent and Dr. Organic Aloe Vera Mouthwash freshen your breath while also bringing a gentle soothe to a warmed mouth. Take care of yourself, and everyone else too, and complaints will be few and far between.
10. Dedicate Time
Pipes are for leisure. We all know it. But so often the speed and excesses of life encroach on our time, and even when we’re anticipating a little R&R on the back porch, by the time we get there at the end of the day it’s a rush to light and a rush through a couple of bowls. While it’s true that a benefit of the pipe is it’s a shorter time commitment than a cigar, a little downtime should still be incorporated before lighting up your pipe. This doesn’t have to be long, but it is necessary. Take a moment to recalibrate, to reflect on the day, to write a page in your journal, or to just simply sit. A pipe isn’t a total fix for the day’s troubles (though it certainly goes a long way). Set your mind with intention before lighting up and you’re prepared to appreciate the activity and all its raptures along the way. Similarly, take care to leave yourself sufficient time to smoke. Nothing redoubles your trials like having a smoke interrupted, so as best as you’re able, clear the calendar for a planned time so you might maximize your leisure.
11. Find a Pipe Mentor
One of the most meaningful and enduring elements of pipe smoking is community. From digital collectives on YouTube to that group of regulars that gather on a given morning at your local shop, the collective expertise emerging from these conversations brings exponential growth and depth to your piping. While we celebrate community, there’s also something special about the 1:1 relationship that comes from meeting someone further down the line in their pipe journey who is willing to take you under their wing. Call them a smoking buddy, a confidante, a guide, or a veteran, they’re the seasoned masters who have put in the work. From knowledge about technique, to an understanding of history, to a shortcut on which blends to start with and what’s best suited to your palette, a mentor in the pipe world passes on legacy and enriches your pipe odyssey.
The journey to tobacco pipe mastery is all about maintaining the basics while growing in knowledge and moving toward new vistas. Even experienced smokers can fall prey to a neglect of best practices over time. Remembering the essentials helps to enrich the art of smoking, and everyone needs a reminder here and there. Keeping these 11 tips in mind will set you to rights and keep you smoking proper for years to come.