THE ANATOMY OF A TOBACCO PIPE
A pipe’s fundamental function is to provide a relatively safe, manipulable volume in which to incompletely combust tobacco (and/or other smokable substances) while allowing the smoke drawn from this combustion to cool sufficiently for inhalation by the smoker. Typically this is accomplished by connecting a refractory ‘bowl’ to some sort of ‘stem’ which extends and cools the smoke mixture drawn through the combusting organic mass (see below)
Cobcorn – A great beginner pipe; if you decide pipe smoking is not for you, you haven’t spent a lot of money. Actually made from corncob, it is easily cared for, very durable, and disposable. Eventually they wear out but you can always buy another one for about $5.
Briar – This is the closely grained burl joint between the stem and roots of the Heath tree, which grows in rocky slopes on the hillsides of Mediterranean countries. This burl is very tough, close-grained, and porous. It will not crack when exposed to heat. Good briar is hard to find, as the larger shrubs take a very long time to mature. The most suitable root may be 80 to 100 years old, and the finest pipe briar may be from a shrub that is over 200 years old.
The easiest way to tell if you have a well-aged briar is by the weight. A pipe that is made with well-aged briar will be very light in weight. If you hold two similar pipes together by the stem, the lighter, more balanced pipe will inevitably be made with older briar. Many of the very inexpensive drugstore pipes, like Dr. Grabow, are made with very young or flawed briar. Many of these cheaper pipes rely on filters to keep the smoke cool. A properly aged briar does not need a filter because the briar is extremely porous. Briar pipes are rated by the purity of the grain. A perfectly straight grain or Birdseye grain (little tight grained swirls), will command a very steep price. These pipes are purely for aesthetics and prized by collectors. They do not smoke any differently than a less-than-perfect grain. You can also save a considerable amount of money if you are not concerned with grain quality.
If you really want to find a good pipe for a bargain, you might want to opt for a sandblast briar. The briar used for these pipes have flaws in them such as very ugly grain or little holes in the wood. These pipes are then sandblasted into a rough grain. Sandblasted pipes are extremely porous and smoke very cool. Briar pipes are also sold as seconds. The tiny holes or imperfections in these pipes are filled with putty and then stained. Many of these pipes can be purchased for $5 to $20. If perfect, these pipes would sell for considerably more money.
Meerschaum – Composed of the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor millions of years ago, the highest quality meerschaum is found in only one place in the world: Eskisehir, in central Turkey. Many meerschaum pipes are hand carved into works of art. The meerschaum pipe gives the tobacco a very unique, cool smoking flavor. It absorbs far more moisture than a briar pipe. The pipe starts out pearl-white and eventually becomes a beautiful deep-brown color as it breaks in. This is one of the most appealing features of this type of pipe. Meerschaum pipes are a prized addition to many smokers’ collections.
Other Less Popular Types of Pipes
Calabash – Gourd
Hookah – Water Pipe
Clay – Clay pottery pipe
Pipe cleaners – Indispensable! Two types: soft and fluffy to dry up moisture, or “bristle,” to dig out deposits and clean a very dirty pipe.
Pipe sweetener – Dissolves built-up gum and tar while leaving a fresh aroma in the bowl stem and mouthpiece.
Pipe tool – A spoon, pick, and tamper all contained in a metal holder.
Pipe reamer – A tool for smoothing out the “cake,” which is the hardened tobacco build-up that accumulates in a pipe. If the cake gets too thick, the bowl may crack. This tool will trim the cake down to a desired size. A rule of thumb is to trim it down to about the thickness of a nickel. Never completely remove the cake, as it protects the pipe and makes it smoke cooler.
Pipe rack – A storage place for your pipes. After smoking your pipe, clean it with a pipe cleaner and place it in the rack with the stem facing up so the saliva can properly drain out of the pipe. It is always a good idea to have several pipes so they can have time to properly dry out. Having several pipes will also prolong the life of each pipe by not burning out the bowl from excessive heat.
Humidor – Anything cheap and airtight. Tupperware or mason jars work great. Misting it with a spray bottle can easily restore dry pipe tobacco.
Aromatic – During the manufacturing process, casings are added to the tobacco. A casing is flavor that is added to the tobacco. Some of the most common casings are chocolate, vanilla, cherry, rum, apple, liquor, etc. Depending on the amount of casing used, a blend in this category can also be deemed “semi-aromatic” or “lightly-aromatic.”
Non Aromatic – A mixture that relies solely on the natural ingredients of the tobacco to derive its flavors and aroma. In many cases, the tobacco is specially aged or fermented, which increases its sweetness.
English Blend – Up until 1986, additives were not allowed in tobaccos made in England. For this reason, those tobaccos were referred to as English blends even though non-aromatic tobaccos were manufactured all over the world. Today a true English blend is considered to be any blend containing Oriental tobaccos, most notably Latakia. The most common English blend consists of Latakia, Virginia, and Perique. Depending on how much Latakia is mixed into the blend ultimately determines the overall strength of the mixture, described as a mild-, medium-, or full-bodied English blend.
While the variety of tobacco, climate, and soil type affect the strength and flavor of tobacco smoke, another key variable is the part of the plant from which the leaves are harvested. The leaves of a tobacco plant ripen from the bottom to the top and are harvested in a series of “primings” as they become ready. As successive layers of leaves are picked and time passes, nutrients concentrate in the slowest ripening…
Flake Cut – Tobacco packaged as large, flat flakes. Must be rubbed out to separate the flakes.
Ready Rubbed – A flake-cut tobacco that has been rubbed out before packaging.
Ribbon Cut – Tobacco cut into long, thin ribbons.
Shag – Tobacco that has been shredded very finely.
Cake Or Plug – Cake tobacco is soaked in honey, which acts as a bonding agent as well as a sweetener. The tobacco is then molded by packing it into round molds before packaging. This process is sometimes referred to as “spun-disc” tobacco.
Think of these blends as adding salt and pepper to a meal. Most of these tobaccos are added sparingly to the mixture to create some unique flavors and aromas. Many of these tobaccos have very dominant flavors so only a small amount is required to taste the full effect of the leaf.
Perique – Grown in Louisiana, Perique is a very dark tobacco that is renowned for its very spicy flavor.
Brazil – A very dark tobacco that has a robust, sweet flavor.
Latakia – Grown in Syria, Latakia is a very full-bodied dark tobacco that gives off a smoky aroma that is similar to burning leaves. Latakia is a very overpowering tobacco that is primarily used in English blends.
Oriental – A generalized grouping of tobaccos including Latakia that is known for its unique “spice” flavors. The tobaccos in this category are grown in Western Turkey, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, and Syria. Many times a mixture will include Macedonia as one of the ingredients. The different types of tobacco leaf grown in Macedonia are as follows … Xanthi, Komotini, Drama, Serrus, Samsun and Izmir.
The following list of tobaccos is the main ingredients found in all blends of pipe tobacco.
Virginia – Red / black / dark / lemon / orange / orange-red. The mildest of all blending tobaccos. Virginia tobacco has the highest natural sugar content, and is used in virtually all blends as it is a good burner and lights easily. It imparts a light, sweet taste, which naturally increases when properly aged before blending.
Bright – A very light tobacco that is grown in the Carolinas. Very mild flavor.
Burley – A naturally thicker leaf than Virginia, Burley has a soft, nutty taste that never bites. It also burns very slowly and is used for slowing down the combustion rate for many blends.
Cavendish – Cavendish is a curing and cutting method. Often mistaken for a type of tobacco leaf. Cavendish is actually a type of manufacturing process. This special heating and curing process will bring out the naturally sweet flavor of Virginia tobacco. The process also creates a tobacco that is quite mild, very light in taste, and easy to pack.
Black Cavendish – The natural process of heating and curing Virginia tobacco to bring out the natural sweet flavor.
Navy Cavendish – Aged naturally with dark Jamaican rum.
IPCPR– International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) is the oldest, largest and most active trade association representing and assisting retailers of premium tobacco products and their suppliers.