By: Eric Whitaker
Here are a few simple tips, techniques and a wee bit of knowledge to help you get the BEST smoke from your pipes and tobacco. Some people give up the potential pleasures of their pipes and tobaccos, so I asked myself “Why?”, and here are a few facts found from my own research: Most new pipe smokers experience “tongue bite” from their pipes or tobacco because of the following reasons, by category:
--Selection of tobaccos, being familiar with different types.
--Selections of pipes, with a fundamental knowledge of shapes, materials and designs.
--Individual habits, physiological differences of individuals.
If you take a little time and care in the selection of your pipes and tobaccos, you may minimize or completely avoid the tongue-bite problem. Here are my observations:
Tobaccos: Dry tobaccos will smoke hotter than properly humidified ones. Humidors for tobacco should be 65-70% Relative humidity.
Virginia tobaccos that are bright colored have a sharp, piquant flavor, and should be smoked slower, or enjoyed in a “flake” form, slowing combustion temperatures. By contrast, stoved darker Virginia tobaccos will have more “body”, smoke slower and are sweeter. Virginia tobaccos have acidic qualities, affecting how human taste buds on the tongue sense taste and how the olfactory sensors in the nasal sinuses sense smell. A good Virginia tobacco will compound in taste and flavor, building to a crescendo of flavor, with nuances of trace flavors, very much like a good salsa.
Burley tobaccos have no natural sugars; they have an alkaline quality, and have a lot of “body” (mellower and softer sense of taste). White Burley is the mildest, with a transparent flavor. Burley tobacco is like a sponge for casing sauces and top dressings. Natural burley that has been aged and compressed has a nutty, pleasant flavor, naturally, without added casing sauces or dressings. Fire cured dark Burley has a nicotine punch and strong flavor, that would be wisely used in moderation, or as a condiment to a blend.
Perique tobacco is used as a condiment to a blend, mixture or flake. Perique has the quality of pepper, a unique taste and aroma that many people enjoy. Other condimental tobaccos include Latakia, and some strong Oriental tobaccos. Sometimes a mild Oriental tobacco is used as a base in a blend or mixture.
Some of the smoothest tobaccos can be a Cavendish, which are usually compressed, steamed, cased and aged for further fermentation, the process effectively turning any remaining ammonias within the leaf converting to starch and sugars. Blends or mixtures that have not been aged are “green”; sometimes have an alcohol smell, due to hasty application of a cheap top dressing disguising inferior tobacco. Beware of and avoid cheap tobaccos with a cheap perfume—spend the extra money for a natural, quality aged mixture.
Pipes: Superior Briar pipes do two things very well: They absorb heat and moisture from the combustion of tobacco. The microscopic pores in the wood expand and contract, although the wood is very densely grained. Not all briar pipes have porosity, and superior pipes are judged light in weight, regardless of the size of the bowl. I have seen, smoked and hefted very large pipes that were light as a feather. The reason: the best cured briar wood is free of bitter saps and resins, either cured out of the wood by the briar mill by boiling it out, by the pipe makers, either by curing in dry air for a few years, or by a gradual heat in a drying kiln, or by oil curing, all methods or combinations of said methods exuding the undesirable saps and resins out; resulting in a dry, porous, lightweight pipe.
The thickness of the bowl indirectly affects how much heat may be absorbed by the pipe. A thick, wide bowl with an outside surface carving or sandblast finish will smoke a lot cooler than a pipe with a tall thin walled bowl with a smooth finish. A pipe with a varnish finish will smoke like an inferno, stay wet and never dry out, will over heat, the varnish finish will drop off on the hot spot, and will burn out. Avoid varnished pipes. Filtered pipes are to be judged on how well the filter absorbs moisture. If the filter does not absorb moisture, simply trapping it, until the combustion by-product juices reach the smoker’s mouth—toss out the filter and smoke the pipe without it. Some pipes have balsa wood or meerschaum granule filters, which are absorbent—and therefore superior.
The draw of a pipe directly affects how fast the smoke is transferred, how easy or difficult it may be to keep lit, and an indifferent pipe may be salvaged by re-drilling it, paying close attention to the thickness of the stem relative to the larger air passage desired. Conversely, a pipe with too large a drilling may smoke too hot.
Mouthpiece design affects the concentration of the smoke exiting the pipe. A short narrow bit will seem to smoke hotter than a wide, tapered bit, unless the air passage is compensated longer, as on a “Canadian” shaped pipe. A longer mouthpiece will cool the smoke down before it reaches the smoker’s mouth, as a Chuchwarden styled pipe does. An increase in volume of the air passage within a pipe will provide a cooler smoke—a classic example is the gourd Calabash pipe, famous for its cool smoke. Hookah pipes use water to cool the smoke, effectively.
Techniques: Using pipe cleaners before, during and after smoking a pipe is one of the single best ways to get a dry smoke. Your pipe will stay dryer, smoke sweeter, and work better when its not dirty, plugged up, wet and foul. Your tongue will feel better if no juices of combustion contact your mouth.
Packing the tobacco in the pipe, properly, will help keep the tobacco lit better, draw easier, and determine how the smoke will be. If you pack the pipe loose in the bottom of the bowl, and firm but springy on top—you’re off to a good start. Care must be taken to think about the tobacco BEFORE it goes into the pipe. If you smoke flake tobacco, you have the choice of rubbing it out to fine shreds which will smoke faster, and therefore hotter, or coarse fragments which will burn slower and give a slightly different flavor.
After lighting the pipe, use a tamper tool to gently press the burning shreds of tobacco down to burn the next layer of tobacco. As you smoke the pipe, if you’ve properly packed it, the draw will get easier. Then it will be time to fluff out some of the ash, re-tamp, use a quick pipe cleaner and relight your pipe. You dump the ashes before relighting to avoid getting them through the air passage of the pipe, and in some cases, off your tongue. The pipe cleaner will quickly mop up any excess moisture.
Never smoke your pipe hotter than you can comfortably hold it in your bare hand. If you are a fast puffer, use a slower burning tobacco, a pipe with a thick, wide bowl or one with a long stem. One of the most important aspects of smoking a pipe is how to take care of your pipe while you are NOT smoking it! After smoking your pipe, dump the ashes and unburned dottle. Do NOT pull the stem from the shank—the shank could crack because it has expanded with the heat and moisture from the smoke. Use several pipe cleaners to absorb all the excessive moisture in the air passage of the pipe. Now your pipe needs to rest and dry out at least a day, before enjoying another smoke from it. Store the pipe where it will not get broken, in an upright position, somewhere air can circulate and dry it out. Your reward will be a clean, sweet, sanitary pipe—ready for you to smoke again! This is why it’s good to have more than one pipe! After a time of regular smoking and periods of “rest” for your pipe—you will notice a cake of carbon, forming on the inside of the bowl---don’t get rid of it! The carbon acts like an insulator between the wood of the bowl and the heat of combustion. It is very important that you keep it trimmed down with a special tool called a “reamer”, designed for the job—to no more than the thickness of a nickel—or on thicker walled pipes—no more than 1/8 of an inch. The reason for this periodical trimming of carbon is that the carbon expands and contracts at a different rate than the wood of briar—therefore putting a stress on the wood-if severe enough, could crack a bowl, ruining the pipe. Another reason to have a thin, beneficial carbon cake inside the bowl is flavor. Only when you have built up the carbon a little, can you enjoy fully, the taste of the tobacco that you have “broken in” your pipe with. Lastly, a quick buff with a soft flannel cotton cloth on the bowl and stem, and your pipe is well taken care of.
Physiological make-ups of individuals differ, as do there choices in pipes and tobaccos as well. People taste things differently—even when sampling the same products. Anyone who smokes also has their individual “limitations” on their personal tobacco consumption, even with pipes. Certain tobaccos and certain quantities of tobacco suit different people at different times of day, also after consuming different foods and drink.
A person’s taste of tobacco can be influenced by the natural Ph value (acidic vs. alkaline) in their mouth. Some people have more acidic than alkaline. Tobaccos also have this Ph value within the leaf—Virginia type tobaccos have an acidic value, Burley has an alkaline value—this is the reason why Burley tobacco has a greater “mouthfeel” and body, compared to Virginia tobacco, which has the quality of building in flavor, as it is smoked. Virginia tobacco has the highest natural sugar content, Burley has no natural sugars—it has starches, instead of sugar. That is the reason why a lot of Burley tobacco is treated with external sugary flavorings, called casing sauces. A person’s dental details will sometimes allow him to select a mouthpiece for optimum comfort. Sometimes a person’s habits will dictate what kind of pipe he chooses, by different activities of the person who is smoking, be it work or leisure. The perfect pipe and perfect tobacco and perfect smoke can be attained with a little effort and knowledge, and avoidance of simple problems that are commonly encountered by many people.