I’ve made a YouTube video on different tobacco varieties and/or different preparation methods. In this blog (and these two related videos, 1 & 2), I would like to explore more on the different tobacco varieties.
Latakia tobacco comes from Cyprus and Syria and is named after the port Latakia. There is a story that an explorer “discovered” tobacco leaves high up against the ceiling or attic of a house. Due to the cooking and heating in the room by means of open fires, these tobacco leaves, over time, developed a very distinct smoky character. Latakia is nowadays processed by curing the tobacco leaves over a smoky fire or by hanging the tobacco leaf in a building while a fire smolders below the leaves. This process infuses the tobacco – the smoldering wood/smokiness impregnates the tobacco which leaves the distinctive Latakia smoky flavour. After awhile as a pipe smoker, you will not miss a Latakia blend as it has a unmistakable taste and smell. Two types are currently available; Syrian Latakia and Cyprian Latakia. Syrian Latakia is generally more stronger with a woody flavour, while Cyprian Latakia has a deeper colour and more mellow, sweet and leathery in taste.
Perique is an exotic spicy tobacco with a distinct peppery flavour, dark in colour and an oily texture. The story goes that this process of curing the tobacco the Indian (Choctaw) way was taught to Pierre Chenet. Basically, they prepared their tobacco by compressing tobacco leaves in hollow tree trunks and leave them to ferment in its own “juices”; also called Cajun style. This process creates a uniquely fragrant and nicotine punch tobacco. Perique is the strongest form of tobacco available. Some (like myself) have smoked Perique on its own, but it is more used as a condiment for blends. Virginia and Perique blends (Va/Per) are a popular blend among pipe smokers, known as “Vapers“. Perique has a pungent aroma which brings a unique richness to a blend. Due to its strong spicy / peppery flavour, you will rarely find Perique to be the dominant tobacco in a blend.
Burley is mostly an American tobacco with a full flavour. It is one of the best base tobaccos for blending and adds a nutty character to blends. It has no sugar content, and is not known for giving any tongue-bite. Because of its strong nutty character, too much Burley can overpower a blend and should be used sparingly. Although it has a nice strong nutty flavour, it is often flavoured.
Virginia are probably the best known tobacco and is grown virtually all over the world. Virginia also come in its own different varieties for example, dark coloured Virginia, light coloured Virginia, red flue-cured Virginia, yellow (lemony) Virginia etc., each offering a unique flavour. Virginias are generally sweet / tangy with a hint of citrus (which also can vary between varieties). Unprocessed Virginias tend to give “tongue bite”. Being a very versatile tobacco, it forms the base of most blends and often the highest percentage in a blend. Straight Virginia is a tobacco “blend” of different Virginians, and only Virginias. Some pipe smokers go on a life long journey to find their “straight Virginia”. If you’re a straight VA smoker, you will probably experience an improvement of a bowl towards the end of a bowl because your initial smoke kind of “stove” the Virginia, leaving you with reduced tongue-bite and enhancing the flavours.
Cavendish is not a tobacco variety but rather a method of preparing tobacco; stoved, pressed and often slightly sweetened. It is named after an English explorer, Sir Thomas Cavendish. The story goes that, on one expedition to Virginia, he found that immersing tobacco leaves in sugar produces tobacco leaves with a softer, sweeter and milder smoke. Obviously this process has been “perfected” over years and is now made by sweetening and flavouring the tobacco (any tobacco like Virginia, Burley/Kentucky) which is then pressed and even cooked (black cavendish). It is for this reason why Cavendish is mostly used in aromatic blends like Cherry and Vanilla Cavendish. Cavendish is remarkably smooth and rounder than most other tobacco leafs. Cavendish can be used as a base and blends nicely with Latakia but is often only used to add body and flavour.
Oriental tobacco are small leaf varieties grown in the Mediterranean / Black Sea area, normally sun-cured. Their flavours varies but are usually clearly “spicy”, nutty and somewhat sweety and woody character, but are mostly a mellow tobacco. Mostly used in a blend with Latakia. In my opinion, Orientals/Turkish almost always adds an “incense-type” of aroma to a blend.
Other varieties that I’m not too familiar with, are Kentucky and African tobaccos.
See this page for tobacco blend styles.