A Few Words about Laurel Heights

23rd March, 2006: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

This is a first. Laurel Heights hasn’t even hit the streets yet, and I’ve already been bombarded with questions about it. The most common one is a little surprising: “Does it contain Latakia?” Certainly, it’s billed as a red Virginia blend. My description of its smoking character doesn’t imply that it’s a Latakia blend. None of the people with whom I’ve shared the prototype, many of whom are die-hard Virginia lovers, have jumped back in shock and awe by the dark an sinister appearance of the tobacco because of some obvious Latakia content.

Earlier today, I got a phone call from one of the fine retailers who sells my blends. Apparently, he’d been asked the same question by several customers. I guess I’ve become known as a producer of Latakia blends, and people can’t accept the fact that, just perhaps, I’ve produced a “real” Virginia. Never mind that seven of my previous releases, Haddo’s Delight, Barbary Coast, Cairo, Cumberland, Stratford, Montgomery, and Telegraph Hill are all completely devoid of the mysterious smoky weed. Still, it’s a fair cop. I’ve made more Latakia blends than non-Latakia blends, and even Lombard has drawn some fire for its Latakia content, however small, with comments like, “I thought this was going to be a line of VIRGINIA tobaccos. What’s up with this Lombard business? And, Ashbury? That’s right over the top, man!” Well, maybe they’re right.

The tobaccos in the Fog City Selection feature Virginia tobaccos, though I never promised not to use anything else. Certainly Montgomery and Telegraph hill have no oriental condiment leaf. So, what’s the fuss? That’s another story, though. Back to Laurel Heights.

To be fair, I understand the concern. There are people who truly despise Latakia, or at least honestly believe they do. But, the fact is that I can think of some really nice old Virginias that were “enhanced” with a tiny bit of Latakia, and no one ever suspected. No one complained about their sinister aromas or the taste of creosote that resulted from putting match to leaf in their briars. (I’ve seen both of these expressions used in response to the very mention of Latakia. Some people really hate the stuff!) There are even cigarettes that contain just the slightest amount of Latakia for reasons of improving the taste profile of the smoke. So, what of Laurel Heights?

Until now, I’ve been a little vague in my responses. It’s not that I’m trying to hide anything, it’s just that I want the blend to be judged on its own merits, not by the prejudice of apprehension.

But, the answer is, yes, Virginia, there’s a very small amount of Latakia in the blend. It’s not a Latakia blend, by any stretch of the imagination. If you took a pound of Laurel Heights, a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers, carefully removing every shred of Latakia, you’d be able to make an interesting cigarette. Latakia is not a feature of this blend; red Virginia is. So, why put it in there at all? Why ruin a perfectly good Virginia this way?

Tobaccos can be used in different ways. They can be featured in a blend, they can be spices to a blend, or they can truly be condiments. Like salt, a little of some leaf or other can bring out the best qualities of the other ingredients without jumping up and shouting, “I am salt! Hear me roar!” While developing this blend, I was seeking a certain quality, a certain character that I recalled from some old blends of yesterday. Going back through my notes, I recalled that just a pinch of Latakia could reduce some of the earthy taste and slight acidity of a Virginia, while enhancing its sweetness - both good things, in my book. So, I began the exploration, and after a little experimentation, came up with just the right recipe.

Of course, I tricked some of my closest Virginia loving friends, some of whom will run screaming from the room at the very mention of Latakia, into trying this new concoction, and was pleased with their response. They all really enjoyed the smoke, and no mention of road tar, burning railroad ties, telephone poles, anchovies or other less than complimentary epithets sometimes used to describe Latakia came up. Many came back for a second bowl, and a third. One tried to steal my jar. I love it when a plan comes together.

The next step was to foist the stuff off on a guy I know who can spot Latakia at 100 paces, and that’s when he has a cold. Sure enough, he detected it. He didn’t find it objectionable, but he could tell it was there. He still speaks to me, but I think he’s just waiting for an opportunity to get even somehow.

So, why am I talking about this now, instead of just waiting to see what people have to say? And, why didn’t I put it on the label, if I was going to foul this fine red leaf with that brimstone laden stuff from the eighth circle of hell?

The answer to the first question is simple. People are asking, and I can’t lie about it. I asked the aforementioned retailer, “Can you taste Latakia in it?” I responded to an email with similarly deceptive rhetoric. (I should run for political office.) I couldn’t stand it, and followed-up both communications with the naked truth. It’s the only way I can sleep at night. So, here it is for the rest of the world to see.

The answer to the second question is, no. I am Latakia’s ambassador. It’s my goal to make everyone who smokes a pipe like the stuff, love the stuff, crave the stuff. If I put it on the label, it would thwart my plan. I don’t tell my kid when there’s broccoli on his pizza, either. (Okay, that’s a joke. My kid loves broccoli.)

But, seriously, don’t let the inclusion of a tiny bit of Cyprian leaf put you off trying this one. It’s very subtle and really does enhance the flavours of the Virginias. It’s a lovely red Virginia blend, and just might bring some new dimensions to your enjoyment of this fine leaf.