Evaluating Pipe Tobaccos

2nd December, 2003: Posted by glpease in Tobacco

I’ve read a lot of tobacco reviews, and some of them really puzzle me. It’s remarkable, even unthinkable, that someone would be so bold as to believe they can “review” a blend after only a single bowl, or even two (thought, I’ve been guilty of this myself on more than one occassion). Tobacco blends do not reveal themselves instantly. They emerge in layers, responding gradually to the smokers mood, the environment, the pipe. Even a blend that fails to impress upon first experience can expose its charms to the smoker after many subsequent smokes. Tobacco is complicated stuff. It takes time to get to know a blend.

The first bowls of any new blend in any given pipe will be colored by whatever has been smoked in the pipe recently. The pipe has a memory of everything that’s been smoked in it - more recent memories are easily and quickly recalled with accuity, while those distant ones may be fuzzy or dull, all but lost to the winds of countless subsequent smokes. This will effect the smoker’s experience of whatever leaf is being smoked in the present. It takes several bowls to even begin to overcome those memories, to discover the new blend in any depth at all.

Using a new pipe for a tobacco isn’t really much help, unless the smoker is willing to “break-in” the pipe with one blend, and one blend only. While I know people who do this, it’s hardly ideal, since they never have the opportunity to find the best synergy between the pipe and a tobacco blend. Some combinations just work better than others. For similar reasons, neither is smoking many bowls of the new tobacco in one pipe of much help. This certainly will give the smoker a clearer picture of how the tobacco will smoke in THAT pipe, but what about others?

It takes quite a few bowls, a dozen, two dozen, smoked in a variety of pipes before any blend can really be understood. Of course, there are early impresions, and these are important. There are tobaccos that just taste so bad to me that I have no intention nor desire to go through the process of understanding them. Too, there are tobaccos that won’t even get past the sniff test, being rejected immediately, even before finding their way into a pipe, but that’s just an indication of my own prejudice.

This all comes to play when working on new blends. Any new experiment can get a shot at becoming a final product, but the fine-tuning that takes place between inception and result can take weeks, or even months. Every iteration must go through the same rigorous process of tasting, of evaluating. Only after the blend is well understood, can I think about how to alter its balance, hopefully to improve it. It’s during these times that I smoke most consciously, with my critical faculties sharpened acutely, and, strangely, it’s during these times that I seem to derive the greatest pleasure from my smoking.

So, next time you think there may be something worthwhile in a blend, but it just doesn’t “grab” you, give it a chance. Smoke it in a few pipes over a period of time. It may never be the Grail for you, but you might gain a greater understanding of the blend, and of your own tastes. Anything that adds to the experience and joy of pipe smoking is a good thing, after all.