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Tobacco College: Pipe Tobacco



While pipe tobaccos must be planted, grown, picked, processed, and aged with great skill and care, proper blending must also be used to create a great product. In fact, most pipe tobaccos sold are blended in some way: even a pure Virginia tobacco may be blended with various crops to achieve consistent flavor+aroma over time.

Pipe tobacco blends are divided into two major categories: English and Aromatic. English blends, also referred to as Balkan, are composed of Oriental, Virginia, Latakia, and Perique tobaccos. Aromatic blends are composed of Burley and Virginia tobaccos with flavorings added (i.e. Cavendish).

English Blends

English blends are the oldest and most unadulterated category of pipe tobaccos. These blends originated in England and Scotland centuries ago and they have been characterized by their use of Oriental and Latakia tobaccos. Since the late 1800s [and the introduction of Virginia tobaccos], English blends have been using a heavy base of Virginia mixed with ample Oriental and spiced with "condiment" tobaccos like Latakia and Perique. English blends have a fuller body and stronger taste+aroma than aromatic blends.

Aromatic Blends

Perhaps a better name for these blends would be "fragrant" or "sweetened", since they are cased and topped with sugars and flavorings. Aromatics use a heavy base of Virginia and Burley, often in the form of Cavendish tobaccos. While aromatics can be thought of as the 'beginner' tobaccos, they produce aromas like cherry, chocolate, caramel, and vanilla, which many people love.

Personal Blends

A personal pipe tobacco blend can be any recipe that the consumer mixes at home or directs their Tobacconist to prepare. Whether a blend is created by a manufacturer or a Tobacconist, it must balance the tobaccos' taste+aroma qualities with each leaf's density, cut, and burn rate.

Casings & Toppings – Not the Same | CMT Academic Contribution

On page 84 of The Tobacconist Handbook, it states in the Tobacconist Tip:

"Casing is another term for flavorings that can be added to pipe tobaccos, primarily aromatic blends. Casing usually involves applying flavored liquids, like honey, liqueurs, and extracts."

I'd like to expand on this...Casings and Toppings are two different things.

Toppings are actually what is more associated with the stereotypical sweet flavor or aroma of an "aromatic" pipe tobacco blend. For example, a Cherry Tobacco will have a cherry topping. The topping is applied last, at the very end of the processing just before the tobacco goes into the tin or pouch.

Casing, on the other hand is done to ALL pipe tobacco blends – NOT just AROMATICS.

Casing happens around the middle of the processing, and it is not meant to add anything that is detectable to the flavor. Casing is applied, and then the tobacco is left to sit for about a day to absorb the casing.

So, casing is absorbed into the tobacco, and toppings, as implied, sit on top of the tobacco and quickly burn off. You don’t so much as taste the topping as smell it.

The most typical casings are as follows:
  • Virginia tobaccos (which are not strictly from VA, but that’s another lesson), are typically cased with sugar-water.
  • Burley tobaccos are typically cased with a solution that contains chocolate and / or licorice.
  • Even though chocolate and licorice do have distinct flavors, they are not detectable as a casing.
  • Casings serve the purpose of enhancing and bringing out more of the tobacco’s natural flavor.
  • Toppings serve the purpose of adding an additional flavor (taste+aroma) to a blend.

The simple way I use to remember the difference is to think of casing as a marinade, as it is added during the processing, and soaks into the tobacco. And think of toppings as a sauce. You could marinate (casing) a steak, then grill it, and after it is cooked, you can put some A1 sauce (topping) on it.

By Kevin Godbee, CST, CMT

Kevin Godbee, CST, CMT Certified Master Tobacconist Pipes Magazine
St. Petersburg, FL - United States

Certified R&D Tobacconists: United States

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