Is there more art or science to the pipe smoking pastime? At least from one perspective, I’m sure that it’s leaning towards art. In my mind, one of the best ways to delineate between the two is the terminology. A chemical compound, for example, isn’t open to interpretation. To borrow an overused and somewhat fatalistic modern phrase- it is what it is. But art, as a category, is awash in blurred lines; one man’s jazz is another man’s rock. Two different restaurants may serve a similar, or even identical dish, but categorize them differently. Styles of painting can sometimes fall between two disparate schools. Of the industries I’ve been involved in, pipe smoking terms are open to interpretation more than in any of the rest.
The olfactory sense is linked to memory more strongly than, perhaps, any of the other four. As an example of what I mean, think about this- how many times have you seen someone and you’re sure that you know him or her, but the name, circumstances of your meeting, or even if you like or dislike the person eludes you. Now, walk through a mall food court and the smell of fried fish hits you. You may have pleasant or unpleasant recollections of the aroma (odor?), but it will probably bring back thoughts of situations and people that are incredibly vivid.
Cavendish is the last name of a British chemist and physicist who discovered hydrogen and determined the properties of water, but somehow I doubt that Henry Cavendish had anything to do with the pipe tobacco.
Over the years, the term Cavendish has been used in relation to tobacco in a number of ways, and has come to be rather muddy in definition. So, what exactly is Cavendish? Let’s begin by looking at what it isn’t.
It seems like only yesterday, at times, that I started out working in a tobacco shop, yet it was actually 37 years ago. The landscape was much different then. Our focus was pipes and tobacco- nearly 75% of our business was pipe related. Premium cigars amounted to less than 10%, with machine made cigars being much stronger, and the balance was in accessories and the like. Through the end of the seventies and into the eighties there was a precipitous drop in pipe smoking, yet somehow, pipe smoking survives.
Civilization Started with Stones…Meerschaum also sepiolite, is a soft white mineral. Meerschaum is a hydrous magnesium silicate having the chemical formula Mg4Si6O15(OH)2·6H2O and it’s density is between 0.988 to 1.279 gr/cm3 Eskişehir has been steeped in the mystique of meerschaum for five millennia. The term ‘taloy köfigi (’deniz köpüğü’ or sea-foam), as it comes down to us from Uighur Turkish, was translated literally into many languages becoming widespread in its German form, ‘Meerschaum’. (Meers: Sea , schaum: :foam ) In the world of science meanwhile it is known as ’sepiolite’, taking its inspiration again from the sea for its resemblance to the porous bones of the sepio or cuttlefish. The Turkish name ‘lületaşı’ is encountered starting from around 1600 when the Ottomans discovered the joys of tobacco.
I don’t even know where to begin writing about nicotine.
If there is any substance that has a more “Jekyll and Hyde” profile than nicotine, I’m not aware of it. It can be a stimulant or a calmative. It can be a deadly poison, or it can be therapeutic. It can aid in spurts of energy and lead to periods of lethargy. Finally, most people know little about the substance, including their own intake, but I digress (as I am frequently wont to do).
Let’s start with the basics- nicotine is an alkaloid, and in highly concentrated doses is a strong poison. The amount taken in during smoking is nowhere near what would be necessary for toxicity, and under all but the most unusual circumstances (such as wearing a number of transdermal patches and chain-smoking cigarettes simultaneously) will rarely cause severe illness or death. It also is a vasoconstrictor, so it can elevate blood pressure and can affect many bodily systems.
Flavoring tobacco is a polarizing subject, to say the least. Nothing will stir up snide remarks more than to bring up the subject of aromatics at a gathering of pipesters. But flavorings are much more common than many people think, and they serve a vital purpose. So let’s look at how flavors are used, how they’re added and some discussion of how they impact a blend.
It almost seems to be a badge of honor to claim not to smoke flavored blends at all; sort of like saying that one doesn’t watch TV. The truth of the matter is that very few tobaccos have no flavoring at all. Each variety of tobacco has its’ negative properties, and the right flavoring can mitigate those, to some degree. A good example is the use of Burley. This tobacco can be somewhat sour, and the amount varies depending upon the strain, where it’s grown and other factors. Also, Burley can produce a more alkaline smoke, which can lead to tongue bite. The judicious use of a sweetener will serve the purpose of addressing both problems. In this case, something like licorice or molasses will do the job.
All living things are products of their environment. Anyone who was raised Jewish or Catholic knows the meaning of guilt intimately, for example. The same holds true for most products made of naturally growing items. This is why pipe and guitar makers are so choosy about the wood they use. Another interesting parallel is wine and pipe tobacco. Note the spelling- W-I-N-E. Pipe guys are frequently known to whine about tobacco, but that’s the wrong homonym.
Both grapes and tobacco are very sensitive to soil and microclimate. Now, I’m not a real oenophile; I’ll leave that to Greg Pease, who’s really knowledgeable about wines, but I enjoy them. That said, I’ve heard people mention that with some grapes, a particularly dry growing season is conducive to higher sugar content, which will obviously have a major impact on wines made with them. Seasonal growing conditions will also have a big impact on tobacco’s sugar and nicotine content, the size and color of the leaf, and many other things.
As you might guess, I love working with tobacco. I equate my profession with that of a chef; each component having unique properties that make it a valuable addition to a blend. Of all the available leaf that’s out there, nothing is more versatile or widely used as what we most commonly call Virginia. To the government, this leaf is referred to as flue cured. The name addresses the method used to cure the tobacco. The individual leaves are tied in "hands" and attached to a pole and hung in a barn. Indirect heat is introduced by pipes, or flues, that run throughout the building. The heat "sets" the leaf, so its color and chemistry become stable. This tobacco, also called brightleaf, and has two qualities that set it apart—it’s high in natural sugars and relatively low in oils. Its nicotine content ranges from low to moderate, but different methods of processing can increase the content significantly.
If you’re a pipe smoker … and for the first time writing here, I don’t just mean a tobacco pipe smoker—whether you smoke tobacco or marijuana in your pipe, you may have noticed a change in social attitudes and acceptability of these two "weeds". If you’re a pot smoker, you may have noticed that the future looks bright as far as being able to enjoy your pastime with less hassles. If you’re an avid enthusiast of pipe tobacco, you’re much more likely to be considered weird at best, and at worst, a source of impending doom, a disgusting addict trying to bring down not only yourself, but all the innocent bystanders around you. Sometimes I exaggerate a bit to make a point… this isn’t one of those times.