I confess. I’m a Latakiaphile. Ever since I first smelled the smoke of the dusky leaf, I’ve been in love with it. I know this is no surprise to anyone who has followed any part of my weird journey through pipedom, but I wanted to state it openly, get it off my chest. Mostly, because I seem to have been in something of a weird state of denial about this fact myself for some months.

It started innocently enough during the heat of last year’s summer, a time when I find myself feeling the gravitational pull of lighter tobaccos. While winter weather and bigger, bolder Latakia mixtures have always been my ideal companions in the colder, moister clime, they can be a bit overwhelming to me when the mercury rises. While I enjoy the taste and aromas of those first few puffs, as the bowl progresses, my senses soon feel fatigued, overwhelmed, like putting on a comfortable but heavy top coat and wandering out into the blazing sun.

In the summer months, I have always turned to “lighter” blends, sometimes with just a whisper of Latakia, more often with none at all. Virginias, with or without the added condiment of perique or oriental leaf are just the ticket when short sleeves and tee shirts are the uniform of the day. Even burley blends tend to feel more apropos then. I know there are many who smoke the same blends year-round, but I’ve never been one of them. If I’m honest, I am a little jealous of those folks. It’s a bit of a curse to have my tastes tied inextricably to uncontrollable forces of nature. (Though, I do recall a rather oddly delightful experience of finding myself, exactly once, smoking a pipe in the shower. Another story. Another time. Maybe.) 

Last year presented no exception to the rule. Once spring had come and gone, I put away the dark mixtures, and turned to the softer, gentler side of tobacco goodness. I always enjoy this little “reset,” but equally, I look forward to the return of the cooler days and colder nights when I can come back home to the comfort of those mixtures that have always provided me with an indescribable solace. I love fall and winter the most, and not just for smoking. I don’t really hate the sun, but I’ve never thrived in its heat; my constitution prefers cooler weather. I’ve always been a fall and winter lover.

But, something strange happened last year. Even when the temperatures dropped, even when the air got misty, the rain began falling, and I traded short sleeves for sweaters, I kept reaching for my summer blends. Occasionally, I might dip into the jar of Westminster, prepare a slice or two of Spark Plug, or reach for one of my vintage tins of Orient Express #11 or Bengal Slices, but I found myself routinely returning to the lighter side of things when it was time to fill my bowl. 

Nothing about this should be upsetting, of course, but it’s just not who I am. It’s out of character.  It’s like I was subconsciously denying something that is fundamental to the very core of my pipe smoking existence. Looking back on it now, it feels like I was in some strange parallel universe, an alternate reality. It strikes me as just plain wrong.

It’s an odd thing. For most of my pipe smoking life, I’ve always enjoyed these forays into the lighter side of things, but at the same time, my craving for Latakia forward mixtures has always ruled. I remember when I first began exploring Virginias, I’d reach the end of a bowl, feeling somehow unsatisfied, and would immediately want something else, something smoky to scratch the itch that remained. As I became more familiar with them, that itch gradually subsided, but never fully disappeared. The pull of the dark side remained strong. I’d spend the summer enjoying my Virginias, but always looking forward to the season’s change so I could once again dive happily into the deep, smoky richness of my most favored leaf.

Last year, though, I kept on an almost steady diet of Virginias all summer, of course, but also right through the cold and wet months. On a whim one cool, blue day recently, as the sun revealed itself from behind wispy clouds, I pulled an open tin of my beloved OE11 from the Tupperdor in which the open tins reside, savored the aroma for a few minutes, then filled a bowl with those luscious dark ribbons and enjoyed an almost magical smoke, rich, deep, satisfying, the wonderful incense-like scents enveloping me as I puffed in absolute bliss. Then, reality hit me over the head.

With spring teasingly peering out from around the corner, last year’s winter having pretty much come and gone, I realized I’d managed to miss out on all those wonderful cold, damp days and the perfect harmony they create when the misty air embraces the leathery, campfire aromas and rich flavors from my beloved mixtures, and I didn’t even notice. It’s not just that the window of opportunity for my yearly Latakia fest was about to be slammed shut, but, worse, it’s that I wasn’t even aware that I was missing it. It’s not that my tastes had changed, or anything so dramatic; I’d simply fallen victim to the power of inertia. I was enjoying what I smoked, and simply, unconsciously paid no attention to the fact that the season was coming to a close.

Hot weather is on its way, and if history holds, it’s probably coming fast. Soon it will be time to return full-stop to tee shirts, cold showers and lighter tobacco fare. It feels like I’ve slept through Latakia season, like I’ve missed out, and I’m feeling a little melancholy about that. I’ve got at most a few weeks to catch up, to make up for lost time. Hopefully, we’ll see a few more days of rain before that hell-spawned orb reaches full strength, and I’m back to where I started last year. This time, I’ll try to be more mindful.

Orient Express Tobacco and Castello Sea Rock Pipe
Orient Express Tobacco and Castello Sea Rock Pipe

Photos by G.L. Pease

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