Pipe Smoking Lifestyle

The Mystery of Balkan Blends

 

By Bob Tate

Balkan BlendBalkan Blend. That term is very mysterious.
Is there really such a thing?
If there is, what is it?
What distinguishes a blend as a Balkan Blend?
These and many other questions arise from the mysterious term of Balkan Blend. This is one of the most debated and discussed subjects amongst pipe smokers when talking about blend genres. This is a subject that can seem very confusing because there doesn’t seem to be any real, clear cut, definitive definition for Balkan Blends. It seems to me that the definition for Balkan Blend is based solely on conjecture and personal opinion.

Some years back when I started the change in my pipe smoking to where it was becoming an enjoyable hobby to me instead of a pastime, I started learning as much as I could about pipes and pipe tobacco. This includes all of the terminology that is associated with it. Before I started the switch from pastime to hobby, I just called English and Balkan blends Latakia blends because they both contain a good portion of it in their recipes. But then as I learned more about what the majority of pipe smokers call them, I started to use the terms English and Balkan. I at least understood what the perceived definition of an English blend is, but I never really understood, or could find a definitive answer to what a Balkan blend is and what the difference between the two types of blends are. After more research, I came to the conclusion that those two terms where used incorrectly and decided to just go back to calling them both Latakia blends and I never gave the subject anymore thought. [1]

Then I read G.L. Pease’s inaugural article for our site – What is a Balkan Blend?
There is a lot of great information in his article that I will not re-hash in this one and I highly suggest that if you haven’t read it yet, that you do so as soon as possible. After reading his article, it once again sparked my interest in trying to find out exactly what a Balkan Blend really is. Like before, during my research, I found it extremely difficult to find any information on the subject and it seems to me that the only classification for a Balkan Blend would be the addition of Oriental tobacco leaf varietals that are used in making up that style of blend.

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Although the tobacco varietals are called Oriental tobaccos, they are not from Asia. They are actually from the Mediterranean region where the Balkans are located. The Balkans are also referred to as The Balkan Peninsula and most, but not all, of the Oriental tobacco varietals come from the Balkans. Greece, Macedonia, and Thrace are all located within the Balkan Peninsula with Turkey, Syria, and Cyprus located to the east, and outside, of the Balkans. So while all tobaccos that are grown within all of these regions are called Oriental tobaccos, only the ones grown within the Balkans are Balkan tobaccos. Does this information clear some things up or does it make it more complicated? For me, it complicates the matter even more.

The Highlighted Area is the Balkan Peninsula
The Highlighted Area is the Balkan Peninsula

 

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Based off of that information it would seem that Balkan Blends should contain not just any Orientals, but Orientals from the Balkan region. But somehow the term Balkan Blend has come to be known as a blend that contains a good quantity of Latakia and any Oriental tobaccos. It has become common perception that a Balkan Blend contains Latakia, but most Latakia is actually made from Turkish tobacco. While Turkish tobaccos are also Oriental tobaccos, they are not from tobaccos from within the Balkans.

As most of you may already know, and as G.L. Pease states in his article, the term Balkan Blend started being widely used because of Balkan Sobranie. Balkan Sobranie might also explain where the presumption came from that the inclusion of Latakia is necessary in a Balkan Blend.

But if the term Balkan Blend is used in the way that it probably should be, which is the use of Oriental tobaccos from the Balkan region, couldn’t all blends that contain them also be considered Balkan Blends whether or not the addition of Latakia is present? Take for example the Grand Orientals line from McClelland Tobacco. There are a few different blends within that line that do not contain any Latakia, but they do contain large quantities of Oriental tobaccos from the Balkan region. Based off of the information that I have obtained, would they not also be considered Balkan Blends?

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Once again, the more research that is done, the muddier the waters get and the more questions that are raised about this subject. It seems to me that the definition of what truly is a Balkan Blend is left to individual interpretation. Since I can not find any definitive proof or definition as to what makes a Balkan Blend a Balkan Blend, and it seems that it relies on personal opinion and individual interpretation, I decided to contact a few blenders and manufacturers to find out their opinions on the subject to see if I could come to some sort of consensus on what constitutes a Balkan Blend.

Here are the people that I have contacted to get their opinions on this matter:

Mary McNiel of McClelland Tobacco
Russ Ouellette of Pipesandcigars.com
G.L. Pease of G.L. Pease Tobacco
Craig Tarler of Cornell & Diehl Tobacco

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PipesMagazine.com: If you had to, how would you describe what makes a Balkan Blend a Balkan Blend?

Mary: The term ‘Balkan Blend’ is a loosely used term referring to any blend that contains Balkan tobaccos. Generally speaking, we tend to define it as a Balkan blend if it has a pretty good amount of Balkan tobaccos in it.

Russ: Over the years it has come to mean, to me, a Latakia blend in which Orientals are the secondary note. So that means that after the main influence of Latakia, the next thing that you notice is the influence of the Oriental and Turkish tobaccos. That then, to me, fulfills the kind of antiquated description of Balkan.

GLP: I can’t answer that question because, as I said in my article – What is a Balkan Blend?, I think the term is pretty much meaningless. But it does bring up some interesting points for discussion.

Craig: Our description of a Balkan Blend is as follows: Latakia and Orientals are added to a base of Virginias. English blends may or may not have a percentage of Orientals but Balkans will always have a percentage of Orientals.

 

PM: What would you say are the primary tobaccos used in a Balkan Blend?

Mary: Orientals from the Balkans are the primary tobaccos. Other types of tobaccos such as Virginia, Burley, Latakia, etc. can be used in the blend to complete it, but it has to have Balkan Orientals as the primary tobaccos.

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Russ: Latakia, Oriental, Turkish [2] tobaccos. Virginias may be used and sometimes there may be some Perique as well.

GLP: Latakia, Oriental, and Virginia tobaccos.

Craig: Latakia, Oriental, and Virginia tobaccos.

 

PM: Would you say that the inclusion of Latakia is necessary in order for a blend to be called a Balkan Blend?

Mary: No. It just needs a good portion of Balkan Oriental tobaccos.

Russ: Yes.

GLP: Yes.

Craig: Yes.

 

PM: How would you place in order of importance the types of tobaccos used in a Balkan Blend?

Mary: Orientals from the Balkan region have to be the dominate feature. There are a variety of other tobaccos that can be used to make up the blend, but the Balkan Orientals have to be the main focus.

Russ: Latakia is the main focus with Orientals being the secondary note and there may very well be Virginia tobaccos.

GLP: Latakia is dominate, a sturdy backbone of Virginia, and a seasoning with Orientals.

Craig: I don’t think that this is a valid question because it all depends on what the blender is trying to do with the blend. Sometimes you may want a heavier Latakia content and sometimes you may want a lighter amount of Latakia.

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Once again, while some really good information, opinions, and discussions have been obtained, there still doesn’t seem to be a clear cut definition for what a Balkan Blend really is. There does seem to be a general agreement as to what makes one, but it is not a unanimous agreement. It seems that the definition of a Balkan Blend is still left to interpretation and opinion. While some questions may have been answered, new questions have been raised. The term Balkan Blend is still shrouded in mystery.

As for the answer to the question; What exactly is a Balkan Blend?
Well, to quote the end of the old Tootsie-Pop commercial; The world may never know.

 

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Notes

1. You can read why, in my opinion, that the term English Blend is used incorrectly in my article: English Blends and Latakia Blends – One and the Same?

2. Turkish tobaccos are in fact Oriental tobaccos, but are sometimes referred to on their own to distinguish them.

 

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