English and Scottish-style Matured Virginia flake tobaccos are among the most interesting and rewarding for the smoker to taste; yet, they are avoided by many smokers who simply do not know how to approach them. This article is intended to help the pipe smoker learn how to fully appreciate the zesty character and subtle sweetness of these premium, aged products. (It should also help smokers of the flavored American sliced plug and European flake Cavendish tobaccos.)
One reason flake tobaccos are left in slices after cake maturing is that they retain their freshness better than in ribbon form. Flakes also enable the smoker to have some control over the burning rate and, to a small degree, the flavor.
It is important to prepare the tobacco before packing so that it has an even texture and to fill the bowl evenly, no matter what degree of brokenness is preferred. (The more fully-rubbed – meaning gently separated – a tobacco, the faster it will burn. Similarly, it is true that the thinner the cut, the faster it will burn.)
The more moist tobaccos should be packed more loosely than normal so they won’t pack down densely enough to prevent a good draft. The ideal is to have the tobacco draw firmly, with a little resistance, throughout the smoke. The smoker may be able barely to hear a little hissing through the pipe as it is smoked. Too firm and the tobacco won’t burn at all or one small spot will burn hot and maybe wet as the smoker puffs hard to keep it going; too loose and the tobacco will burn inconsistently and unevenly, perhaps causing the bowl to overheat in spots and moisture to condense.
Five Steps to Success
I. Put in the palm of one hand the amount of tobacco that it is believed will fill the bowl. Then pinch at the slices or rub them between the palms until the tobacco separates to the degree preferred, keeping the texture even, avoiding clumps. The denser the tobacco is left, the slower it will burn. (This becomes especially valuable on windy days outdoors.)
2. Gently but firmly and evenly, work the tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it is filled slightly over the top and feels firm but still springy under enough finger pressure to flatten the surface of the tobacco even with the top of the pipe. (We assume the pipe is clean at the outset, free of obstruction to a good draft and well rested.)
3. Now, while drawing through the stem, light the pipe evenly across the entire surface of the tobacco. After a few puffs to develop an ash, and while continuing to draw, tamp the tobacco down evenly all around the bowl with a tamper The goal is to have the tobacco packed so that it will burn as evenly and firmly as a good cigar.
4. Relight the pipe after tamping to get the entire surface of the tobacco burning again. Even burning is very important. Otherwise, hot spots may develop.
5. With only occasional tamping as the tobacco burns down, since it tends to expand and loosen as it burns, the pipe should now smoke evenly to the bottom. The aim is to maintain a firm, even draft throughout the smoke. The process is not difficult to master and with practice will soon be effortless.
For those who are used to the “aromatic” or sweetened tobaccos that dominate our market in the United States, it may take some time for the additives remaining in the pipe to dissipate. Many smokers prefer to maintain one set of pipes exclusively for the natural, matured tobaccos and another for the sweetened varieties. It may be necessary to smoke up to four ounces of a natural product before the mouth adjusts to the clean taste and subtler range of flavors typical of these Matured Virginia tobaccos. The smoker is rewarded for the effort as he/she becomes able to distinguish the delicate variations in taste and deepening richness these tobaccos develop as they are smoked.