Curing is the cure

curingRecently I realized with a shock that I had never written a proper blogpost about an essential tobacco process: curing. Ok, here and there in older blogposts I told stuff but nothing combined. So I put all the bits and pieces together with some additional info. The primary purpose of curing leaf tobacco is to accelerate the ageing and drying processes under controlled conditions to make it ready for consumption. Trust me, you do not want to smoke fresh tobacco.. Curing allows for the slow oxidation and degradation of carotenoids in the tobacco leaf. This produces various compounds that give cured tobacco the “smoothness” of the consumed end-product. The primary methods of curing include: air curing, flue curing, fire curing (or smoke curing) and sun curing (considered by some people to be the same as air curing).

Air-curing the Burley tobaccoAir curing: here the leaves are allowed to dry by exposure to air in well ventilated barns. Fans can also be used in this process to make the air movement stronger to accelerate the loss of moisture. This air curing process normally takes from 4 to 6 weeks. It is completed when the central vein of the leaf is completely free of sap. This type of curing is used primarily for burley. Light air cured burley and dark air cured burley to be precise. The top grades of light air cured burley, which are yellow, are referred to as “White Burley”. These larger, thinner middle leaves are those most desired for the manufacture of fine pipe tobacco and premium quality cigarettes. White burley has a fine texture, excellent burning qualities and the ability to absorb large amounts of casings and flavourings. The top and bottom leaves are used in the manufacture of snuff, plugs, twist and inexpensive brands of pipe smoking tobacco. The taste is nutty, sometimes with a bit of a cocoa note.

dark air cured burleyDark Air cured burley is mostly used for chewing tobacco, plugs, snuff and inexpensive brands of pipe tobacco. The lower grades (or heavier leaves) are used in some tobacco mixtures to give the tobacco blend more “body”. The taste is earthy, spicy and cigar-like and the colour of the leaves ranges from light to dark brown. Most cigar leaf is also air cured but will undergo an extra step: “bulking”. Essentially this means that big bundles are made of the leaves so that they can be laid to rest in order to start the fermentation process. The pepperiness of  burley and many of the Central American-grown Cuban-seed cigar strains comes from the nicotine that naturally is in the leaf.

fire-cured-tobacco-barnFire curing (or smoke curing): here the leaves are essentially BBQed. In the case of dark fired Kentucky burley they are exposed to open fires (smouldering, not blazing, otherwise the tobacco will prematurely burn up) of hardwood and hardwood sawdust that are maintained on the barn-floor and give off smoke. In some cases, the amount of smoke is fairly moderate.  In addition to drying the tobacco the fire curing process imparts an unusual, modest smoky and wood-like taste and aroma to the tobacco. Latakia is also a fire cured tobacco but has a far more pronounced smoke flavour and aroma. This is due to the intensity of the fumes and aromatic quality of the used woods. Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint.” When it is harvest time the plant is cut and the leaves and flowers are laid on the ground to dry in the sun (essentially sun curing). When they have dried they are taken to storehouses, where they are smoked for a period of 13 to 15 weeks. The smoke is primarily made by using nearby hardwoods and pines, probably from the Baer forest, such as Aleppo pine, Turkey oak and Valonia oak. Also lesser amounts of other aromatic species like Lebanon cedar and Greek Juniper were used.

fire_curedCyprian latakia comes from a Smyrna or Izmir-type tobacco plant that is known as “Yellow Cyprus.” The Yellow Cyprus leaves are harvested by de-stalking them and are made on long poles to be hung in a tobacco shed. The leaves are then smoked over open smouldering fires. These fires are made from hardwoods, some pine and aromatic shrubs and woods such as prickly cedar and myrtle. It has been reported that the Mastic shrub is primarily used in the smoke generation for Cyprian latakia. The following formula may approximate the shrubs and woods used for the fire/smoke-curing process: Mastic 90%, Myrtle 4%, Stone pine (this one or this one) 4%, Cypress 1%, Other 1%. The nicotine content does not seem to be severely affected by the process. Dark fired Kentucky burley with its significant nicotine level is not that much different from the dark air cured variety. The moderate nicotine level of latakia does not vary greatly from the oriental base leaf it is made of.

Flue curingFlue curing: here the leaves are cured by exposure to indirect heat. This is created by moving hot air, smoke or steam through a flue or pipe inside a building (often a barn) thus allowing the heat to strongly warm up the building. The higher heat causes a more rapid drying effect and is the traditional method for curing Virginia. The yellow colour you often see Virginia has comes from the heat exposure. Generally the process will take about a week. This way of flue curing was not discovered until 1839. In that year a slave, Stephen Slade (owned by farmer Abisha Slade from Caswell County NC), fell asleep one night while keeping an eye on the wood fires used for curing the barns of tobacco. Whether it was the stormy night, instinct or just what woke him, no one will ever know. But he awoke realizing that the fires in the tobacco curing barn had almost gone out. Rather than throw wet wood into the dying fire, he rushed to the charcoal pit near the forge. He grabbed several charred log parts and threw them on the embers. The application of the sudden, drying heat, derived from the charred logs, produced an amazing effect on the green tobacco. The result was 600 pounds of the brightest yellow tobacco ever seen.

flue cured tobaccoFlue cured tobacco generally has more sugar, less oil and a lower nicotine content. The presence of the sugar counters tongue bite but can cause heat issues while smoking. Naturally sugars tend to have a higher combustion temperature. Because of the ability of this curing method to maintain the sugars in a relatively stable percentage a form of flue curing is used in making candela cigar wrapper. The heat not only fixes the few sugars present but the chlorophyll as well thus allowing the wrappers to stay green.

Sun curingSun curing: this method is used in Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania and Mediterranean countries which produce oriental tobaccos. Leaves are strung out on racks and exposed to the sun for 12 to 30 days to remove most of their moisture before being air cured to complete the process. The sun’s direct heat fixes the leaves at a yellow to orange colour with a high sugar content. Then they are stored in bales and allowed to ferment.



Additional or supplementary curing can be done by the use of heat and/or pressure after the initial process. A good example of pressure is the technique of pressure-fermentation which is used in making perique. This process remains a traditional craft,  not much has changed since the early 20th century. First air cured tobacco is hand stripped. The leaf which is used  is considered to be pretty similar to burley. The only moisture added is just prior to the stripping to make the leaves pliable. How many moisture is used is up to the craftsmen. You just have to feel it. Then the tobacco is rolled into “torquettes” of approximately 1 pound (450 g) and packed into hickory whisky barrels. These are  topped off with a wooden lid and pressed by using oak blocks and massive screw jacks. Thus forcing nearly all the air out of the still moist leaves. The barrels are unpacked at least three times during the active fermentation phase (around five months). The torquettes are then repacked in the barrels in reverse order (former top bundles on bottom and bottom bundles on top) to permit a little air back into the tobacco. They are then closely monitored with periodic increases of pressure. After at least a year of this treatment, the perique is ready for consumption.

toasting semoisA good example of supplementary curing by the use of heat is the fascinating Belgian leaf, Semois. First it is air cured (after all Semois is a type of burley) and then it is sort of heat cured. This because the tobacco is toasted in what looks like a metal custom made wood-burning oven. Inside is a large drum which is heated by a fire below and can spin around. The tobacco is put inside and while tumbling it is getting toasted.

Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

Inter-Tabac 2014 impression

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Entrance of the Inter-Tabac fair

Last year a dream came true for me, I got to visit the Inter-Tabac fair in Dortmund, Germany. For those of you who missed the blogpost I made of the visit; the Inter-Tabac is the leading and biggest trade fair of the world for tobacco products and smoking accessories. This year there were more than 400 exhibitors from 51 countries who presented themselves on an area of over 30.000 square metres! In 5 exhibition halls (1 more than last year) renowned companies from all over the world presented trends and innovative tobacco products. This includes cigars, cigarillos, cigarettes, E-cigarettes, E-pipes, smoking accessories, pipes, pipe tobacco, shop equipment and spirits. Unfortunately the fair is for retailers, not for consumers. Last year I was lucky, I got a ticket through an anonymous person. Well, that person was Fred, the Dutch importer of Mr. Brog and Country Pipes and also a member of the Dutch/Belgian Pipe Smokers forum. Now he yet again had a ticket for me and on top of that he was visiting the fair the same day as myself. A good thing because Rudi and Paul, with whom I went last year, preferred more privacy now despite the good times we all had. Apparently Rudi noticed that a big crew of consumers did not go well with the exhibitors, after all it is a fair meant for retailers. Luckily, for Fred my presence was no trouble at all.

Waiting with a nice view for the halls to open. See that guy checking out the boobs of the girl?

Do you see that guy sneakily checking out the boobs of the girl?

On the sunny morning of September 19th I once again drove to the Westfalenhallen in Dortmund. Luckily there was no Stau (traffic jam) on the way so I arrived in time. When I walked to the main entrance (no anti-smoking nazis this time) I saw Paul and Rudi standing there. We all went inside and chatted a bit while I was texting Fred if he already had arrived. To my utter delight I saw signs that smoking was allowed inside the halls. This because last year I heard that that maybe was the final time inside smoking was still possible. Of course the exhibitors protested and I guess that helped. I mean, you go to biggest smoking trade fair of the world and you can’t smoke inside?? Suddenly I got a SMS from Fred that he was in hall 8 so I said goodbye to Rudi and Paul and went on my way.

Midwakh pipes

Midwakh pipes

Soon I found Fred at the big yellow Clipper stand, we greeted each other and started walking while chatting. Some exhibitors handed out presents and information so near a stand Fred got a bag pushed into his hands. He checked out the contents and saw something inside which looked like a small pipe. Fred likes new, innovative things that no one has so he headed back to the stand. The pipe appeared to be a so called “Midwakh“, an arab pipe. An enthusiastic salesman showed us how you fill the pipe with tobacco made in Oman and offered us a smoke. It tasted a bit like cigarette tobacco and the salesman explained that the pipe is meant for a quick enjoyable fix if you have little time. Even quicker than a cigarette. But I thought like (did not express it), well, you had your quick fix and then you still have to clean the pipe. So all by all it takes more time than a cigarette.. And besides that, being a full-blood Dutchman, the pipe looked to me like a hasish-pipe..


Brebbia stand

An interesting stand we passed by was that of Brebbia pipes. I already knew from Fred that they have no Dutch importer and he was asked a couple of times if he wanted that job. But it was too much work. Despite that Fred was hesitating if he should buy some pipes because we saw some really nice ones. What I love about the Italian pipe makers is that they have some kind of passion and fire in their eyes when they talk about their creations. Fred asked if he could buy low quantities and if they shipped to the Netherlands and with busy hand-gestures and thick Italians accents they said that was no problem at all. So who knows..

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

Fred at the Dan Tobacco stand

While we walked through the halls the appetite for a chair and some coffee arose with the both of us. “Let’s go to the stand of Dan Tobacco, we can get some coffee there” Fred said. Good idea! When we arrived I saw to my disappointment that master-blender Andreas Mund was not there. Last year he was present and we had a warm conversation. For me Andreas is the living soul of Dan Tobacco besides the old director Heiko Behrens who was present but looked a bit old and fragile.. Anyway, the charming daughter of Heiko presented us 3 new blends: Bulldog Roper’s Roundels, Salty Dogs and Choo Choo Train. The last one was so new and fresh that it could not be smoked yet. From what I could see and smell it is a light Virginia flake with a topping of chocolate and some kind of vanilla-butterscotch. My eye fell on the label of Bulldog Roper’s Roundels and Salty Dogs: Manufactured in the E.C. for Dan Tobacco Germany. Hmm.. The Roundels smelled and looked precisely like Peter Stokkebye’s Luxury Bullseye Flake and there are not many tobacco factories on Europe mainland that can make plugs like Salty Dogs. So my guess is they were made in a big factory in the North of Europe.. Choo Choo Train is fully made at Dan Tobacco. As it should be. While sipping the coffee I also asked the daughter of Heiko how the waterpipe tobacco business (see the blog of last year) went: most excellent.

IMG_2054So our thirst was quenched but now our bellies grumbled. Last year I had lunch at the restaurant of the fair itself and it was expensive and baaaad.. Luckily Fred knew that outside was a stand where they sold grilled mega-burgers. It was easy to find because the fumes from the grill rose sky-high and the queue was long.. But it was 100% definitely worth the wait! A mouth-watering very tasty 20 cm. diameter (!) burger between a bun of the same size with sauce and salad was our reward.

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Prime examples of Mastro de Paja

Back inside we passed by the stand of Mastro de Paja and saw the most exquisite pipes of the day. We just had to stand in awe and admire the displayed beauties. “For you just 10 dollars”, joked one of the salesmen who saw us drooling. Well, for that money I would have taken them all home! When we learned the real price we sadly understood that we would take none with us.. But the silverwork and innovative use of egg-shells in some pipes was very, very professional. And also here the fierce Italian enthusiasm for their products was hearth warming. If only I had the money..

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

Per Jensen showing a tin of HH Latakia Flake

One of the stands I definitely wanted to visit was that of MacBaren. Last year I had some trouble finding it (a stand within a stand) but now we easily marched to the small counter where the very friendly master-blender Per Jensen was just helping some clients. While waiting we looked at the range of MacBaren tobaccos in small sample jars and it occurred to me that I was missing one, their latest creation: HH Latakia Flake. So I asked Mr. Jensen (when he was available) where it was. Quickly he went to the back, grabbed a tin of it from a cabinet and opened it. Fred and I approvingly sniffed the delicious smelling flakes inside. Earlier this year I smoked a small sample of the HH Latakia Flake and found it to be pretty tasty and smooth. But the German health-labels on the tin puzzled me somewhat. Was it already available in Germany? Fred said that I have blog about pipe-smoking. Mr. Jensen nodded approvingly and replied that if I mentioned that HH Latakia Flake is going to be available in Germany in the spring of 2015 he was going to give me the tin. My blog is non-commercial but this opportunity I would not let slip through. So you see Mr. Jensen? I said it. I also had a question about one of my personal favourites, HH Vintage Syrian. As you perhaps know it is one of the last blends with the original Syrian Latakia and I was wondering how long the stock of MacBaren would last. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf. So grab your tins while you still can!

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

Fred wondering why Dunhill pipes are so expensive..

We also had to go to the big stand of the Scandinavian Tobacco Group where pipe-brands like Winslow, Peterson, Dunhill and Butz Choquin are shown. Of course the main attraction is Poul Winslow himself and.. He was not present when we were there, he was walking around the fair. Oooh damn.. So we just looked around and marvelled at the beauty of the Winslow and Dunhill pipes. Two totally different brands but each beautiful in their own right. What was not so beautiful were some pipes by Butz Choquin. They had a couple of bright yellow, almost fluorescent ones. Pipes covered with jeans-fabric and dark blue ones with yellow spots. Let’s just say I expected the French to have more of a good taste.


Sergeant Matron from the Kearvaig Pipe Club

The Italians surely had a better taste on the fair as we noticed when we shuffled beside the stands of Lorenzo, L’Anatra, Ser Jacopo and Savinelli. I am even surprised that I don’t own an Italian pipe.. Hmm.. When we turned around the corner we saw the combined stand of pipe-maker Ian Walker and tobacco institute Samuel Gawith. The Gawith guys were busy and Ian Walker did not recognize me right away until I put the forum prince under his nose that he made last year. “Aaahh! I already thought it was you! Pipe nr. 13 right?” He has a good memory for sure! I asked how business went and he enthusiastic told me that he already had 80 orders for pipes that morning! Wow! He also was so kind to get the latest offering from his neighbours for me so I could enjoy it: Bothy Flake. Apparently the smoke summoned the physical body of Sergeant Matron of the Kearvaig Pipe Club, one of the originators of Bothy Flake. I did not recognize him because I only knew him as a zombie. I said who I was and I was glad to hear he is a regular reader of my blog. I told him I loved the magazines he makes for the pipe club with crazy pictures of wasted Scotchmen in kilts who show their bare asses. He countered with “Well, I saw the blogpost with you guys wearing those strange coats and you say we are crazy??” Lovely chap! If I ever get to Scotland I will surely try to survive an evening in a bothy with the KPC members and copious amounts of tobacco and whisky.

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Look daddy! Two girls, I did it!

Talking about bare asses, sex still sells at the Inter Tabac Fair. But not with the “old-fashioned” tobacco products like cigarettes, cigars and pipes/pipe tobacco. No, the hordes of attractive scarcely clad young ladies were present at trendy water-pipe (tobacco) and E-cigarette (liquid) stands. And it works! Fred and I walked by a stand where they sold some espresso water-pipe stuff and a good looking girl asked if we wanted to try some. Ehrrrr ok! The girl explained with a sly smile that we really had to suck hard on the pipes to get them going. Owkeeej.. I have some water-pipe experience from my visits to Cairo so I was fuming (and coughing) away in no time. When we were done we passed another stand with a girl who had, let’s say, two major unique selling points. She made some kind of water-pipe cocktail with real fruit for us and I have no idea how she did it because I was trying to look at (and photograph) something else.. I am a bad man, I know. In front of an E-cigarette producer stand were a couple of girls active with handing out goody-bags. I snapped a picture from the scene while talking to Fred. One of the girls heard me and said in Dutch “Oooh, you are Dutch! If you like you can let a photo be made with me and my girlfriend”. Ehrrrr ok! She softly pushed herself against me and another stunning girl with even less clothing joined us. Fred had a big grin on his face when he took the picture.

Vauen Diamond

Vauen Diamond

To cool off we went to the stand of German pipe-producer Vauen. Our eyes immediately went to a black diamond shaped pipe fittingly called “Diamond“. I didn’t and don’t know what to think of the shape. Vauen are surely thinking out of the box with this one. What I did not like were the facts that the pipe was pretty heavy because of the used plastic and the not so tight fit of the mouthpiece. I rather have Vauen design some more shapes for their magnificent Auenland-series. They also had a new tobacco, “English Blend & Vanilla“. I looked at it, smelled it and told a salesman that it reminded me very, very much of Sillem’s Black. He did not know that one..

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

New Samuel Gawith: Blend it and Bothy Flake

It was getting late and I just had one more thing to do at the fair: speak with the Gawith guys. First of all I wanted to compliment them with Bothy Flake. I smoked a large sample before the fair (thanks to Huub!) and I can say it is one of best tobaccos Samuel Gawith brought out in the last couple of years. Second I asked about their new concept: Blend it. Which means that you can buy tins with flakes which also contain a small bag containing some ribbon cut blending tobacco. That way you can mix your own creation. I hope the concept will take off and be successful.

IMG_2115The main reason I sat there was that I perhaps had some business for them. Last year I had some forum tobaccos made in cooperation with Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco and a German tobacco factory. In about a good year from now I am thinking about creating one new forum tobacco together with Samuel Gawith. I asked them if they liked the idea and they did! From their side I can expect full cooperation. But there are other things I must take account of first.. Will the Dutch/Belgian forum once more order a lot of tins? How will the tobacco route go, through The Netherlands or Belgium? We will see. The last thing I wanted from the Gawith guys was some Bothy Flake, but unfortunately they brought not much with them. Sergeant Matron (who was sitting beside me) took a pity on me with my pleads for a sample and he put his own tin of Bothy Flake in my bag. Thanks sarge!

The big Heinrichs truck

The big Heinrichs truck

With just 15 minutes to go before the fair closed Fred and I left the building. We were saying to each other that the water-pipe and especially the E-cigarette business was booming. “Maybe next year all the halls will contain that stuff” Fred said with a wry smile.. He might be right, in some halls there were so many Japanese/Chinese stands with E-cigarettes and liquids that I felt like walking through a shopping street in Tokyo/Shanghai. At least of one thing we can be certain next year, that the big truck of Heinrichs will be standing in front of the Inter-Tabac Fair.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One Thousand and One Smoky Nights

eastern_smoke_dreamsI always had a love for the Middle East; the pyramids and temples near Cairo, the ancient city of Damascus, the holy places in Jerusalem, the heart of the Ottoman empire Constantinople (Istanbul), mysterious Baghdad and the Muslim centre of Mecca. They all fascinate me to no extent. When I walked through the busy streets of the grand Khan el-Khalili bazaar in Cairo I knew I had to visit more places like that. Unfortunately, just as I was making plans to visit Damascus all hell broke loose with the still ongoing Syrian Civil War.



Talking about Syria, at the beginning of this year I received an e-mail from a Syrian-American named Kai. He had moved to Rotterdam last year for work (he is an architect) and he just got back to pipe smoking after taking a break for a while. Kai used to smoke Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian in the USA and asked if he could get that blend in The Netherlands. I had to disappoint him but gave some tips where he would be able to buy it. We kept on mailing and I discovered that he was born in the Syrian port-city of Latakia. A word well known by us pipe-smokers because of the fire-cured dark leaf with the same name. Kai then was raised in Damascus until he moved to the USA just a few years before the civil war broke loose. Smoking the HH Vintage Syrian is his way to relate to his roots. Sadly his visa was not renewed by the Dutch government, which pissed me off pretty much, so now he is moving back to the States. But I promised Kai not to say anything about his situation in this blog. His dad always said, don’t get near two things in life: politics and drugs. A wise man. So Kai, this one is for you, enjoy the read.

columbus_tobaccoAccording to an 18th century belief tobacco did not originate exclusively from the Americas but was also domestic in various parts of Asia and Africa. It was also believed that people in the Middle East used tobacco before my ancestors gazed upon the New World. However, since the 19th century the prevailing opinion has been that the Old World, including the Middle East, was introduced to tobacco by the early European discoverers.

Oriental_man_with_pipeTobacco first arrived in the Ottoman Middle East at the end of the 16th century. Which is about 100 years after its introduction in Europe. At the beginning of the 17th century Portuguese and other European sailors, who travelled around the Indian Ocean within the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, introduced smoking to the Arabian Peninsula. Perhaps even as early as 1590 to Yemen and the Hijaz. 10 years earlier than tobacco’s introduction into Yemen it was brought to Constantinople by English sailors and traders who personally used tobacco.

Turkish woman with pipe

Turkish woman with pipe

At first tobacco mainly was the interest of physicians and appeared in medical manuals by the end of the 16th century. Its leaves were prescribed as a remedy for bites and burns. Soon after that, in the early years of the 17th century, tobacco also began to be smoked recreationally. In the first decades of the 17th century tobacco already was smoked openly in places where people gathered like markets and streets. These early smokers were probably townspeople who could have more readily afforded the expensive import from America and the Caribbean. A lot of those imported tobaccos came through the Syrian port of Latakia. However, by 1700 the Ottoman market was producing most of its own tobacco because, of course, regional merchants had noticed the demand. Local varieties allowed for the consumption of tobacco to become a pleasurable pastime for people from all levels of society (men AND women! Well, at least in the private sphere..) and the one constant was that it was certainly in high demand.

Syria, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, &c. illustrated. : In a seriesLater a number of regions within the empire became centres for tobacco production and distribution. Varieties of Indian, Syrian, Iraqi and Persian tobacco were imported and smoked in the Arabian towns. Local varieties of tobacco, known as tittun or dokhân were also cultivated and widely consumed within Arabia. Tobacco also was grown in Macedonia, Anatolia, northern Syria (particularly in the hills around the port of Latakia I mentioned before) and after some time in Lebanon and Palestine. Persian and Kurdish varieties, known locally as tunbak, were also prized but were mostly used in water pipes (hookah). This is correct because I asked Kai if he already smoked pipe in Syria. He answered that he did not smoke the tobacco-pipe, but made use of the water pipe. Only, he didn’t smoke the typical ultra-aromatic mu‘assel we associate with the hookah but used tunbak, which is a natural tobacco.

guerrier-fumant-le-chiboukIt was not easy for Middle Easterners to smoke tobacco for quite some time. That was made clear by the number of Islamic fatwas expressed by the Ottoman administration towards the lawfulness of smoking. This because tobacco was not known at the time of the Prophet, it is not named in the Qur’an. Which resulted in a debate over its legality to spread throughout the empire. The main question in debates was “if the consumption of tobacco was harmful to the user and his or her surroundings”. Islamic scholars interpreted general guidelines stated in the Qur’an or the hadith to support their arguments for or against its use. Soon after the rise in popularity of tobacco the religious authorities in Mecca grouped it with wine, opium and coffee. Thus issuing a fatwa banning it as an intoxicant.

3Not only was the debate over the consumption of tobacco religious, but also political. As early as 1610 an English traveller wrote about seeing “an unfortunate Turk riding about the streets of Constantinople….. Mounted backward on a donkey with a tobacco-pipe driven through the cartilage of his nose. Just for the crime of smoking”. I sometimes feel we are close to such a situation in our modern times.. Two years later, Sultan Ahmed I issued a temporary ban on smoking. In 1631, Murad IV began a campaign against the consumption of tobacco and outlawed its cultivation in the empire, but this failed. In 1633, after a devastating fire in Constantinople, Murad IV outright forbade tobacco consumption and inflicted severe punishment on smokers. During this time of smoking prohibition many people preferred to use crushed tobacco (snuff) to avoid being caught with a pipe. Murad IV also banned coffee and ordered the closure of coffee-houses, where both coffee and tobacco were consumed. What a horrible man..

Turkish_coffee_house_on_the_BosphorusFortunately the bans by Murad IV and others before him did not produce the desired results. Thus proving that coffee and tobacco consumption were already well rooted within the 17th century Middle East. In other words, smoking was not eradicated during these prohibitions. In 1646, during the reign of Ibrahim, the Turkish government issued a decree allowing for the consumption of tobacco. The religious legalization of smoking was granted in a fatwa issued in the early years of the 1720’s by Damascene Islamic scholar Abd al-Ghani al-Nabulsi. He wrote an essay entitled (I hope I type this correctly) “al Sulh bayna al-ikhwan fi hukm ibahat al-­dukhkhan” which translates as “Peace Among Friends Concerning the Legalization of Smoking”. Al Nabulsi’s position on the consumption of tobacco was that smoking is like food. If it hurts stop it, if it does not, then why not smoke? Brilliant. The question regarding tobacco’s harmfulness remained a controversial issue for centuries to come. As it still is today. Nonetheless, it was not until the 18th century that tobacco consumption became a legitimate social pastime practice as was illustrated in many coffee-house illustrations of that time and later.

6From the late 17th century onwards the tobacco pipe became a highly personalized possession in Arabia. With ornamented varieties coming from pipe-maker guilds in Turkey, England, France, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, and Lebanon. Probably every town of any size had at least one pipe-maker. Even potters in villages could turn out a few pipes from moulds brought from bigger cities. A lot of pipes were also produced in Mecca and Medina as smoking was popular in the heart of Arabia. Even the Sharif of Mecca engaged in tobacco consumption: “He sat upright on his divan, like an European, and smoked tobacco in a pipe like the “old Turks”. The simple earth-made bowl was set in a saucer before him, it’s white jasmine stem was almost a spear’s length.” Clay pipes were a preferable means for consuming tobacco. They were very portable and therefore more convenient to the highly mobile consumer (such as a pilgrim making the hajj). Furthermore clay tobacco pipes were readily available in any market and to customers from all levels of society.


© Aimée C. Bouzigard

In the early 17th century two ways of smoking existed: “with water” or “dry”. But (of course) smoking tobacco through a dry pipe was superior to the water method. Which was done through the hookahs I mentioned earlier or narghiles, Middle Eastern innovations. The main device associated with tobacco consumption in the Arabian provinces was the oriental pipe, referred to in Turkish as the chibouk (Arabic: shibuk). The English-style kaolin pipes were likely to be more influential to styles in Istanbul, the imperial centre of the empire, where tobacco and the English pipes reached Turkey by the harbour. The 3-part chibouk arrived from North Africa in the Middle East and was readily adopted as the main instrument for smoking tobacco in the early 17th century. The chibouk consists of three elements: the head or bowl (Turkish: lüle), the stem and the mouthpiece. The bowls were made from a variety of materials including wood, stone, meerschaum or even metal. But the common material was clay. The stems were made of various woods or reeds and ranged in length from about 1 meter to 4 (!) meters. The mouthpieces were usually made of amber but could also be made of coral, gold and enamel. Precious stones could be added according to the taste and purse of the purchaser.

chibouk smoking turkish gentlemenClimatic and cultural differences led to the development of two different types of pipes in Europe and the Ottoman Middle East. The hot weather in much of the Middle East created a preference for the inhalation of “cold smoke”  while in the cooler weather of Europe smokers preferred “hot smoke”. Well, a moderate hot smoke of course. The technical solution to this issue of cooling the smoke within a dry pipe resulted in the 3-part style of the chibouk. For instance, the longer stem length allows the smoke to cool before it reaches the smoker. Wet silk was often applied to cover the stem to even increase its cooling capabilities. The longer stems, up to the 4 meters I mentioned before, were preferred in the hotter climes of the southern portions of the empire. Shorter stems, 20 centimetres to 1 meter, were used in the more northern, cooler climates. The varying lengths of stems are portrayed in numerous illustrations from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Abb_2b_05636vToday, tobacco is cultivated and cigarettes are manufactured in parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Muslim Asia. But only Turkey ranks among the world’s top 10 tobacco-producing countries. Though many reports claimed that the people of Persia and the Ottoman Empire consumed vast amounts of tobacco, actual consumption seems to have been less than in most parts of Europe. These days the tobacco consumption in Middle Eastern countries is only about one half of that in the West. In many countries most people used to smoke cheap, locally produced tobacco. Now more expensive import brands are popular almost everywhere. Either directly imported or manufactured under licence. Such a shame because it were the locally produced (oriental) tobacco gems that fascinated us pipe-smokers. As-salāmu ʿalaykum!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

HH Vintage Syrian vs. 3 Oaks Syrian

LatakiaTobaccoSyriaIn my blog-posts Latakia Lover and Syrian Latakia I described the dark leaf that comes from Syria and why it is so rare these days. In fact, there are only two companies of which I am 100% certain that they still have it: Danish based Mac Baren and American based McClelland. Important to know is that they both use Syrian latakia that originates from the same stock! Which is the reason for this post. I was curious what was the better, tastier blend that contains the fire-cured shekk-el-bint: Mac Baren HH Vintage Syrian or McClelland 3 Oaks Syrian. I choose these blends because there is no other type of latakia in them. For example, McClelland Wilderness also contains Cyprian latakia.

3Background information:
HH Vintage Syrian: The inspiration for the recipe of HH Vintage Syrian originates back to the start of Mac Baren Tobacco more than 120 years ago. This blend is typical for that time and it is easy to describe as a “back to nature” tobacco. The reason for calling this tobacco HH is quite simple. HH are the initials of the founder of Mac Baren Tobacco: Mr. Harald Halberg. If you look closely you will find the same initials in the small Mac Baren logo at the top-centre of the tin. It is incorporated into the shield held by the lions.
3 Oaks Syrian: The original 3 Oaks Syrian was composed by Ted Gage for the Bufflehead Smoke Shop in the Kansas City area. In 2005 or 2006 there were changes in the laws for mail orders which went outside the state. These ruined the thriving store and it had to close down. In 2009 McClelland started manufacturing the blend according to the original recipe.

HH Vintage Syrian:
Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia, Kentucky. Coarse cut, so that means it can contain some chunky pieces. Surprisingly enough this blend contains (or should contain) more Syrian latakia than 3 Oaks Syrian but the looks do not show it. 3 Oaks is darker in appearance.
3 Oaks Syrian: Syrian latakia, oriental, Virginia. Ribbon cut which I also found to be a bit chunky.

mac baren tobacco logoPackage/tin description:
HH Vintage Syrian:
A flat stylish 100 gr. tin with a black lid containing a stylized illustration of a lion’s head. “The base of the blend, a little under half of the volume, is a smooth and yet powerful Latakia from Syria. This tobacco gives the blend the overall smoky taste, a powerful taste and yet without any tongue bite. To add a spicy note to the blend, Turkish Oriental has been added. A mix of different Virginia tobaccos from 3 continents adds a sweet natural taste. To complete the taste with depth and body, we added a little Dark Fired Kentucky from the US. The HH-Vintage Syrian Latakia is a loose cut tobacco, which guarantees a smooth and steady burn. It does not get hot which means you will find extremely little bite on your tongue. When you empty your pipe after smoking, you will find only fine grey ashes, the sign of a slow and dry smoke.”
3 Oaks Syrian: A typical 50 gr. American “pop” tin with a yellow label. On it is an illustration of a weapon shield with the name of the blend and oak-leaves around it. “Rare Syrian Latakia, with its renowned mellow smokiness, is balanced with naturally sweet Orientals and aged Virginia leaf to create a satisfying blend reminiscent of classic Syrian Latakia blends of old. Formulated by Tad Gage to reflect the character of original Three Oaks Pipe Tobacco, it tantalizes with intriguing differences.”

noseSmell from the tin:
HH Vintage Syrian: When I opened the tin it did not smell like an average Cyprian latakia blend. Yes you can smell the smoky dark leaf but nothing overpowering. It reminds me of the current time of the year, autumn, with its fallen leaves. Imagine smelling a campfire in an October-time forest from 100 meters away that mainly consists of dry and half-dry autumn leaves. I also detect a certain sweetness that (I think) comes from the Virginias.
3 Oaks Syrian: Even more muted than the smell of HH Vintage Syrian is the tin-odour of 3 Oaks Syrian. It just whispers “subtle”. Fortunately there is almost no hint of the typical McClelland “ketchup” smell. Maybe when you have freshly opened the tin, but after some time that odour vanishes. Overall there is a certain kind of mustiness with none of the contents overpowering each other.

HH Vintage Syrian: What surprised me when I first lit this blend was the overall sweetness. Hmm, I think the Virginias are cased.. However, this sweetness combines nicely with the herbal flavours of the orientals. But undeniably the star of this mixture is the Syrian latakia which unlike its Cyprian cousin has a warm, broad, smooth and subtle taste of smoky incense, sandalwood and red wine. It just says, ey, don’t worry, I am here, I will not overpower the rest of the contents, just sit back and enjoy. If you smoke very slow you can sometimes taste hints of apricot and apple-cider which I found fascinating. Halfway the bowl the sweetness goes away and the nutty Kentucky comes a bit more to the front. This stays until the end of the bowl when there is only fine grey ash left.
3 Oaks Syrian: The first time I tried this blend I only smoked pipe for half a year. I found it to be too mild and flavourless. I reluctantly finished the tin and gave away some. Some months ago I decided to pop open another tin. I let it air for several days and loaded some in my beloved Dunhill patent era Shell Briar prince. After all my taste buds had improved in the 2,5 years after I first tried the blend. With the charring light I got a symphony of flavours. 3 Oaks does not contain as much Syrian latakia as Vintage Syrian so the orientals get to shine more. Which they do halfway the bowl. I think the Virginias used are mainly the red variant because of the breadlike, yeast taste I experience throughout the smoke. At the end of the bowl the flavours get a bit more dark, like in dark chocolate. Here also a fine grey ash is left. What struck me about this blend is the subtleness and complexity. I now smoke for a bit over 3 years but I still feel my taste buds are not up to par with what this mixture has to offer. It reminded me a bit of the John Cotton’s No. 1 Mild I smoked before. There is magic happening but you have to carefully, with your full attention, search for it.

HH Vintage Syrian: No problems here, even if you are not paying full attention during the smoke you do not have to re-lit often.
3 Oaks Syrian: This one is more difficult to keep lit is my experience. Like if saying, if I do not have your attention I might as well go out..

HH Vintage Syrian & 3 Oaks Syrian: My girlfriend Ellen seems to handle Syrian latakia better then the Cyprian dark leaf. She still does not like it but at least she does not force me to sit at the other end of the room in my smoking chair. When I smoke one of the blends in the late evening I notice a nice, faint incense smell the next morning. My benchmark that the used latakia was of high-quality.

HH Vintage Syrian: In my first months as a pipe smoker I tried a couple of generally available Mac Baren blends and they bit me HARD. Later I learned that I was not the only one who experienced the phenomenon. So when I first lit up this blend I was fearful of the dreaded “Mac Bite”. And.. It did not happen to my relief! Ok, if you provoke it by puffing way to hard it will bite you, but that goes for a lot of blends. In the nicotine department I would rate this one light-medium to medium.
3 Oaks Syrian: This blend benefits from a bit of airing time when you have opened it. The flavours will improve then. If you like a nicotine shot while smoking, don’t go for this blend. It is just way too mild. A disadvantage of 3 Oaks was that it did not shine in many of my pipes. Only in a couple I had the impression that I got a lot out of the blend. HH Vintage Syrian on the contrary tasted good in all pipes I smoked it in.

HH Vintage Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $13,43 (± €9,88) for a 100 gr. tin. In Germany such a tin will set you back at €19,75 (± $26,84).
3 Oaks Syrian: At 4noggins you pay $10,49 (± €7,72) for a 50 gr. tin.

And my winner is…… *drumroll* HH Vintage Syrian! I admit I am not a Mac Baren fan. Often I called the brand Mac Blahren, masters of mediocrity, never a satisfying smoke only a burned tongue. Well… I had to swallow those words bigtime for their magnificent HH Vintage Syrian blend. Mac Baren did an amazingly good job with the creation of this almost divine mixture. A classic. That also goes for McClelland’s 3 Oaks Syrian despite it being second. Maybe in a couple of years when my taste buds have (hopefully) developed even more it can push off HH Vintage Syrian of the Syrian latakia throne. Only too bad the supply of Syrian latakia is not infinite. Until when can we enjoy these blends? No one precisely knows but I hope long enough for me to squirrel away a vast amount of tins in my tobacco closet.

Arno’s.. Ehrr.. Olaf’s Favourite English

IMG_9993When I first contacted master-blender Hans Wiedemann from HU Tobacco at the beginning of 2012 I asked him if it was possible to receive some samples of his blends. From fellow Dutch pipe-smokers forum members Smoking Rob and Huub I had heard and read some positive things about Hans’ mixtures, so I was very curious. I mainly ordered samples from latakia blends. All blends were good but there were 2 “touchdowns”. One of them was Balkan Passion and the other one Olaf’s Favourite English. It was made by Hans for pipe artist Olaf Langner, who prefers solid English mixtures for his smoking den. That sounds just like my cup of (lapsang souchong) tea!

IMG_9997Package: Olaf’s is only available in typical German 100 gram “paint” tins. This because of the lid which resembles that of a paint tin. Ideal if you ask me, because it keeps the tobacco fresh for a long time. I opened my tin half a year ago (I have more tins open and I only smoke 2 pipes a day) and the little tobacco left inside is still as moist as the moment I first popped the lid. On the front is a nice drawing of Olaf and the name of the blend, on the backside a description of the contents. Inside on top of the tobacco is a paper insert with an illustration of a compass on it. The sign the mixture inside was blended and tinned by DTM.

IMG_9998Contents/composition: A sweet base of Virginias, 40% Syrian latakia, 10% Cyprian latakia, perique, quite a bit of Smyrna oriental, darkfired leaf and English black cavendish. Whooo Arno.. In your blog-post Syrian latakia you said that there is almost nothing left of that dark leaf! That is true and despite the contents description there is no Syrian latakia in Olaf’s. I smoked the mixture a couple of times and could not detect the Syrian leaf I know from blends like 3 Oaks Syrian and Wilderness. So I mailed Hans about this and asked if he could verify the use of Syrian latakia. A couple of e-mails further I read that DTM reluctantly acknowledged  there was no Syrian dark leaf inside Olaf’s. So from now on 50% Cyprian latakia is used in the blend. Oh, don’t be afraid the taste has changed because of this. I smoked some of a new batch and it was the same as the old one.. The tobacco itself looks dark with some blond strands and is mainly a ribbon cut with some small chunky pieces which make for easy packing.

noseSmell from the tin: A classic latakia mixture smell arises from the opened tin. Sweet, bitter, sour, salty and smoky notes. However, between these I detect something I can’t really define, a bit mushroom like odour. The only blend in which I smelled this before was GL Pease Lagonda.

011Taste: With a lot of latakia mixtures there is a bitter taste at the charring light. Not with Olaf’s. The latakia makes itself known but does not overpower, it provides a kind of full roundness of taste together with the darkfired leaf in which the Virginias can develop. It is not a latakia-bomb. Halfway the bowl the sourness of the Smyrna takes the upper hand a bit which combines nicely with the underlying Virginias and latakia. I know there is perique in the mixture but I think I get more of the spicy pepper side of it than the fruity side. Although… At three quarters of the bowl the smoky and salty latakia is a bit tuned down by the black cavendish. What I then taste I can best describe as a bit salty liquorice with a honey-sweet edge. Maybe that is caused by the combination of the perique and the black cavendish. In the last bit of the bowl the flavours slowly starting to fade out similar to that of the fading sound a great musical piece and in the end a fine grey ash is left.

pipeCombustibility: Once lit the mixture keeps burning pretty easy with few relights. No comments here.

thumbsRoom-note: I don’t see my girlfriend Ellen hurrying out of the chamber or coughing violently while I smoke Olaf’s so I guess the room-note is acceptable for a latakia blend. She has smelled worse.

The evening ended on a cozy note...Miscellaneous: Olaf’s benefits from a longer shelving time so the flavours have more opportunity to meld together. Pretty necessary for a complex blend like this one. When I opened my tin it was tinned one year before and I found it good for consumption. However, I am very curious how the mixture will taste after a couple of years of peace in my tobacco closet. The nicotine level is medium, it really is a late night smoke in that regard. Maybe it fits together well with a glass of fine whisky or red wine. Also because of the complex character of the blend I would not advise to smoke it in the morning. One thing that sometimes bothers me a bit about Olaf’s is that now and then it has the tendency to bite in the first part of the bowl. From the other side it could have something to do with my body chemistry on some days.

moneyPrice: My tin was a bit cheaper but thanks to German tobacco-taxes one 100 gram tin of this wonderful mixture will now cost you €18,35 ($24.21) in Hans’ online shop.

IMG_0001Conclusion: From the first puffs I took from this excellent blend I fell in love with it. For me Olaf’s Favourite English delivers everything I expect from a wonderful English mixture; it is complex but without bragging about it. All the flavours from sweet to smoky to leathery to sour to salty weave throughout the smoke in perfect balance. Personally I think this is one of the best latakia blends on the mainland of Europe and it can easily compete with the finest offerings from blenders like GL Pease.

I crave for some Craven Mixture


A 1932 ad for Craven Mixture

Some time ago while browsing on the British ebay I saw an old still full and sealed tin of Carreras’ Craven Mixture. Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered reading about it. After a quick Google search I knew it. It was the blend famous novelist and author J.M. Barrie called “Arcadia Mixture” in his famous “My Lady Nicotine” book. The ebay tin looked pretty good so I decided to bid on it. To my pleasant surprise I won it for very little money. The lady from who I bought it was somewhat worried when she had send the package: “You are not going to smoke it right? It’s OLD!” I answered “Madam, I have every intention of smoking it!” And so I did.

A 1918 ad for Craven Mixture

A 1918 ad for Craven Mixture

Craven Mixture originally was made by the Carreras Tobacco Company. The House of Carreras was a tobacco business that was established in London in the 18th century by a nobleman from Spain, Don José Carreras Ferrer. In the early 18th century Carreras began trading in London. This was a time when cigars were increasing in popularity and Don José became a pioneer in his field. However, although business went very well it did not become a major company until his son, Don José Joaquin, began to specialise himself in the blending of tobaccos.

George Grimston Craven, 3rd Earl of Craven

George Grimston Craven, 3rd Earl of Craven

By 1852 Don José Joaquin Carreras had established himself near Leicester Square. In 1853 he was granted the high honour of being the sole supplier of cigars and tobacco to the Spanish Legation (a diplomatic representative office lower than an embassy) in London. Don José’s fame as a skilled tobacco blender soon spread. He produced special blends to suit the individual tastes of the highest members of society. Fashionable and distinguished customers visited his showrooms to select their own tobaccos. One of Don José’s most famous customers was the third Earl of Craven. A special blend, yes you guessed it correctly, Craven Mixture, was created specially for him.


Another 1932 ad for Craven Mixture

Carreras soon opened another shop. This time in the Arcade in London’s newly developed and fashionable Regent Street W1. Here he was visited by royalty from many countries. Some of Don José’s tobacco brands became world famous. As well as Craven Mixture, you had Guards’ Mixture, Hankey’s Mixture and others. Over one thousand brands of cigar (!) could be bought from Carreras. Together with snuffs, cigarettes, pipes and other tobacco related items. The business remained in the hands of the Carreras family until 1894 when Mr. W J Yapp  took control. In 1903 Carreras leadership fell to Bernhard Baron when he and Yapp both became directors.

J.M. Barrie c. 1910

J.M. Barrie c. 1910

J. M. Barrie, best known as the creator of Peter Pan, was a valued customer during the 1890’s. When he wrote “My Lady Nicotine” (which was published in 1890) he centred the story around a mythical tobacco called Arcadia Mixture. It did not take long before Carreras realised that the only tobacco Barrie  bought was the Craven Mixture. In January 1897 Barrie confirmed to Don José that Arcadia Mixture and Craven Mixture were one and the same. Shortly after that Carreras began using Barrie’s endorsement in his advertising. Craven Mixture sales increased rapidly at home and abroad.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson

In the stories of Sherlock Holmes the blend also appears. It was Dr. Watson’s favourite pipe tobacco. Holmes recognized it by it’s characteristic fluffy white ash. It was said to be of such extraordinary character and delicacy that it stopped all conversation.

After some very, very successful decades the Baron family (which had held a controlling interest in Carreras since the early 1900’s) decided to sell their shares in 1958 to Rothmans. Carreras Rothmans Ltd. was formed in 1972, when Carreras Limited was used as the vehicle for the merger of various European tobacco interests to form Rothmans International.

Nowadays Craven Mixture is no longer made. Although McClelland re-created the blend: 221b Series, Arcadia. Cornell & Diehl also made a re-creation: 531, Yale Mixture.


My freshly opened circa 1930’s tin of Craven Mixture

Ok, enough history. Let’s go back to the tin I purchased. I date this one to the 1930’s because of the mention of Arcadia Works on the tin (post-1928) and the resemblance to the tins on the advertisements you can see in this post. Besides a little rust the knife-cutter tin looked just fine, the foil below the lid was intact. Still, you can never know how the tobacco in the tin behaved after about 80 years. There can be microscopic holes which let the air out,  the inside could be very badly rusted etc.. So a bit nervous I pulled the little knife on the lid away, took a deep breath and placed it on the foil thus penetrating it. To my absolute delight I heard a 3 second long hiss of escaping air and smelled the ancient tobacco. Yessss!!! That meant the tin still was sealed! Quickly I cut away the rest of the foil by turning the lid around. I could not believe the tobacco inside was still moist and springy after all this time. The smell was a bit sour, like a pile of autumn leaves on the earthy ground.

IMG_9429I grabbed my old patent era Dunhill shell briar prince, filled it up and lit it. I was rewarded with a very smooth smoke and taste. Of course the ingredients had decades to blend inside the tin. The mixture is fairly strong in the nicotine department. After only one third of a bowl I already found myself running to the fridge for some fruit-juice to temper my fast aggravating queasiness.. Identifying the individual elements in this mixture is pretty difficult. As far as I can taste after one bowl this blend contains Syrian latakia. At least, after smoking quite a lot of McClelland Three Oaks Syrian past week I can pretty safely say it is Syrian. Besides the typical smoothness and smokiness of the Syrian dark leaf I also detected Virginias. I do not think a lot of bright Virginias were used since the blend is not really sweet. Orientals I did not detect. The flavour is quite straight, pure, strong and unified. The smoke has a constant and consistent taste and body from start to end.

No one who smokes the Arcadia Mixture would ever attempt to describe its delights. J.M. Barrie. Well, I just did.

Here are some more pictures of my tin:
IMG_9427 IMG_9426 IMG_9425 IMG_9424

Syrian Latakia

Syrian latakia?

Syrian latakia?

In my blogpost “Latakia Lover” I described Syrian latakia. What I did not tell was that nowadays it is an almost extinct type of tobacco.

For years Syrian latakia had been used in cigarettes and pipe tobacco. But it was taking its toll on the Syrian environment. Native hardwood and shrubs were used to fire-cure the shekk-el-bint leaves. Unfortunately there weren’t much farmable grounds in the area. Because of this natural resources were being used and consumed FAST. Also during the period 1850 – 1950 extreme damage to the forests in Syria was done. First by the construction of the Baghdad and Hedjaz railways, both were still operated with wood for fuel during WWI. Later from the ravages of WWII during which forest fires were purposefully set as a protest against the controlling foreign regime. So the Syrian government decided to place a moratorium (a what?? A delay or suspension of an activity) on the production of latakia in 1960. “But I smoked Balkan Sobranie and other mixtures which contained Syrian latakia in the 60’s and 70’s!” some of the old pipe smokers would say. Yes that is true. Most tobacco companies had hoarded the stuff so it was only around the beginning of the 80’s that they ran out of it. Some mixtures survived this by gradually switching from Syrian to Cyprian latakia.

10679974_10205010273567619_6481518945363759545_oSomewhere during the 80’s the Syrian government lifted the moratorium and to some extent the production was resumed. But it never came close to the amounts of the pre-1960 era. The demand was lower because there were less pipe smokers. On top of that Syrian latakia had to compete with the dark leaf that came from Cyprus. Also a lot of the experienced processors had found another job. As a result the quality of latakia made by other makers became shaky, inconsistent.

GL Pease Renaissance. one of the best blends ever made containing the Syrian dark leaf

GL Pease Renaissance. Apparently one of the best blends ever made containing the Syrian dark leaf

Luckily at the beginning of the 2000’s a LOT of vintage Syrian latakia became available. So tobacco companies like MacBaren, McClelland and Cornell & Diehl (which includes GL Pease) bought vast amounts of it. Especially mr. Pease succeeded in making excellent blends with it like Renaissance, Raven’s Wing, Mephisto and Bohemian Scandal. Unfortunately at the end of 2004 the warehouse where the Cornell & Diehl / GL Pease Syrian latakia stock was located burned to the ground. That ended of course all the mixtures in which the Syrian dark leaf was used. But the other tobacco manufacturers that bought into the same batch of vintage Syrian latakia were able to secure their stock. This because their supply was located elsewhere. So those companies still have their part and probably it will last for years, it was a lot. But eventually they will run out of it. And it looks like no more Syrian dark leaf is being made because of the relatively low demand, environmental issues and the ongoing civil war.

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Here I quote mr. Pease himself. A question was asked him if the pipe tobacco industry, latakia specifically, been affected (pricing, quality, or availability) by the current situation in Syria: I spent some time on the telephone with the major oriental leaf broker in the US to get a definitive answer to this question, and it’s not a happy one. The simple fact is that Latakia has not been grown and manufactured in Syria now for over ten years. What there is of it in warehouses is all there is, and very likely, is all there ever will be. The vintage leaf that we lost in the fire was very, very special. A couple of manufacturers still have some supplies of that leaf, but when it’s gone, it’s gone. Further, I’ve tasted a lot of blends claiming to contain Syrian Latakia, but you couldn’t prove it by me. It’s possible that they’re adding a few shreds of the stuff in order to stay within the letter of any laws that may exist, but their overall flavor and aroma is clearly that of Cypriot leaf. I cannot speak to the blends produced by most manufacturers, but I’ve had conversations with friends at McClelland and MacBaren, and can say without a doubt that they are, indeed, using vintage Syrian Latakia where they claim to be, so if you enjoy the blends they’re making with it, you’re still in luck, at least for the time being. But, enjoy it while it lasts; when it’s gone, it’s gone.

preview_A_Can_HH_Vintage_syrian_smallOf course I will be missing some but blends that still contain (or are claiming it contains) Syrian latakia are:
– None, there are no blends left with a considerable amount of the real Syrian dark leaf. Perhaps there are blenders who still have some shreds left, mix them with a huge load of Cyprian latakia and call it Syrian, I don’t know. It surely will not taste like original Syrian.
See my list of updates below for more information.

EDIT 07-04-2013: I heard from a very reliable source that German tobacco producers Kohlhase & Kopp and DTM (both also producers of HU Tobacco) sadly no longer have Syrian latakia. Because of this I have removed all HU tobacco and Kohlhase & Kopp (Ashton and Solani) blends from the list.

EDIT 04-11-2014: On the 2014 Inter Tabac fair I spoke with Mr. Per Jensen of MacBaren. I was wondering how long the Syrian latakia stock of MacBaren would last that they use for their excellent HH Vintage Syrian. Mr. Jensen very honestly answered that he guessed that in about 7 or 8 years they would run out of the Syrian dark leaf.

EDIT 07-11-2014: I just heard from Paul that on the Inter Tabac Fair he had spoken to one of the two export managers of Planta with whom he has a good connection. He asked him if Planta’s Syrian latakia really contained Syrian latakia. The export manager answered that they still had Syrian stock but that they were not able to buy any more in the last years. How long their supply will last? No idea…

EDIT 08-08-2015: I just read at the Pipes Magazine forum that someone spoke with Per Jensen of MacBaren at the IPCPR and there he said their Syrian stock would last for about 4 years..

EDIT 22-09-2015: Apparently sales of MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian are going well. I spoke with Brian Levine on the Inter Tabac some days ago and according to him they will run out of Syrian leaf in about 2 or 3 years. After that the blend will be discontinued. I also dared to ask him if small amounts of Cyprian latakia are mixed with the Syrian dark leaf (there were some rumours..). A resolute “no” followed. Only the size of the tins had changed (from 100 gr. to 50 gr.), nothing else.

EDIT 30-01-2017: From the Facebookpage of Ted Gage: “Syrian tobacco is gone. Used up, done, and gone forever. There will be no McClelland Syrian Three Oaks, or other blends using the supply of McClelland Syrian. Bummer, but we knew it was coming eventually.” In a short while I will remove their blends of the list. For now: stock up folks!

EDIT 12-03-2017: After a discussion with one of the great names in the pipe smoking world I have decided to remove MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian from the tobacco list. There were rumours before that MacBaren was mixing amounts of Cyprian latakia with the Syrian dark leaf. I already had suspicions some time ago but choose to believe the MacBaren folks and ignore my taste buds. The “great name” with much better taste buds confirmed my old suspicions. There is a difference in taste between the old tins I have and new ones. Further I have deleted all tobaccos claiming to have Syrian latakia from my list. McClelland had the last real Syrian dark leaf and they have run out of it recently. All other companies who say they still have some stock are lying in my opinion or they have some left-over shreds that they put in the blends to stay within the boundaries of laws. Taste-wise you are not going to notice it. Blends simply sell better with the Syrian latakia label on them. So in short, the Syrian dark leaf is totally gone now. Don’t let anyone or anything fool you and oh, tobacco companies, be honest to your customers.

EDIT 29-03-2017: In my latest update I was jumping to conclusions too fast about MacBaren’s HH Vintage Syrian. I should have done my homework (like I normally always do) first. On the PipesMagazine forum a discussion erupted about that I solely relied on the taste buds of my anonymous expert and myself without any further proof. Then Per Jensen, product manager of MacBaren. chimed in. Here are the most important excerptions:

I normally don’t comment on rumours coming from an anonym source, but I will make an exemption in this case. In 2006 I created the HH Vintage Syrian as a single standing tobacco. Since the first making of this blend the recipe has not changed, it is still made after the 2006 recipe with Syrian Latakia.

If you compare an older tin with a new one, the taste of the older will of course be slight different due to age. If a pipe smoker perceives this as the newer tin contains a lesser quality tobacco, I would consider this to be a genuine mistake. The HH Vintage Syrian is created like no other Latakia blend, because it also contains Dark Fired Kentucky. In comparison with more “normal” English blends, you will, as pipe smoker, experience another taste in HH Vintage Syrian as in your favourite English blend. HH Vintage Syrian is not your typical English blend and there are so many other good blends out there which will satisfy your taste for Latakia. HH Vintage Syrian was created to be different.

However, no matter this discussion HH Vintage Syrian will be leaving soon, as our supply of Syrian Latakia is coming to an end. Latest in February or March next year the last of the HH Vintage Syrian will leave Svendborg, Denmark, so the guy who created it will also be the one to put it down. That HH Vintage Syrian is leaving us, I have stated over and over again, and I have never made it a secret that it would disappear and also when.

Of course my expert and I discussed this. We really tasted something different in the newer tins as opposed to the older ones, and it was not the dark-fired Kentucky because that has been in all along. Besides, there are other latakia blends with dark-fired Kentucky, see this list. My expert missed the distinctive resiny, pine-like aroma that the Syrian latakia once gave the blend and that is not present in the current tins. But he did detect the sweeter, earthier, more camp-fire and leather smell and taste of its Cyprian cousin. Suddenly he came up with something: What if MacBaren was not using the same Syrian batch as in the beginning, the same batch Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought? It could be that they ran out of that batch some time ago and acquired a different Syrian latakia from some leaf broker. That way there is still Syrian in HH Vintage Syrian, it could explain the difference in taste and Per would be telling the truth. So I mailed Per that theory and kindly asked him for an honest answer. Which I got:

First of all I want to inform you that of course I stand behind my statement on As I have mentioned time after time during the years we would be out of Syrian Latakia latest in 2019 to 2020. The reason that we stop the production already in beginning of 2018 has more reasons than one. First our stock is lower than predicted 7 years ago and second we had to destroy some of the Latakia because it did not live up to the standard we demanded.

At the time when rumours started about the shortage of Syrian Latakia, we contacted our vast network of tobacco suppliers to hear if they could help us obtaining Syrian Latakia. We managed to get 6 batches from different sources, some small but 2 of batches were bigger. Since then we have blended the different Latakia from Syria in order to get an even taste. At present time the rest of the Syrian Latakia we have is blended out of only 2 different batches where we in the past blended at least 4 different together.

So yes, we have been using different batches in HH Vintage Syrian and in February 2018 the book of Syrian Latakia will be closed. 

So there was a difference after all. In the first years the same batch that Cornell & Diehl and McClelland also bought was used and later on various batches from different sources were mixed together. Of course we don’t know if those leaf brokers who sold MacBaren their later Syrian latakia offered the real stuff. For example, in his Cyprian or Syrian? (Part II) blogpost well known master-blender GL Pease says (amongst other things) this: Since The (warehouse) Fire, there have been more than a few samples of “Syrian Latakia” arriving in my postbox from various suppliers. Some have been no more Syrian than I am. Others have been of such low quality I wouldn’t use the stuff to smoke fish. But for now I am going to give HH Vintage Syrian the benefit of the doubt. I can’t research it any further. Regardless which latakia from whatever quality is used, it is still an excellent smoke.

I want to thank Per Jensen for his honest answers and my anonymous expert for his knowledge and expertise.

EDIT 05-01-2018: At the end of last year MacBaren master-blender Per Jensen discontinued his HH Vintage Syrian blend as can be seen in one of his Instagram posts. So I removed it from my list.