a. Straight Varietals
For sampling the specific characteristics of a tobacco variety, it can be helpful to smoke a bowl of it unblended with any other tobacco. Sometimes you may just enjoy particular tobacco all on its own. How enjoyable this is may depend on the acidity (pH) of the smoke it produces.
Flue-cured tobaccos yield relatively acidic smoke. By contrast, Perique produces relatively alkaline smoke. Increased acidity is the primary cause of tip-of-the-tongue bite. Increased alkalinity significantly raises the absorption of nicotine from the mouth and pharynx, and also can cause a bite toward the back of the tongue. So smoking tobaccos with identical nicotine content will seem stronger or weaker, biting or non-biting, depending on the pH of the smoke it produces. Virginia-perique combinations are popular specifically because these two components can be blended in a proportion (for example, 5 parts Virginia to 3 parts Perique) that is perfectly balanced‑eliminating all tongue bite while smoothing the apparent nicotine intensity.
Cavendish processed tobacco (not including commercial Cavendish doctored with polypropylene glycol‑PPG‑or with glycerin) tends to be relatively neutral in pH, even when made from flue-cured Virginia leaf.
Most cigar varieties of leaf tend to be more alkaline, though considerably less so than Perique. Burley and some Maryland varieties start off with higher nicotine, and may also produce smoke as alkaline as that of cigar leaf. A dark-air-cured leaf is nearly always somewhat alkaline as well as higher in nicotine concentration.
b. English and Balkan Blends
A hallmark of so-called “English” style pipe tobacco is that it traditionally contained nothing but the tobacco‑the result of a British law intended to crack down on adulterated tobacco in the market. This is no longer the law, but English-style blends certainly contain no added flavorings. So‑in its many variants, all are exclusively non-aromatic pipe tobaccos.
That restriction was accommodated by blending with a number of exotic tobaccos that, in themselves, are distinctly aromatic, such as fire-cured Latakia, and a number of varieties of Oriental (sometimes identified as Turkish) tobacco, each with its own aroma.
A classic Balkan blend contains flue-cured Virginia, Oriental, Latakia, and perhaps burley, Perique, and sometimes Cavendish. These have a pouch aroma of smokiness and roasted nuts.
Other traditional English blends may utilize toasted, steamed, stewed, or heavily pressed tobacco (Virginia or burley), and may appear entirely medium brown, rather than the bright and black pieces within a Balkan blend. All of the great tobacco purveyors of Britain (Rattray’s, Dunhill, etc.) have now outsourced their production to other European countries, and the blends are no longer the same.
c. Aromatic Blends, Casings, and Flavorings
These are blends of tobacco varieties that are flavored with non-tobacco flavorants, such as vanilla, chocolate, coffee, different fruits, or other natural flavors (e.g. licorice or anise, honey, molasses, Deer Tongue leaf, etc.). They may be flavored with brandy, rum, whiskey, or other liquor or distilled spirit. Many of these flavorants evaporate fairly rapidly from tobacco leaf (though Maryland is known for its ability to cling to flavorants), so most commercial aromatic pipe blends include glycerin or polypropylene glycol (PPG) or both, to retain the flavor.