Skip to content

Tobacco – A Rough Guide

I have found this information in various places on the internet. I do not claim to have written it myself, nor do I know where it first originated. It is, however, the best description I have yet encountered of the various tobacco sorts available. The author deserves my thanks and my utmost respect. I have changed very little of the original text and have corrected the few spelling mistakes that I found.


Virginia: -red / black / lemon / orange / orange-red – Virginia is by far the most popular tobacco type used in pipe tobacco today. About 60% of the American tobacco crop is Virginia. Virginia is the mildest of all blending tobaccos and has the highest level of natural dextrose (sugar), which basicly gives it a light sweet taste. Virginia is used in virtually all blends, is a good burner and aids in lighting.

The mildest of all blending tobaccos, it has the highest natural sugar content. Used in virtually all blends as it is a good burner and aids in lighting. It imparts a light sweet taste when used in moderation

Pure Virginia tobacco is best known from flake types. Dunhill’s Light Flake is a very good example. Medium in strength and rather sweet in taste. Several blends by Rattray comes into mind. Marlin Flake being a rather heavy member of the family, but still very sweet. The Danish manufacturer A&C Petersen has the Blue Caledonian. Mild to medium in strength, and a nice pure taste of Virginia tobacco.

Bright – From the Carolinas

Burley: Burley tobacco is the next most popular tobacco for pipe tobacco blending. It contains almost no sugar, which gives a much dryer and fuller aroma than Virginia. Burley is used in many aromatic blends because it absorbs the flavorings. Burley tobacco burns slowly and is a cool smoke, which makes it a nice addition to blends that tend to burn fast and strong. – “white burley” – a natural tobacco taste with a soft character that will never “bite.”

The technical term for Burley is “air cured”. This air curing is done in large open barns, by the natural air flow, for one or two months. The color is ranging from light brown to mahogany.

Pure Burley blends are mainly produced by U.S. and Danish companies. Blends like Blue Edgeworth, Old English and Half-and-Half are classic examples. The latter being slightly flavoured. Burley is also the main ingredient in most of the Danish McBaren blends.

Spice tobacco: Spice tobacco is actually not one type of tobacco, but rather a broad variety of more special types, used in small amounts to create an interesting blend. These would include Oriental, Latakia, Perique and Kentucky among others. Most of them are frequently used in English blends.

Oriental: A variety of tobaccos, grown in Turkey, the Balkans, and Russia. The best known types are Izmir, Samsun, Yenidji, Cavella and Bursa. A common characteristic is a dusty, dry and sometimes slightly sourish aroma. Some of them are also used in “exotic” cigarettes from Egypt and other Arab countries.

  • Yenidji: From Northern Greece. A spicey but smooth tobacco with a unique taste.
  • Latakia: Latakia is the result of a curing process involving fire curing the leaves over controlled fires of aromatic woods and fragrant herbs. Probably the most well known spice tobacco. Mainly grown in Cyprus and northern Syria. After the leaves are harvested and dried, they are hung in tightly closed barns and smoke-cured. Small smouldering fires of oak and pine fill the barn with smoke, and covering the leaves with smoke particles. Latakia was “discovered” when a bumper crop resulted in surplus, and the excess tobacco was stored in the rafters. The peasant farmers traditionally used wood and when short of wood camel dung for cooking and heating in the winter. The smoke cured tobacco’s unique flavoring and taste was discovered the following spring. Latakia produces a very rich, heavy taste, with an aroma that has a “smokey” characteristic . Latakia is an indispensable ingredient of traditional English mixtures. The content can vary from a few percent to about 40-50%, or even more. A few smokers like it at 100%. This would tend to be harsh, not because Latakia is a strong tobacco, but because it burns and tends to dry out your mouth and throat. Both Dunhill and Rattray have a number of blends that contain Latakia. Dunhill 965, Early Morning and London Mixture are from Dunhill, and Red Rapperee and Black Mallory from Rattray. Seven Reserve from Rattray has a moderate content of Latakia, and might be a good introduction to these kind of blends. Bengal Slices is unique – a flake tobacco with a moderate to high content of Latakia. A very lovely blend if you like Latakia.
  • Perique: Perique is a Red Burley type of tobacco, grown and processed in St. James, Louisiana near New Orleans. Perique is a rare, slow burning, strong-tasting tobacco. Production is small, so its value is quite high. Perique is cured like Burley, but for a shorter time. There after the leaves are put in large oak barrels under heavy pressure, which will squeeze some juice out and make the whole thing ferment. Once in a while the leaves are taken out for a period and then repacked and refermented. This process takes at least one full year. Some times even longer.The aroma of a tobacco treated by this method is full bodied. The nicotine content is overwhelming, thus Perique can not be smoked by itself. Due to its full-bodied nature, Perique is used on a limited basis in blends. About 5 % in a blend is the maximum. It is usually blended with Virginia to give it more body. Escudo is a good representative of a Virginia blend with Perique. Dunhill’s Elizabethan Mixture is a very nice example of Virginia mixed with a touch of Perique.
  • Kentucky: This is actually a specially treated Burley tobacco, produced in Kentucky. Unlike Burley, Kentucky is fire-cured. Its aroma is not as heavy as with Latakia, but very aromatic and unique. The nicotine content tends to be rather high, and therefore it is used in limited amounts.
  • Drama: From Macedonia – is a strong flavoring tobacco. A little bit goes long way.

Havana: Cuban and other cigar tobaccos are used in a limited range of Virginia blends and mixtures.

Cavendish: Cavendish is more a method to treat tobacco than a type. English Cavendish uses a dark flue or fire cured Virginia which is steamed and then stored under pressure to permit it to cure and ferment for several days to several weeks. When done well, this tobacco is really fine stuff. Cavendish can be produced out of any tobacco type (mainly Virginia’s and Burley’s are used). The original English Cavendish is produced out of Virginia tobacco, which is slightly flavoured and heated under high pressure. This will give you a very dark, black tobacco. A few English Cavendish blends exist on the market – Rattray’s Dark Fragrant and Black Virginia plus McConnel’s Maduro.

Cavendish is a process of curing and a method of cutting tobacco leaf; the term does not refer to a tobacco, but a type of manufacturing process. The processing and the cut are used to bring out the natural sweet taste that is a characteristic of Virginia tobacco. This process will create a tobacco very light in taste, quite mild and easy to pack.

The modern version of Cavendish is generally much more flavoured. The natural taste of tobacco is almost gone. The flavouring is also called “Casing”. This is the term used when you add a considerable amount of additives to the tobacco. This is usually done by producing a fluid mixture of sugar, liquorice or any kind of aromas in which the tobacco is soaked. The goal is to produce a sweet and smooth aroma. Modern Cavendish tobacco comes in numerous flavours, cherry, vanilla, rum, chocolate, strawberry, coconut …….and many other flavors.

Tobacco Classifications

Air-Cured: These tobaccos are dried naturally, sheltered from sunlight in large barns. The drying is carried out on the whole plant or as individual leaves. Sugar is the by-product of this three month drying process.

Dark Tobaccos: These tobacco plants are very mature and developed at the time of picking. The leaf is subjected to a second fermentation process. These leaves are used to make cigars.

Fire-Cured: Akin to Dark, its natural drying is completed by a wood-fired fumigation (oak is used by the traditionalists).

Sun-Cured: Almost all of Oriental Tobaccos are cured by this method. Oriental Tobaccos are grown in Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and adjoining countries.

Tobacco Classifications by Cut

FLAKE CUT: Tobacco packaged as large, flat flakes. Must be rubbed out to separate the flakes. One can also fold the flake, first lengthwise and then across the flake. This would then be simply inserted into a pipe and lit.

RIBBON CUT: Tobacco cut into long, thin ribbons, though not as long or as fine as SHAG.

CUBE CUT: Pressed tobacco chopped into small square pieces.

SHAG: Tobacco which has been shredded very finely. Renowned as the type of preference for Sherlock Holmes; at that time, shag was considered an inferior grade.

NAVY CUT: Traditionally the tobacco was put in a long thin canvas tube and twisted tight. Later when taken out it was a an 1″ thick rope of tobacco. If a piece was cut off its called a plug. Sliced examples of this style are Escudo, Three Nuns Slices, Bengal Slices. This is generally a slow burning tobacco.

RUBBING OUT: Rubbing flake or plug (to loosen the tobacco) in the palm of the hand prior to smoking.

%d bloggers like this: