Identifying tobacco flavours

Discussion in 'Need Pipe Smoking Advice? Ask an Old Fart!' started by Degenetron, May 8, 2011.

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  1. Degenetron

    Degenetron Member

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    I've been wanting to learn more about what parts of a blend make up it's tastes..

    Quite often i find myself wanting to describe a certain aspect of a blend and i have to use sentences like "Yeah, it has a bit of that flavour that the other tobacco - You know the one i told you about before - had but also a bit of this other taste that dominated the tobacco i sent you a sample of mid last week.. " etc.

    It just seems rather inefficient :bangin:

    So.. perhaps some of you old farts could educate this young whippersnapper? ;)
    I realize this can get complicated fast as there are so many different tobaccos and ways to cure and so on, but how about some basics at first, then move on?

    How does one identify Burley, Virginia, Perique, Whats the differences between Syrian and Cyprian latakia and whats a Cavendish anyways (I know it's a curing method, but whats it made of and how does it taste)?

    Also, any recomendations on blends that show off a certain tobacco especially well would be much apprechiated. I could ofcourse order some blending tobaccos from somewhere - i see Cornell & Diehl sell them -, but it would get rather costly and those probably aren't especially pleasant to smoke on their own.
     
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  2. RTOdhner

    RTOdhner Well-Known Member

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    The way I do it is to equate the different flavors to something you are already familiar with. Frinstance, for me:

    Burly = Nuts
    Virginia = Bread or Hay
    Latakia = Wood smoke or leather (but I haven't yet developed by palate to the point I can distinguish between Syrian or Cyprian).
    Perique = Raisins or Prunes
    Oriental = Citrus fruits (grapefruit in particular)
    Cavendish = Baker's Sugar (but there are so many tobies that identify themselves as Cavendish that this is a work in progress).

    Review the blenders notes put out with each blend, and then just try different blends. I think good choices would be:

    Orlik Golden Sliced and Erinmore (flake tobies), or Peterson's Sherlock Holmes or McConnell's Red Virginia are good blends to develop your appreciation for Virginias.

    C&D's Haunted Bookshop or Middleton's Prince Albert are good for identifying Burley.

    G.L. Pease Cairo, Peterson's Old Dublin, or Sutliff's Balkan Luxury Blend are good for identifying orientals.

    C&D's Epiphany, Peterson's Old Dublin, or Sutliff's Balkan Luxury Blend are good for identifying Latakia.

    C&D's Bayou Morning is good for identifying Perique (as is McConnell's Red Virginia and Peterson's Irish Oak).

    Tin Notes can be misleading when it comes to flavor. Frinstance, both Orlik's Golden Sliced and Erinmore have fruity tin notes, and this suggests a topping of some sort. However, I think Virginias have a naturally "fruity" aroma (very similar to sweet red wine) so I find it difficult to pick up where the natural aroma of the tobacco leaves off and the topping picks up. Then when it comes to room note, I can't pick up any of the tin note - just a wonderful tobacco smell. Pease Cairo is said to have a topping, but I think orientals smell like grapefruit anyway, so, again, I'm not sure where the baccy leaves off and the topping begins.

    The only tin note that really jumps out at me as being toby and not topping is Raisins or Prunes. I have never smelled this in any tobacco other the Perique, and it makes it easy for me to tell that there is Perique in it.

    I think determining it by sight is a little easier. If it's black (and smells like leather) it's probably Latakia. If it is black or dark brown and smells like Prunes it is probably Perique. If it's dark brown and smells sweet it may be Cavendish. If it's yellow, orange, or red, then it's Virginia. That's as far as I've gotten on the color chart.

    It can be confusing, and after 25 years of pipe smoking I'm still working on it. However, the fun is in the learning since there are so many wonderful blends out there to try.
     
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  3. Degenetron

    Degenetron Member

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    Thank you RTOdhner, that was indeed very helpful :) So this new prune/raisin smell i found in the FMATP was Perique then i assume. Already used my new knowledge in a practical way :D

    I can see my next tobacco order is going to be a big one hehe.

    And yes, the fun is definitely in the testing, but i generally found it hard to know what to look for in a tobacco. I would more or less blindly pick one (or go for the shiniest tin :D) and if i liked it i would not be able to find something else similar to it simply because i have a hard time identifying exactly what it was i liked in it.

    Only one i have really down is latakia. I think thanks to trying Sir William English Classic as my first english blend with advertised latakia. Tin note is little less than a leathery bonfire and the flavour is very smoky. Thought there was something wrong with it first time i opened a tin :)
     
  4. Marc

    Marc Active Member

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    Here you go... hope this helps...

    Virginia: Virginia is by far the most popular tobacco type used in pipe tobacco today. About 60% of the nation’s tobacco crop is Virginia. Virginia is mildest of all blending tobaccos and has the highest level of natural dextrose (sugar), which basically gives it a light sweet taste. Virginia is used in virtually all blends, is a good burner and aids in lighting.
    Burley: Burley tobacco is the next most popular tobacco for pipe tobacco blending. It contains almost no sugar, which gives a much dryer and full 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.
    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.
    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, Yedidje, Cavella and Bursa. A common characteristic is a dusty, dry and sometimes slightly sour aroma.
    Latakia: Latakia is the result of a curing process involving fire curing the leaves over controlled fires of aromatic woods and fragrant herbs. After the leaves are harvested and dried, they are hung in tightly closed barns and smoke-cured. Small smoldering fires of oak and pine fill the barn with smoke, and covering the leaves with smoke particles.
    Latakia produces a very rich, heavy taste, with an aroma that has a "smoky" 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.
    Perique: Perique is a Red Burley type of tobacco, grown and processed in St. James Parrish, 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 or in Cypress logs 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 re-fermented. This process takes at least one full year, sometimes even longer.
    The aroma of a tobacco treated by this method is full bodied. The nicotine content is overwhelming. Due to its full-bodied nature, Perique is used on a limited basis in blends. It is usually blended with Virginia to give it more body.
    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 therefor is used in limited amounts.
    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 flavored and heated by high pressure. This will give you a very dark, black tobacco.
    The modern version of Cavendish is generally much more flavored. The natural taste of tobacco is almost gone. The flavoring is also called "Casing or topping". 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, licorice etc. which is added to the tobacco for flavor.
    Tobacco Cuts
    Flake: Tobaccos, normally whole-leaf, which have been pressed and sliced into flakes. The pressure aids in the maturing process, and brings out a richer flavor. The most common flakes are Virginia’s and Virginia blends.
    Cubed: Pressed tobacco which has been cut into fine or coarse cube-shaped pieces is called Cubed, with the most common type being Cubed Burley. The thick, chunky pieces burn slowly, so Cubed tobaccos are normally quite cool.
    Rough Cut: Tobaccos cut into larger flat pieces are called Rough Cut. This cut burns slowly, and can be used to keep hotter tobaccos from burning too fast.
    Broad Cut: Wide, ribbon-cuts, which burn at an average pace, and pack well, are often called Broad Cut.
    Ribbon: Narrower than Broad Cut, it burns more readily (a good cut for tobaccos that don't burn easily), and packs well.
    Shag: A very stringy ribbon cut, Shag can easily pack too tightly, and burns easily. At one time Shag was considered an inferior cut.
    Twist, Roll Cut and Rope: All are rolled tobaccos, twisted (at least to some degree) to create pressure to help mature the tobacco. Sometimes the tobaccos are cased for flavor. They are normally cut into "coins", and can be packed whole, or rubbed-out.
    Two other terms important to know about tobacco processing...
    Casing: Referred to earlier, Casings are flavorings, sometimes using an alcohol base, which is added early in the processing. Casings are primarily used to add flavor to a blend.
    Top Dressing: Top Dressings are added toward the end of processing, and their main purpose is to enhance room note, or aroma.
    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.
     
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  5. RTOdhner

    RTOdhner Well-Known Member

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    I'm not sure on FMATP or FMOTT. McClelland makes them both, and McClelland has developed a type of tobacco called Cajun Black (a Virginia that they subject to a special curing process) that is said to be very similar to Perique. Neither FMATP or FMOTT claim to have Perique, but that raisin/prune note is in both. So, that raising/prune note in the FMATP/FMOTT may be the Cajun Black and not Perique. I don't know for sure, since I haven't tried any of their Cajun Black lines yet.
     
  6. Degenetron

    Degenetron Member

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    Aah, very nice Marc. That pretty much picked up my line of questioning where RTOdhner left off. I'm going to have to print this thread. So much useful information condensed down to so little space.

    lol, well, serves me right for trying to show off my new tobacco tasting skills prematurely!
     
  7. Snake

    Snake permanent ankle biter

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    what helped me to narrow my tastes down
    was tobacco reviews dot com as they give a
    list of what tobies are used in each blend at
    the top of each review. Helped me determine
    that I'm not a perique fan. FWIW

    dp
     
  8. dmkerr

    dmkerr PG- free since '83! Moderator

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    There are generalities and a lot of tobaccos fall into one or two. But I'm constantly amazed at what can be done with constituent tobaccos when they are blended together. Virginias taste different depending on their growing region. Reds taste different from oranges which taste different from lemons. Those are just the U.S grown virginias. Then you get into the African varieties and all bets are off. Burleys are the same. Some taste light and bland, some taste heavy, some nutty, some earthy, etc etc.

    With tobacco, the more you know, the more you don't know. The good news is that experimentation is fun!
     
  9. ruffinogold

    ruffinogold Ruffinogold-Mayor, I.R.G.E.--At Large. Mayor

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    I think a good bet is to buy a blend that you know is all or mainly Burley and smoke it . The same with the other types . Once you " get " each one on it's own then you'll have a better chance of nailing them in a blend .
     
  10. Degenetron

    Degenetron Member

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    That might be true.. i don't know enough yet to know i don't know ;)

    What i needed though was a good baseline. A foundation to build my understanding on. As it was i was just goin around willy nilly (or whatever you americans say ;p) trying random blends etc.

    Looking at what tobaccos are used in a blend is fine, but it usually does not say in what amounts they are used.. I discovered very early that mentioning latakia on the tin could mean a whole lot of things.. from it not really being noticeable to it completely dominating the flavour. A nice example would be weighing my old favourite, Sir William English Classic against Frog Morton Across the Pond. Both advertise latakia, but in the FM one it is barely worth mentioning as part of the flavour.. the SW EC .. it completely dominates. Reading the labels lets you know what tobaccos are in the tin.. but not in what ratios.. "A blend of virginias and latakia" might mean 5% latakia and it might mean 40%.. In order to know what i like in the blend i need to be able to identify that it is latakia heavy (or any other tobacco for that matter.). Ok.. end unwarranted rant..

    As for the more specified tastes like syrian/cyprian latakia or different locations/curings of virginia.. that is phase 2 so to speak.. i think ;) In order to be able to recognize those i would imagine i need a descent understanding of the generalities of each type of tobacco and how they "usually" taste. I think RTOdhner flavour list is perfect for that.. those are flavours i have recognized in tobaccos already, but could not put a name to. Now i can enjoy a smoke and start to try to understand it's flavours. Thanks again RTOdhner ;)

    Ok.. long rant there and perhaps not particularly relevant to what previous posters said.. sorry. Just came in from a brilliant day outside finishing off a descent bottle of white wine in the sun while trying out some regular Frog Morton.. 3 bowls back to back :D Pure hedonism ;)
     
  11. dmkerr

    dmkerr PG- free since '83! Moderator

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    I'd suggest getting acquainted with www.tobaccoreviews.com. There are usually many, many reviews of most tobaccos. Just don't take each review as the gospel truth. Find yourself a few reviewers that have similar tastes to yours. Even that is never infallible but at least you'll get a reasonably good idea of what the tobacco contains and in what ratio.

    As for Syrian vs Cyprian, they are very easy to discern. If you get a chance, pick up some McClellands 3 Oaks Original and 3 Oaks Syrian. The Cyprian is probably what you're used to tasting. It's very smoky and leathery. Syrian is creamier and smoother with a bit of a sour taste (sour in a good way!). Believe me, you don't need to have the tastebuds of a connoiseur to distinguish them.

    Ratios are critical, as you said. Blenders are loathe to reveal blending secrets, however. The website I mentioned above can help. But as I said, it's a bunch of opinions and not as much fact. So it goes with a subjective undertaking!
     
  12. ruffinogold

    ruffinogold Ruffinogold-Mayor, I.R.G.E.--At Large. Mayor

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    Your best bet w/ using TR is after making a mental note of what you like [ and why to a smaller extent ] and what you dont like ... then after some time of reading you'll notice certain individuals that have a like mind . These guys are your best bet but it takes time to figure it . Like what you were saying about latakia amounts ... the blender isnt gonna post what amounts are there ... the description is like a guide post ... but having an individual of like mind can narrow it down . An example would be something like this :

    Blend X : A blend of Va , Oriental , Latakia [ Lets pretend the description is in order of amounts & to make it easy say its 70% , 20% &10% ]

    Now lets say youve got blend X down[ thats the important part ] . You would describe it the way you know it and you would more than less be "on" . Find someone that wrote a review the way you taste it and then click on his name and see what elase he reviewed . Then see if there are other blends hes reviewed that youve got down as well and see if he's similar again ... if so then this is looking good

    If someone were to say it were a Lat bomb [ which it isnt ] and then that same person said C&D pirate cake was not a Lat bomb [ which it is .. 70% lat ] then this guy is just writing blindly or in ignorance/naivety ... so forget him.

    The most important thing is that you get a few blends down . If you have varied styles down as well I guess thats even better . Being solid on a blend[blends] is really the key to finding multiple people of like mind that you can relate to . At this point you can look at blends you havent tried and see what someone w/ a like mind thinks of it and at that point Tr becomes usefull . If one didnt have any blends down then I'd say the best bet might be to look at the average star count ...... . I think things would go quicker if someone got popular blends down . I mean if ya dig some blend no ones knows about .. thats fine but it's not gonna help on TR .
     
  13. Dunlibi

    Dunlibi Member

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    Great thread for us new smokers,
    Though my preferences are for Latakia and 'soapy' St Bruno and Condor.
    I.m.o. the original aromatics.
    Can anyone define the condor/st bruno tobaccos please?
     
  14. Degenetron

    Degenetron Member

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    TR is indeed a good source, if, like dmkerr and ruffinogold says, you know how to use it and know what you're looking for.

    You make a good point in saying i should get a few blends down and then look for reviewers who agree with me, ruffino. One of those simple little ideas that i wish i'd come up with. My experience of TR thus far has been.. confusing. Sometimes i feel like there is so many conflicting views there i might as well not look at all. I will use your method though.. it should help narrow things down. Seeing as my favourite, Sir william is something of an unusual tobacco in the states i will work my way from the frog mortons :)
     
  15. Smoker99

    Smoker99 Active Member

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    I am fortunate in having a couple of shops in my area that have blending bars, where you can blend your own. By far, the best way is to smoke a tobacco straight, so you can identify it, if you have the opportunity to do that.
     
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