Pipe Tobacco vs. Premium Cigars: Which is Best?
When smoking pipe tobacco comes to mind, most people picture Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective, brooding over clues. Perhaps you think of Hugh Hefner kicking back in his smoking jacket.
No matter what comes to mind, the pipe smoker was once synonymous with the perfect gentleman and sophistication. That image has changed over the years. These days, pipe smoking is wrongfully associated with a stuffy professor. Some consider smoking a pipe antiquated. It’s not as common as it once was and trails cigars and cigarettes in popularity, but pipe smoking maintains a loyal following.
The nonsmoker bundles all kinds of smoking, but this is the furthest thing from the truth. Each experience is unique. Cigarettes aren’t even in the same category as cigars and pipes. Although there are differences, smoking a pipe is perhaps the closest experience to smoking a premium cigar.
Plenty of regular cigar smokers will indulge in a pipe occasionally. Here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to experiment.
Pipe Tobacco Similarities
A pipe smoker smokes for the same reasons as a cigar smoker: to relieve stress, relax, or spend time with friends. For centuries, cultures have used pipe smoking in ceremonies, celebrations, and as a social experience.
Like cigars, you can smoke pipes for the aromas, flavors, and rituals of the experience. But, unlike cigarettes, pipes and cigars are savored, not inhaled.
Although the flavor profiles are different, like cigars, pipe tobacco does not contain chemical additives (like the ones found in cigarettes). Instead, cigar and pipe tobacco use the natural features of the tobacco plant. As a result, making pipe tobacco does not entail the craftsmanship of constructing a fine cigar, but the aging and fermenting process and the care it takes to make high-quality products are similar.
Pipe Tobacco and Cigar Differences
The most apparent difference between cigars and pipes is how they are smoked. Cigars are made from 100% tobacco; this affects how cigars taste and where you experience the flavors.
You smoke a pipe by lighting a bowl of loose tobacco and inhaling it through a plastic stem; this, too, affects how you experience the flavors.
A pipe can be made from a variety of materials. Corncobs are an inexpensive option. Meerschaums, a Mediterranean sea sponge, are some of the most expensive. Their elaborate and sometimes unusual carvings and styles make them some of the most distinct pipes. Many people mistake a Meerschaum for ivory because of its color and delicate appearance.
Briar, a durable tree root in the Mediterranean region, is the most common material used in pipe making. Some pipes use other woods, but most contain at least some briar because of its high resistance to heat. A bowl that burns too hot can hurt the balance of the smoke and burn your fingers.
The length and bend in the stem also affect the pipe smoking experience. The longer the pipe stem, the cooler the smoke. And those curved stems? They aren’t just for show. A pipe is puffed somewhat like a cigar. However, between each draw, it’s held in the smoker’s hand or between the teeth. A curved stem affects how the smoke reaches the mouth, but there is a more practical reason. The curved stem redistributes the weight of the pipe bowl and eases the tension on the smoker’s jaw.
Like cigars, pipes come in various sizes, shapes, and designs, but the smoking experience is distinct, especially considering how you experience the flavors.
There is a good reason some guys only chew cigars. A lot of flavors are absorbed simply by placing a cigar between your lips. Lighting and smoking release even more pronounced flavors as the smoke passes over the tongue, and the combination of binder and filler tobaccos integrates with the wrapper. Smoking a cigar is all-encompassing.
Pipe smoking is more localized. A pipe smoker experiences most of the flavors on the tongue. As you draw smoke from the bowl through the stem, the smoke cools and passes over the tongue. One of the most common complaints of pipe smokers is “tongue bite,” which occurs when the bowl burns too hot.
Whether it’s a fine wine, cuisine, or a fine cigar, a portion of taste comes from the scent. Even some nonsmokers appreciate the sweet billowing aroma created by fine tobacco.
Cigar aromas go a long way toward the flavor, but they may be a close second to pipes. A pipe’s aromas are unmistakable because they are sweeter. Many pipe tobaccos infuse natural sugars and familiar scents of vanilla and cherry.
Everyone has known a smoker, and one whiff of Captain Black can remind people of their grandfather or favorite uncle. Whether it’s nostalgia or aesthetic appreciation, a niche industry has developed over the last few years that replicates tobacco scents as candles.
Most cigar tobacco is grown in Honduras, Nicaragua, Cuba, and the Dominican. Seasoned smokers know the differences in various leaves, the curing process, and how they will taste. There is plenty of mild tobacco, but cigars are stronger.
Compared to cigars, most pipe tobacco has a very different flavor profile. There is a wide variety of styles, but in the broadest sense, there are aromatic and non-aromatic. Like cigars, blenders combine different tobacco to create a distinct character. The most common tobaccos in pipe blends include Cavendish, Virginia, Burley, or the exotic Latakia grown in Syria. Most are milder, especially the aromatics, but some non-aromatics can pack a punch.
If you’re thinking about dabbling, you’ll be in familiar territory. Many popular cigar brands, like Ashton and Dunhill, also make pipe tobacco.
Smoking a cigar is as simple as cutting, lighting, and enjoying. A pipe entails a little more work. However, most pipe smokers find this an enjoyable part of the experience. Packing your pipe is the first step. Ask any veteran pipe smoker. They’ll give you several techniques. Packing too tightly or loosely is not advised. If you pack the bowl too tightly and there isn’t enough oxygen. A clog will impede the draw (much like a stray stem in a cigar can).
If you decide to try a pipe, count on relighting it several times during your smoke. Stoking tobacco with a pipe tool is also necessary.
Of course, after smoking, you’ll need to clean the bowl. Pipe aromas are potent and can linger. In addition, you might taste the residual flavors of your last smoke if you do not clean the bowl correctly.
It sounds like a lot of work, but most pipe smokers attest to it all being part of the pleasure of the experience.
The Upshot on Pipe Tobacco vs. Cigars
Smoking is all about the ritual. A pipe isn’t much different from a cigar. If you want to add a slight variation, try smoking a pipe. You might spend a bit of money upfront for a decent pipe, but pipe tobacco is relatively inexpensive compared to some cigar habits.
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