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You might find that smoke blown out cleared your mind of shadows within. Anyway, it gives patience, to listen to error without anger.

So writes J.R.R. Tolkien, on one of his most pleasured pursuits–the smoking of a pipe on an autumn afternoon. Or winter night. Or spring morning. Or a summer brunch. Or, best of all, watching the evening monsoon. (Okay, so that last one is all me, here on my mountain in Arizona)

Now, of course smoking can be hazardous to your health, but the thing to remember is pretty much everything is hazardous, too. “Life,” as someone dear to me says, “is a carcinogen.” If you don’t already smoke, it’s something you should only take up at your own risk. (It’s also perfectly okay for women to take up pipe smoking, too. Admittedly, were I to find a good woman who also smoked a pipe, my heart would be more inclined to her.) That being said, pipe smoking is an affectation I reccomend taking up only if you already smoke; as a replacement for cigarettes, there are few classier options.

Why? A number of reasons. For one, pipe tobacco smells and tastes better than cigarettes, and comes in wider varieties. It seems more natural, closer to the natural condition of the tobacco leaf as it’s grown. For another, the time it takes to smoke a pipe teaches patience, and introspection, and these are traits which are decidedly necessary for a proper Orthodox gentleman. I find myself that whenever my mind is in turmoil (which it has often been of late–October is the cruelist of months), sitting down somewhere in Jerome, or in my hobbit hole with a pipe and a good book affords my mind and soul the time, and space, to uncurl, destress, and glorify God once more. And, you’re always in good company with a pipe.

This will be a two-part entry. This first section is going to be about choosing your pipe, and choosing your tobacco.


1) Choose your pipe. There are many different styles and materials to choose from, and different pipes do smoke differently. Pipes are made from four different materials, however, in order of expense: Corncobs, hardwood, clay, briar, calabash, and meerschaum. Also, there’s a vast variety of shapes and stems to choose from; this can be a bit overwhelming when looking at pipes made from briar or meerschaum. Find a pipe that appeals to you. Like many things; it can be honestly said that a pipe will choose you, versus the other way around. However, if you don’t have time (or a tobaccanist nearby with a wide selection of pipes), starting with a corncob is easy, cheap (sometimes $4.00 versus a $40 estate briar or a $240 Meerschaum), and they smoke fine enough. (if you’re super crafty, you can even make one yourself). Different bowl shapes, as well as different materials have different effects on the smoke or temperature of the smouldering tobacco, which we won’t get into here. The point is to find one you like, that matches your taste.

As for myself, I find I prefer briar over everything else. The varied appearance is lovely, and I feel briar always looks classy, no matter the situation or the occasion. (That being said, I still have a corncob, because sometimes, nothing can beat something simple.)

Oh, and as awesome as churchwardens look (those are the ones everyone smokes in Lord of the Rings, with the very long stem), they can be difficult to clean, and cleaning is very important for your pipe. They are also very fragile, and hard to store properly. I don’t reccomend one of those for beginners.

2) Choose your Tobacco. There are almost as many different styles of tobacco as there are pipes, and again, palate is key. Depending on what you like to taste, or smell, your taste will vary. Again, there are three VERY broad categories of tobacco blends, and lots of overlap. They are as follows:

-Aromatics: These blends typically have some additives, in terms of flavor. This creates a stronger, delicious-smelling tobacco. These additives are usually chocolate, vanilla, various fruits, or liqueurs. They smell good, but don’t always taste the best, but if you’re worried about a spouse, or how a house might smell, these are probably the way to go, and most people start on these. The tobaccos in the group of aromatics are specially fermented using a process called Cavendish, which…we won’t get into here. A major drawback is that they smoke wet, and it’s harder to smoke a whole bowl at once. Think of these like a white wine, or a lighter red like Grenache, if we’re going to compare these to wine.

-Virginia/American Blends: These are intermediate, often pressed as dry flakes or blocks. There’s a lot of different types of Virginias, even as many as nine of them in a blend. Often also Perique is included in a lesser amount, but never Latakia. Because they are often in flakes or blocks, they do tend to age well. if these were a wine, these would be like the Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot; the run of the mill, good for any occasion.

-Englishes/Balkans: like Virgina/American blends, these normally include no artificial additives. Usually they contain as a vital ingredient strong and smokey Latakia coming originally from Syria, or again Perique, which is also dark and spicy-a special type of aged tobacco coming from Louisiana. These are known for strong flavors, and one of the richest smokes. These sometimes come across as pretty heavy. Think of it as a Tannat or Barolo, versus the Virginia/American style which would be like a Cabernet Sauvignon.

Said blends are a mix of different styles of tobacco, and we’re not going to get into those currently.

Admittedly, sometimes I like a little of everything; different blends for different moods or even different pipes, and circumstances. When sitting out in the town, I prefer Englishes or Balkans, if I’m indoors or around people who might complain, I go for aromatics.

Next in part two: How to stick that in your pipe and smoke it. (and how to clean it afterwards)