Tag: balkan supreme

Oriental Opulence part 2.

Turkish tobacco farmers

Turkish tobacco farmers

Ok where was I.. Oh yes! Oriental tobacco. (Click here for part 1.)

Tobaccos grown in Turkey
The three principal tobacco growing areas of Turkey are:
1. The Aegean zone – Izmir
2. The Black Sea zone – Samsun Baffra
3. Marmara and Thrace – Brussa

It should be remembered that within each type there are several grades. Also, the tobaccos that bear the same names as their Greek cousins are quite similar. They have the same basic aroma, nicotine content and burning and other qualities.

Smyrna (lzmir)
Izmir tobacco constitutes a very large part of the entire Turkish tobacco crop. No wonder because it is one of the most well known oriental tobaccos. It has a very small leaf with a small vein construction and a low nicotine content. The color varies from light green to pale gold and it is very sweet and lightly aromatic. It is excellent for blending because it “marries” with practically any other type of tobacco.

Samsun-Maden (Samsun tobacco grown in the Black Sea area)
Real Samsun, which cannot be successfully grown in any other part of the world, is considered by the Turks to be among the world’s finest tobaccos. It has a small leaf, is light in colour and has an extremely fine texture. It is generally used in pipe tobacco of superior quality.

Baffra
Basically the same type tobacco as Samsun. Baffra tobacco has small, red or darker brown leaves of fine texture and it gives off a very pungent odor. It is not quite as fine a tobacco as Samsun and is usually used to give flavor and aroma to all blends.

Trebizond
The other Trebizond tobacco has large, light red leaves of fine texture. Its taste is strong and it is very aromatic. The leaves are usually “topped” in the growing, which adds to their size and to their nicotine content. Most Trebizond is grown for local (Turkish) consumption.

Oriental tobacco

Oriental tobacco

Tobaccos grown in former Yugoslavia
This region produces many varieties of oriental tobacco. The most outstanding are Prilep, Yakka and DjebeI. All three are Basma types and the most popular and widely-produced is the Prilep variety. The Yakka tobaccos are more delicate and are very similar to Greek Basmas. The Djebels are grown in rather restricted quantities and are very similar to the Bulgarian Djebels.

Tobaccos grown in the Black Sea zone
In areas surrounding the Black Sea, Georgia produces Sukhum (Sokhoum) tobacco, a strain from the Samsun seed. Grown in and around Sukhumi, some experts consider it the finest oriental grown anywhere.

Tobaccos grown in Bulgaria
Bulgaria produces in its Macedonian area oriental tobaccos (like Djebel) that are similar to the Basma and Bashi Bagli types of Greece.

*Phewww* ok, that were the different species of oriental tobaccos. In the older days they were widely used in pipe tobacco. Nowadays they are rare. No I say that wrong, they are not rare. Nowadays specific oriental tobaccos are hard to get. The real issue is the quantities pipe tobacco manufacturers have to purchase in order to get them. Most of the tobacco farmers in the regions I mentioned also grow other crops. Tobacco isn’t their only, or even their main source of income. Most produce only about 1000 kg or less per year. A lot in our ears, but not in tobacco manufacturer ears. Much of that 1000 kg is used in the production of local cigarettes. Almost all what is left gets mixed and piled up together and is sold to the big cigarette companies. The scraps often go to pipe tobacco companies. And many scraps of oriental tobacco still make… Oriental tobacco. That is why in many current mixtures an unnamed assortment of the exotic leaf is used.

Let´s quote master-blender GL Pease on this: If I wanted to get a container full of any particular variety, about 4.5-tonnes, it would be possible to do so, but consider the fact that there the US pipe tobacco market, overall, is only about 1600-tonnes, and the vast majority of that is OTC aromatics. That container full of Turkish leaf, used in a mixture that may comprise 15% oriental, would yield about 30-tonnes of finished product. It would take a lot more decades than I have left to recover the investment!
So he is bound to what a tobacco broker can offer him, instead of him buying specific oriental tobaccos.

Sun curing

Sun curing

This is kind of logical but oriental tobaccos are sun cured. The leaves are exposed to the sun to remove most of their moisture before being air cured to complete the process. Then they are stored in bales and allowed to ferment.

Now something about the use of oriental tobaccos in a blend. Orientals can have flavours that range from sweet to musty to buttery to floral. Since most of them have a pronounced flavour a little can go a long way. According to a German master-blender 30% on the whole of a mixture is the maximum. I would say that 25% is enough. But if you like a specific oriental you can also smoke it straight although I don’t recommend that. Together with some Virginias they really sing. If you smoke it in a blend halfway the bowl the oriental taste often is the strongest.

Recommended mixtures with lots of orientals are:
Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture (by J.F. Germain)
– Dunhill: Early Morning Pipe*
– GL Pease: Cairo, Embarcadero, Caravan, Ashbury
– HU Tobacco Joschi’s Oriental Sunrise
– McClelland: Bulk No. 2025 English CavendishBulk No. 2045 Oriental Mixture, Bulk No. 2050 Oriental Cavendish Mix, Bulk No. 2020 Matured Cake, Bulk No. 2030 #1 Grade Balkan, Oriental No. 12, Oriental No. 14, Grand Orientals series (a great way to get to know almost extinct orientals)
– McConnell: Old London Pebblecut (formerly made by Ashton), Oriental
– Peter Stokkebye: Balkan Sasieni, Balkan Supreme
Presbyterian Mixture
– Samuel Gawith: Skiff Mixture, Sam’s Flake
Tabaco Sentimiento Nacional Mezcla Oriental Fuerte

* Available in The Netherlands

Oriental Opulence part 1.

Balkan Sobranie, blended with the finest Yenidje tobacco

Balkan Sobranie, blended with the finest Yenidje tobacco

Oriental tobaccos always held and still hold some kind of mystery for me. When I ventured into the realm of the dark leaf latakia (also an oriental but hung in smoke), one of my first blends was Balkan Supreme. The word “Balkan” already made me dream of wonderful tobaccos harvested in far away exotic countries. Of course when you are beginning your search for the oriental leaf you very soon stumble upon one of the most legendary mixtures ever: Balkan Sobranie  Smoking Mixture. Written at the bottom of the old tins was: “blended with the finest Yenidje tobacco”. I had nooo idea what the hell Yenidje was but it sounded damn cool! So I started searching for information about Yenidje and soon discovered that it was an oriental tobacco. And that there were many more of them.

Map of expansion and decline of the Ottoman Empire.

Map of expansion and decline of the Ottoman Empire

First I want to discuss the term “oriental”. Because you also often hear “Turkish”. So what is it?? Well, “Turkish” and “oriental” are interchangeable terms. For centuries the Ottoman Turks of the Ottoman Empire ruled the Eastern Mediterranean. Precisely the region in which the oriental tobaccos were grown. Hence the name “Turkish”.

For the next part I am leaning heavily on Milton M. Sherman’s wonderful All About Tobacco.

Most of the exotic leafs that are sold throughout the world are coming from the following countries:

1. Turkey • 2. Greece • 3. Former Yugoslavia • 4. Bulgaria • 5. Russia

The major groups of oriental tobaccos (as stated by one Frederick A. Wolf, of Duke University) are:

1. Xanthi • 2. Kavalla (Cavalla) • 3. Smyrna or Izmir • 4. Samsun
Nowadays some is also grown in South-Africa.

Each group derives its name from the city or production centre from which it comes (see the map above). And within each group, there are many varieties. The exact identities of each type of oriental tobacco are further complicated by the fact that similar tobaccos can be obtained from geographically different regions. Also, in a single region more than one type of tobacco may be grown.
Because of the shifting population in the Macedonian areas (due to wars and changes among the ruling factions), the peoples of Greece and Turkey immigrated to new areas and set up communities named after those they left. Therefore, there is much similarity in the names of cities and towns in both Greece and Turkey. Names that also refer to the tobaccos they produce.

Practically all oriental tobacco has its origin in a single strain of tobacco seed. Depending upon geographical location, soils and weather conditions, the plant produces a relatively small leaf that is highly prized throughout the world by cigarette and yes, pipe smokers.

Oriental leaf comparison

Oriental leaf comparison

Characteristics of oriental tobacco are:
1. Leaves vary in size from ± 1,5 inches in length and width to six inches in width and length.
2. Leaves have a fine, elastic and almost invisible vein system, that is generally free of wood tissue. This means that oriental leaf tobacco will cut evenly and will not crumble.
3. Turkish tobacco varies in colour from golden yellow to nut brown, depending upon the geographical area in which it is grown.
4. There is a very low nicotine content in oriental tobacco. Dr. Frederick Wolf (there he is again) attributes this to the scarcity of rain and available nitrogen in the growing areas. So if you are a nicotine wuss (like me), oriental tobacco could just be your thing.
5. Oriental tobacco is regarded as very mild, without harsh and irritating properties. No tongue bite here.

Greek Tobaccos
The important Greek tobaccos are Basmas, Katerini (Samsun seed) and Bashi Bagli.

Basma
Basma tobacco is considered by the experts to be the finest aromatic tobacco in the world. It is grown exclusively in Greece and to be exact in Western Greece. The word Basma comes from the Turkish word meaning “to compress”.

Xanthi
Xanthi tobacco is a grade of Basma, coming from the area of Xanthi. It has the same outstanding qualities as Basma and the same variety of color. It also has a very strong but pleasant aroma.

Djebel
Djebel tobacco is another variety of Basma. It comes from the mountainous northern region of Xanthi. Although Djebel is similar to Xanthi tobaccos, it does have smaller and thinner leaves and its color is lighter. Djebel tobacco has a milder aroma than Xanthi and even better burning qualities.

Mahalla (Mahala)
Mahalla is still another type of Basma tobacco that has thin, almost circular small leaves. These leaves have a very light, sweet taste, fine burning qualities and almost no aroma. Mahalla tobacco is grown in an area near the city of Kavalla (Cavalla) and is considered to be excellent for high-grade pipe tobacco.

Dubek (Dubec)
Another variety of Basma tobacco, Dubek comes from the Macedonian region of Greece. It has a light yellow leaf that is very aromatic and very sweet to smoke. Dubek tobacco is generally used to spice up pipe tobacco blends.

Kavalla (Cavalla)
Kavalla tobacco has a larger, darker leaf than either the Xanthi or Izmir (Smyrna) type tobaccos. Although it is similar to Xanthi. Depending upon the crop, it can be much more aromatic than the Xanthi types. It is considered a medium type of Basma by the experts.

Jenidze (Yeniji, Yenidje)
One of the most famous oriental tobaccos, Jenidze (or Yenidje), is a Xanthi type tobacco. It is reddish brown in color and has a more distinct, stronger taste, with little or no aroma.

Trebizond (Trebizon)
Trebizond tobacco is a Bashi Bagli type of tobacco, grown in central and western Greece. The term Bashi Bagli comes from the Turkish word meaning “tied head”, which is the way the leaves are packed. The leaves of Trebizond are medium to large and the color of the leaf is bright, reddish yellow. Trebizond tobacco has a strong, sweet taste but little or no aroma and is consider a fine “filler” type tobacco. It also has a higher nicotine content than other varieties of Greek tobacco.

Katerini (Samsun)
Named after the Samsun district of Turkey on the Black Sea, Samsun tobacco has a small, heart-shaped leaf that is golden in color. The tobacco has a very pleasant taste and a delicate aroma. It also has excellent burning qualities and is considered by some experts to be equal in quality to the Basma-type tobaccos.

This entry continues in part 2.

Latakia Lover

Latakia

Latakia tobacco

Yes I admit.. I am a lover of the dark leaf that many pipe smokers love and even more wives and girlfriends hate: latakia. But I did not always like it..

fire_curedFirst something about latakia. What is NOT used in the process of making it is camel dung.. Many people think that because of the odour it gives when it is burned. Also latakia is not a ready tobacco. It is an oriental from which the leaves are hung above a smouldering fire so long that the leaves go from a light colour to dark brown or even black. Hence the name, the dark leaf.

Part of the Latakia port in 1935

Part of the Latakia port in 1935

Like so many things the discovery of latakia was unintentionally. Somewhere in the 1800’s in the northern part of Syria near the port city Latakia a bumper crop of tobacco was left in the storage attic of a house for many months where it was exposed to household fires and smoke. The following spring the unique flavouring and taste of the left behind tobacco was discovered. At the beginning of the 20th century latakia was used to spice up the then popular Turkish cigarettes. Later when ordinary domestic cigarettes rose in popularity the use of the dark leaf declined. Now it is only found in pipe tobacco blends.

There are 2 kinds of latakia: Syrian and Cyprian.

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Shekk-el-bint leaves drying

Syrian latakia is derived from a tobacco leaf known as “shekk-el-bint.” When it is harvest time the plant is cut and the leaves and flowers are laid on the ground to dry in the sun. When they have dried they are taken to storehouses, where they are smoked for a period of 13 to 15 weeks. The smoke is made by primarily using nearby hardwoods and pines, probably from the Baer forest, such as Aleppo pine, Turkey oak and Valonia oak. Also lesser amounts of other aromatic species like Lebanon cedar and Greek Juniper were used. When all is ready the tobacco is known as latakia and is referred to by the Syrians as “Abourihm,” which translates as “king of flavour”. Regarding taste Syrian latakia has a mellow, wine-like, wood-like character. Famous writer Charles Dickens was a big fan of Syrian latakia: “Syria provided the finest tobacco  in the world, the Latakia, in the neighbourhood of the ancient and renowned port of Laodicea (Latakia) at the foot of Mount Lebanon. And as Syria provides the finest tobacco in the world, the Prince of Syria, the Emir Bekir, had the reputation one most deservedly, of furnishing to his guests a pipe of tobacco far more complete than any which could be furnished by any rival potentate in the East.

Prime example of a blend with Cyprian latakia: Penzance

Prime example of a blend with Cyprian latakia: Penzance

Cyprian latakia comes from a Smyrna or Izmir-type tobacco plant that is known as “Yellow Cyprus.” The Yellow Cyprus leaves are harvested by de-stalking them and are made on long poles to be hung in a tobacco shed. The leaves are then smoked over open smouldering fires. These fires are made from hardwoods, some pine and aromatic shrubs and woods such as prickly cedar and myrtle. It has been reported that the Mastic shrub is primarily used in the smoke generation for Cyprian latakia. The following formula may approximate the shrubs and woods used for the fire/smoke-curing process: Mastic 90%, Myrtle 4%, Stone pine (this one or this one) 4%, Cypress 1%, Other 1%. The taste of Cyprian latakia is more assertive, sweet and leathery.

blendingWhen you mix latakia with other tobaccos you have to be careful. Although some others like to smoke it almost pure.. With percentages around 3% to 5% you just start to notice latakia. The sweetness of the Cyprian variant comes alive around 10%. The wine-like character of the Syrian variant begins to emerge at 10% to 12% until it dominates the blend around 30% to 35%. The maximum of Cyprian latakia is around 40% to 50%. However, higher percentages (60%) are possible but then a very skilful blending hand is needed.

Peterson Old Dublin

Peterson Old Dublin

I first read about latakia in Janneman’s Pijpenboek. I was growing a bit tired of all the aromatic tobaccos I was smoking. I wanted to taste something new. And I got just that.. My first choice of a mixture with latakia was Peterson Old Dublin simply because it was the only one that the Rokado tobacconist had in stock. At home I anxiously opened the tin and smelled the contents. Whooaahh!!! My nose went open instantaneously. What the……. “Does anyone smoke this??” I thought.. “Wel ok, let’s give it a try.” I picked a Peterson (how fitting), filled it up and lit it. Whooaahh again!! Like smoking wood from a fireplace! I did not really enjoy that first bowl but I was intrigued. After a couple of pipes I liked it a bit more but I still had some reservations. On a visit in Germany I bought a tin of Dunhill Nightcap. “Let’s try that one, maybe it is better.” Well, it was not.. Way too much nicotine for me at that point. I got sick and put the latakia mixture tins aside.

PS_BSA couple of months later a pipe of me was fixed by a fellow pipe-smoker from Belgium. As a payment he wanted tobacco in stead of money. I knew he liked latakia and I wanted to give him something special. So for the first time I ordered some blends from The States. Peter Stokkebye Balkan Supreme and McClelland 3 Oaks Syrian to be precise. Balkan Supreme came in a zip-lock bag which I put on a shelf in the kitchen. One evening I sat in the living room and suddenly I smelled something very nice. “What is that??” I wondered. I followed my nose to… The zip-lock bag with Balkan Supreme. Of course I could not smoke it, it was the payment for the fixed pipe. But when I visited the fellow pipe-smoker I asked if I could try the tobacco. And luckily I could. It was di-vine! Quickly I ordered a bag of Balkan Supreme for myself.

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

Old tin of Balkan Sobranie

From then on my love of the dark leaf and the search for new (and vintage) latakia mixtures began. In the time that followed I was able to smoke classic vintage mixtures like Balkan Sobranie Original Mixture, Balkan Sobranie Mixture 759, State Express London Mixture, De Graaff Kegelbaan, Smoker’s Haven Exotique and many more.

Nowadays recommended latakia mixtures are:
– 4noggins: Britt’s Balkan
– Ashton: Artisan’s Blend*, Consummate Gentleman*
Balkan Sobranie Original Smoking Mixture (by J.F. Germain)
– Charles Faimorn: Lancer’s Slices
– Cornell & Diehl: Star of the East flake, Red Odessa
– DTM: Midnight Ride, Bill Bailey’s Balkan Blend, Old Ironsides
– Dunhill: Nightcap*, Early Morning Pipe*, Standard Mixture Mellow*, My Mixture 965*, London Mixture*
– Esoterica Tobacciana: Penzance, Margate
– GL Pease: Abingdon, Lagonda, Westminster, Odyssee, Samarra, Ashbury
– Hearth & Home: Magnum Opus
– HU Tobacco: Brullende Leeuw, Balkan Passion, My Special One, Olaf’s Favourite English, Khoisaan, Masai, Tuarekh, Tigray, Zulu
MacBaren HH Vintage Syrian
– McClelland: Frog Morton, Blue Mountain, Wilderness, Old Dog
Peterson Old Dublin*
– Peter Stokkebye: Balkan Sasieni, Balkan Supreme
Presbyterian Mixture
– Rattray: Black Mallory*, Red Rapparee*
– Robert McConnell: Scottish Blend*
– Samuel Gawith: Squadron Leader, Skiff Mixture, Perfection*
Sillem’s Black (one of the only aromatic latakia mixtures)
Solani Blend 779 Gold*

* Available in The Netherlands

UPDATE 15-06-2017:

IMG_0762

Cyprian pipe maker Yiannos Kokkinos and my friend

Recently a good friend of mine went on holiday to Cyprus. Amongst other things he wanted to score some Cyprian latakia. After a visit to pipe-maker Yiannos Kokkinos he was directed to the West of the island to a village called Neo Chorio. Because there, in the Akamas region between Neo Chorio and the town of Polis were the tobacco fields where the Yellow Cyprus was grown. WAS grown yes. Several locals said in interviews (my friend had an interpreter with him) that 10 to 15 years ago tobacco production stopped in Cyprus. According to them nowadays the “Cyprian” latakia is produced in the Izmir region of Turkey. Afterwards it is shipped to the Turkish part of Cyprus where it is sold to tobacco brokers as Cyprian latakia. Luckily the quality has not been compromised because of this, I mean, I have not hear anyone complaining that their Cyprian latakia blends tasted worse than before. This story has been confirmed by Per Jensen of MacBaren.