As I put flame to the tobacco in my bowl, I almost always turn heads. A twenty-one year old Californian college student smoking a pipe is an uncommon sight to most. Even though many Californians tend to be anti-tobacco (L.A. is particularly vehement), I get positive comments about my pipe the majority of the time. If you have the ability to get past the initial awkwardness that comes with being a young pipe smoker, you won’t be unpopular.
Unfortunately, many young guys completely miss out on this opportunity, either because they’re lured in by the convenience of the cigarette, or because they feel like it’s something “old guys do.” So for all those young gentlemen like myself who feel drawn to the pipe for whatever reason, I’d like to give you a bit of an introduction into the rich world and almost infinite pleasure of pipe smoking.
Like most hobbies, there’s no better way to get into pipe smoking then to jump in. Go out and buy yourself a decent pipe. I got lucky and had a friend who was generous enough to shell out a few dollars to get me a nice starter, but most guys will probably go out and buy their own pipe. With this first pipe, price is an important factor. You don’t want to buy a hundred-dollar pipe only to find you don’t particularly care for the hobby, but you want to give yourself the opportunity to truly enjoy your first foray into pipe smoking. The ideal price range for your first pipe is between $20 and $50. If you have the ability to spend $50 without breaking your budget, then go for the $40-$50 range. If you’re like me, then $50 is a good amount of cash. You at least
want to spend more than $20 to ensure you get a decent piece of briar. And that takes us to our
Pipes are made out of all sorts of materials, from the iconic Corn Cob pipe to the Dutch clay pipe. The preferred material for most American and European pipe smokers is briar wood, which is derived from the root of Erica arborea. For this first pipe, briar is a great way to go. It’s sturdier than clay and corn cob, and generally less expensive than other materials such as meerschaum.
Now on to where you can locate this first piece of briar. The best place to go is a legitimate tobacconist. I’m not talking about the discount cigarette store around the corner that has a couple pipes in their case. I’m talking about a real tobacconist. Depending on where you live, a tobacconist may be hard to find, in which case your best bet might be locating a reputable cigar shop. Many cigar vendors will have at least a few pipes to choose from, and they’re usually of decent quality. When you track down a legitimate tobacconist you want to physically walk in.
Few things can kill the magic of choosing your first pipe than picking something from the internet. You want to walk in to the smoky shop, meet the tobacconist himself, and tell him what you’re doing. Most tobacconists will be more than happy to guide you on your baby steps into the world of pipe smoking. Even if this tobacconist doesn’t specialize in pipes, I’ve never met an old cigar shop owner who disapproved of a fresh pipe smoker.
If you’re the type of person who likes to do things themselves, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In this case, you want to walk in and make a B-Line for the “basket pipes.” They are named such because many shops will (or used to) keep their not-so-expensive pipes in a basket on the counter. Whether they’re on the wall, in a case, or in a basket, these are the pipes you want to look at. Many of these pipes will not be hand-made, but they are generally made with briar and turn out to be good smokers. Most of my pipes are under $40 and there’s not a bad smoker in the bunch.
The key thing here is to take your time. This is something that’s going to be with you for a long time. It could last forever if you take care of it. Don’t let your lack of experience scare you into making a rushed decision. Just be patient and look through their selection. More than likely you’ll be attracted to one or two pipes based on their shape or color or both. This is one of the most enjoyable aspects of pipe smoking, the pipes! Pick something you like.
Now that you’ve chosen a pipe to get started, now comes the interesting part: the tobacco. There are countless blends to choose from. Before you just point to something and walk out of the store, you should know a little about what you’re buying.
There are two major types of pipe tobacco, aromatic and non-aromatic. An aromatic is a blend that has some sort of flavor added to the tobacco itself. This flavor could be vanilla, rum, whiskey, or even things like cherry and blueberry. Vanilla is probably the most common flavor added to aromatic blends. On the other side of the spectrum are the non-aromatics. Making up this category is basically everything without (or with very little) flavoring added to the tobacco.
Past these two main categories are the different types of tobacco itself. Like there are different kinds of apples, there are different strains of tobacco. The most common of these different types are Virginia, Burley, Oriental, Latakia, and Perique. Cavendish is commonly thought to be a type of tobacco as well but the term refers to a cut and method of processing tobacco rather than a distinct type. Exploring more about these different kinds of tobacco is one of the enjoyable aspects of the hobby, so I won’t spoil that for you.