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The Best Tobacco for your Meerschaum Pipe?

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So you’ve received a beautiful meerschaum pipe from Paykoc as a gift and now you’d like to learn more about it. Great! The first thing to know about meerschaum is that it’s an incredibly porous material. (The name meerschaum means “sea foam” in German which should tell you something about its properties right off the bat.) In fact, it’s a type of clay but unlike most clay it’s not malleable. It is light, easy to carve and dissipates heat well however, which has made it a favorite with pipe makers for more than 300 years. And because meerschaum pipes dissipate heat so well they provide an incredibly cool smoke which is one of the things meerschaum fans love most about their pipes.

Meerschaum Pipes and Oily Tobaccos

Meerschaum Pipes and Dedicating to One Tobacco

While you can smoke any kind of tobacco you want out of meerschaum smoking pipes there are plenty of pipe aficionados who will tell you that some tobaccos are better suited to the material’s natural characteristics than others. The theory is that if you stick to these preferred types of tobacco you’ll enjoy better flavor from each bowl and the pipe itself will enjoy a longer life.

It all goes back to the fact that meerschaum is porous (which is why meerschaum is also used to make kitty litter). Now if you’re a pipe veteran you know that different tobacco blends contain different amounts of oil. English blends in particular such as Ten Russians, Penzance and Gaslight are well known for their oily qualities. The problem, if you can call it that, is that when you use blends like these the oil is absorbed by the porous meerschaum. Over time enough oil is absorbed that it clogs the meerschaum pores and negates the ability of the material to disperse heat. And when that happens, well, goodbye nice cool smoke.

In order to prevent this unhappy outcome avoiding the traditionally oily English blends is sometimes recommended for meerschaum smoking pipes. However, if you just love your English blends too much, an alternative is to choose those that include Latakia or Perique. These ingredients are known to produce a cooler smoke and that naturally cooler smoke will help offset the fact that the bowl is smoking a bit hotter due to the oil absorbed by the meerschaum.

The Pros and Cons of Dedicating your Pipe

Of course this notion of limiting the type of tobacco in your meerschaum smoking pipes sounds an awful lot like “dedicating” your pipe, which is an issue that can prompt some lively debates among pipe lovers. If you’re new to pipe culture “dedicating” a pipe means that you reserve it (i.e. “dedicate” it) for use with only a single type of tobacco. This is typically done because the pipe smoker doesn’t like the residual flavors that can linger in a bowl when they switch from one blend to another. This lingering flavor effect is known as “ghosting” and it’s enough to drive some pipe smokers to dedicate different pipes to different tobaccos in order to avoid it.

While you wouldn’t be limiting the type of tobacco in your meerschaum pipe for exactly the same reason the end result will be similar in some respects so it’s worth taking a quick look at the pros and cons of dedicating your pipe.

Dedicating - Pros:

  • The true flavor of the tobacco will come through unsullied.
  • The tobacco’s intended aromatic characteristics will also be allowed to shine.
  • In the case of meerschaum pipes you’ll always enjoy a nice cool smoke.

Dedicating - Cons:

  • You may not always be able to find your preferred blend.
  • You will likely need to purchase several pipes and dedicate each to a different blend.

Conclusion

From a personal standpoint the best tobacco for your meerschaum pipe will be the one you enjoy the most. From the standpoint of what may be best for the pipe itself you might want to consider avoiding oily tobacco blends that can undermine the porousness of the meerschaum bowl and cause the pipe to start smoking hotter over time. Which path you choose is entirely up to you but now perhaps you have a little more information to base your decision on.


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