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The consumption of tobacco has existed for far longer than the popularization of cigarettes and cigars. It is believed that this plant has been a staple of North American agriculture for thousands of years, utilized by natives for medicinal and spiritual purposes, while intensive growing made it possible for different strains to complement one another. With the first European exploration and colonization of North America, the popularity of pipe tobacco blends exploded as the mix and match of flavors created new sensations across coffee shops and tobacconists of the world.
The original tobacco seeds cultivated in the Virginia and Carolina colonies was simply known as “red”, a breed that was foreign to the world until the first colonists began to adopt the native methods of growing, cutting, drying, rolling, and smoking pipe tobacco. Red was shipped across the ocean in massive quantities: a ship full of dried tobacco was reckoned to be more valuable than a ship full of silver bullion from Mexico. While some monarchs and European leaders decried the use of tobacco, claiming it led to mental slowness and poor health, it became a staple of exportation as early as the 18th century.
Blending types of tobacco was not a common occurrence until the first plantation agriculture systems began competing against one another. While tobacco was always a popular crop, until the early 1700s it required a special grant from the king in order to be grown. Following the repeal, any colonist could grow it, climate permitting, leading to rivalries and different claims on production. Tobacco quickly became the main export of southern colonial America, outproducing indigo and rice, not to be de-throned until the invention of the cotton gin in the early 1800s. Pipe tobacco blends sprung up from different plantations as major developers sought to advertise their new tastes.
One might think that the popularization of the cigar around the 1820s would have negative effects for the production of pipe tobacco, but the market boomed for growers as more and more consumers sought to smoke their products. Meerschaum, a soft white mineral, was discovered and used with great success to carve pipes. Different blends of tobacco, in conjunction with this discovery and the formation of the briar pipe, led to more strains being developed in Central and South America rather than just the United States.
The pipe tobacco blends available today range from Turkish ribbon, Black cavendish, Syrian Latika, and even the original Virginia Red strain. These are used in conjunction for a smooth taste, a mild pull, more flavor, or an richer smoke. As the cost of tobacco dropped over the years, more customers are capable of mixing up their own pipe tobacco and developing new blends in the same way that new cocktails are created.