Over time, pipe smokers have applied their creative fantasy to preserving their tobacco. The biggest problem was that the tobacco would become dry, and if made moist there was an attendant risk of mould developing. In the beginning there was simply no good way for them to keep their tobacco fresh. Another important consideration was where the pipe smoker was in the world and what the local temperature and humidity conditions were like. High temperatures and low atmospheric humidity meant that the tobacco quickly became dry – elements that still have some significance today.
Countless different solutions have been used, but common to them all has been the fact that at best they have only delayed the tobacco from drying out. Sailors often used canvas to wrap tobacco in, which they then sealed with liquid tar. This helped keep the tobacco moist over a longer period of time, but unfortunately the tar would affect the taste of the tobacco, so the pleasure of smoking it would certainly have been diminished. Sailors were also known to use empty rum barrels in which to store tobacco, with the result that the tobacco not only retained its moisture for a longer period of time, but also acquired a rum taste.
|Later, ceramic and porcelain pots were used to store tobacco. The advantage of using pots was that they kept the tobacco fresh for a longer time. But the major disadvantage was that the pots were difficult to transport. So what did the pipe smoker do when he wanted to take his tobacco with him? Most of them used a leather pouch in which they could put the tobacco. These were not tobacco pouches as we know them today. The first leather pouches had no rubber membrane and consequently the lasting qualities of the tobacco were still limited.|
Nor was there much help from the tobacco factories. It is only within the last 150 years of the history of pipe smoking that tobacco has been sold in packaging that could be conveniently transported while still keeping the tobacco fresh. A look at the variety of packaging used through the ages shows that packaging initially consisted of thick paper and oiled paper. Later, metal tins were introduced, but the thing that really made a difference to the lasting qualities of tobacco was the appearance of plastic material and the technology to enable vacuum packing of tobacco in metal tins.
Today Mac Baren tobaccos are available in different types of packaging, but the most commonly used are pouches and tins. When the pipe smoker peruses the selection of tobacco in his local store, the question of whether the tobacco is packed in pouches or tins will vary from one country to another. A tin contains 100 g of tobacco and if the country concerned levies a high tobacco duty, the retail price will be very expensive. Apart from the price, tradition also plays a role in determining which form of packaging is in use locally. If a pipe smoker is used to buying tobacco in tins, he himself will keep that tradition alive. Let us take a closer look at the two main types of packaging we use here at Mac Baren:
Mac Baren pouches
The tobacco pouch consists of a piece of printed paper enclosed in plastic foil. The printed paper is for the purpose of giving information about the tobacco contained in the pouch, while the plastic foil provides protection against the tobacco losing its moisture too quickly. But let us make one point clear: there is no “correct” level of moisture. Because here, too, pipe smokers differ.
Some pipe smokers prefer their tobacco to be as dry as possible, while others gain greater pleasure from a tobacco that is moister. When we pack the tobacco, we ensure that the moisture level is between 12% and 14 %, which we consider optimal. In order to retain the moisture in the tobacco as long as possible, all Mac Baren tobacco pouches are heat-sealed. By the time the tobacco leaves the factory, we have done all we can to ensure that the tobacco you find on the shelves of your local tobacconist is optimal in every respect.
A little tip on how to quickly determine the moisture level of the tobacco is to carefully squeeze the tobacco pouch. If the tobacco pouch feels flexible (yields to the pressure), the tobacco is still at the optimal moisture level.
If, on the other hand, the tobacco pouch feels hard, then the moisture content is below the optimal level.
The tobacco pouch fulfils the pipe smoker's wish to be able to take his tobacco with him while still keeping it optimally stored.
Mac Baren tins
The tobacco is the same, regardless of whether it is packed in a pouch or a tin. Only the packaging differs. A tobacco tin is very different from a tobacco pouch. First, a tin holds roughly twice as much tobacco as a pouch. Because of the size of the tin, it is not so easy to take it with you compared to a pouch because it is not a perfect “pocket size”. Second, you can be certain that when you open a new tin, the tobacco is as fresh as when it was packed at Mac Baren.
How is it done?
First, 100 g of tobacco is weighed and placed in the bottom of the tin. The paper roundel is then folded over to protect the tobacco and finally the lid is put on. All the way round the inside edge of the lid is a rubber membrane and when we complete the packing process by extracting about 40% of the air out of the tin, the membrane ensures that the vacuum created remains inside the tin. Consequently the moisture level in the tobacco does not change for a long time – decades, in fact. The tobacco does not lose its moisture until the tin is opened or the rubber membrane begins to degrade (after many years). So as well as looking attractive, a tin offers the major advantage that unopened it keeps the tobacco fresh for many years.
Is the level of moisture in the tobacco important?
As a pipe smoker, you should be aware that the drier the tobacco is the better it burns and the higher the temperature will be in the pipe. This has a significant effect on the taste, as a high temperature makes the tobacco seem stronger and it loses some of its aromatic nuances. On the other hand, a lower temperature gives the pipe smoker a milder taste and more aroma. So which level of moisture is the “right” one? The only correct answer to this question is that you are the only one who can judge the level of moisture you think the tobacco should contain to give the best taste experience.
Have you ever come across a tobacco you had forgotten you had and found that it was completely dried out? And thought: what do I do now? Many pipe smokers would attempt to moisten the tobacco again – with greater or lesser luck. Over the years I have heard many different explanations of how best to moisten tobacco. These range from spraying water directly onto the tobacco to placing a slice of potato in the tobacco pouch and allowing the tobacco to absorb the moisture from the potato. There are also humidifiers that can be saturated with water and placed in the tobacco. Given time, tobacco will absorb moisture, but it can be a slow process. My personal preference is the solution we use here at Mac Baren, which is to apply steam to the tobacco.