Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Teacher! I Know the Answer!

CL had just clocked out when I got into work.

I was carrying my Archer PipeFolio in one hand and my Amazon Kindle in the other. It was a beautiful Monday night, to my eyes, with a steady rain and grey sky. I knew that this meant the night would either be extremely busy or extremely dead. A selfish part of me was hoping for the latter, as I had just gotten to an exciting part of A Dance With Dragons, by George R. R. Martin, and I was looking forward to trying out a new tobacco.

After I clocked in, I strolled back often to the host's station, which is simply a small counter with a phone and calendar next to the bar. Rainy weather always puts me in a good mood, that night being no exception.

Twenty minutes into my shift, no one had walked in. About that same time, CL dropped his backpack next to where I was standing and leaned against the counter with a glass of red wine in his hand.

One of the things I really admire about CL is his ability to appreciate a plethora of flavors, a skill that has made him an aficionado on wine, beer, and scotch, and he is working on adding pipe tobacco the list.

“So, I had a pipe question for you.”

Wonderful, I thought, putting my Kindle down in anticipation. It is a rare that a young man gets to help educate the bar manager where one works, so I was not going to pass the opportunity. Plus, as someone who helped spark his fascination with pipes, I feel like I have a stake in his continuing enjoyment, as, indeed, all pipe smokers have in the continued proliferation of our community as a whole.

“I recently snagged some Full Virginia Flake –“

“Hold on,” I interrupted, probably sounding ruder than I intended. Digging around the poor excuse for a host's station, I found a piece of crumpled paper with some information about a reservation to have taken place weeks ago. I scratched out the old writing, wrote down a few words, folded the paper, and slid it towards CL.

“What's that?” he asked.

“Nothing. Sorry, I interrupted. You were saying something about your FVF. Good stuff, by the way.”

“That's what I've heard. I traded someone online for it and it came in a mason jar, so I figured it would be okay. But when I opened it, there was this stuff all over it.”

“Stuff?” I asked, channeling my years of acting in high school and college to sound as befuddled as possible. “What color was it?”

CL paused. “White, mostly. White and light grey. I didn't know if it might be mold.”

I smiled and tapped the piece of paper that I had slid towards him earlier.

He picked it up, unfolded it, and read what I had written: It's not mold. It's called bloom.

After reading it, he cocked his head at me, laughed, and said: “Smart ass.”

I proudly smiled. “Absolutely! But notice that the first word in that insult was 'smart'.”

This is a common question with pipe smokers, and cigar smokers, as a matter of fact, and can often cause some overly wary people to lose out on a very good smoke.

A lot of online forums have questions concerning tobacco and mold, most frequently with Virginia flakes, such as Samuel Gawith's Full Virginia Flake.

When people unseal their tobacco, they are sometimes greeted with this sight:

This can, understandably, cause alarm in those who are unaware of this natural occurrence of tobacco, known as 'bloom'.

In most of those online conversations, the more experienced pipe smokers, who have encountered this before, will attempt to reassure the novice, by telling him that what he is seeing is, in fact, sugar. This is easy to believe, as what appear to be crystals can be seen in the white/grey substance under just a little light. While this is a nice thought, and is plausible with such a sweet tobacco, it is, unfortunately, a myth.

This substance is known as 'bloom' or 'plume' – I, personally, prefer 'bloom', as it sounds like the tobacco has blossomed, which is quite accurate.

When tobacco ages, the oils in the tobacco will sometimes come to the surface in the form of crystals. This is nothing to be concerned about, and is actually a sign that your tobacco has been aging well.

It is pretty easy to tell the difference between mold and bloom once you know what you're looking for: bloom is always white or light grey, should rub off very easily, leave no stain, have crystals, and should have no odor. Mold, on the other hand, can be different colors, including yellow, will not contain crystals, will often be hairy, and will probably smell.

With renewed faith in his tobacco, CL left the pub determined to try one of the most highly rated smokes of our time. I highly encourage you to do the same!


  1. Gotta love that Full Virginia Flake. I don't think I've ever had a tin that didn't have some beginning of a bloom. This makes me think they age it somewhat in production. But it's a great aging tobacco, and older tins will support a heavy bloom, leading, as we all know, to a delightful smoke. Cheers, Kashmir


    Wait, no it isn't.

  3. fascinating stuff!!

  4. It's really interesting how sometimes that which can cause the most alarm goes undisclosed to the newer pipe smokers. I would include a little blurb about it on the back of the tin of flakes if it were my choice.

    Oh well!

  5. I wonder how many pounds of FVF have been tossed in the bin due to "mold"???