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Contentment and pipe smoke filled the air in the late-night hours after the Thanksgiving feast. My brother Bill, visiting from Kansas, puffed merrily away on our patio, reveling in the mild California evening. Patrick, meanwhile, reveled in the smell of pipe smoke. “I wonder...,” he mused.

“First, a person usually needs a starter pipe,” said Harry Hunt, owner of Captain Hunt Tobacconist in Seaport Village (800-995-5430). “Then, it’s a search-and-destroy mission to find the tobacco they enjoy.” Most pipes, said Hunt, “are made from the roots of a Mediterranean plant called briar. It’s very solid and resistant to fire. The chamber, or bowl, of the pipe is made from a block of this briar called an ebauchon. The block is dried for close to two years and then analyzed to see what sort of grain it has — if any. The straighter the grain, the higher the price for the pipe. Other pipes are meerschaum, which is much more delicate. It’s very light in color and made from little sea animals that were crushed millions of years ago.” Hunt’s pipes start at $54.99. “You’ll also want a tamper [$.99 for a single-prong] and an angled pipe lighter [$35].”

On, then, to tobacco. “Everyone’s palate is different,” said Hunt. “You have tobaccos with flavoring agents, called ‘casting tobacco.’ And you have natural tobaccos: things like Barley, a Carolina tobacco used in blending; or Perique, out of Louisiana, which is very pungent and used for flavoring. You have what are called English tobaccos, which usually contain Latakia. That’s a tobacco from Syria and the Middle East. It’s dry-cured on the roof of a house, and the house is usually heated with cow or camel dung. So the tobacco has a very pungent, smoky aroma.”

Beyond provenance and style, there is the question of cut. “The cut will make the pipe smoke faster or slower. Ribbon cut is a fine cut; flake means it’s broken into pieces. You can still get a plug of tobacco, like in the old cowboy days. And, sometimes, when we’re blending tobacco, we’ll add what’s known as cube-cut to slow down the burning.”

For beginners, Hunt suggested, “Our Number One tobacco. It’s mild, with a pleasant aftertaste and aroma. We sell it in bulk: $5.77 for one ounce, $7.99 for two ounces, $26 for eight ounces, and $42 for a pound. We also sell flavored tobaccos in bulk; vanilla and cherry tend to be popular.”

Cory at Liberty Tobacco in Del Mar (858-292-1772; libertytobacco.com) suggested that an estate pipe might be the way to go for a beginner. “Our new pipes start at $25 and go up from there, but we have estate pipes for as low as $5. And because they’re used, estate pipes are already broken in. They don’t have that slight tannic bite that a new pipe has.” (Of course, if an estate pipe is a handmade antique, the price will reflect that. “We have some estate pipes that are $400,” said Cory.)

Liberty Tobacco also offers pipe repairs. “Usually, people just need the bit replaced. That’s the piece of Lucite that goes into your mouth. Sometimes people bite on it too hard or they drop it or they break it while cleaning it.”

And, of course, they sell tobacco. “We have a large assortment of tinned tobacco, blends made by other makers,” said Cory. “But we also have bulk tobacco. We do our own blending. For the beginner, I recommend our Entertainer [$3.25 per ounce]. It’s a nice, aromatic blend — very mellow. It’s my favorite, but sometimes, if I want something heavier, I’ll use the Tory, which is a mild English tobacco. Most of our bulk tobacco is $3.25 to $3.95 an ounce. And you get a price break after eight ounces.”

Cory concluded with a tip for beginners: “When smoking a tobacco pipe, fill it three-quarters of the way full and then tap it down, but lightly. If you tap it too hard, you might wind up blocking the air hole.”

Racine and Laramie in Old Town (619-291-7833; racineandlaramie.com) offers 18 tobaccos ranging from $5.75 to $9.25 for a two-ounce portion, with a price break for a pound bought in bulk. Bob’s Blend-B ($5.75 for two ounces) is their best seller, offering “a complete burn with no bitterness.”

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