Fortunately, today we are blessed with improvements in transportation and communications that were simply impossible in the past. However, along the way some of the very forces that have made all of this possible have sometimes led to a level of homogeneity in which quality is sometimes secondary to the facilitation of manufacturing and distribution at the most competitive cost. This is at once a good news/bad news scenario. For example during one recent trip to Europe, where I basked in the history and diverse cultures, I also saw the rapidity with which plasticized American food and other franchises were cropping up even in the most historic of villages. Whatever the market will bear can sometimes lead to whatever the market will tolerate. As a prime counterpoint, witness the explosive growth of micro-breweries now offering alternatives. Fortunately, there are many other examples all around us, lending testimony to one of the most fundamental principles of marketing, namely that the will of the customer will drive the market.
I truly believe that this is now beginning to happen in the field of custom made cigarettes. We haven't seen anything yet, and I will dare to say that in the future there will be incredibly fine varietals of tobaccos with names and recognition that are just as well recognized as for instance a Merlot. It wasn't that long ago that wines meant red or white jug wines for many. However, the recognition of the delicious tastes of the varietals soon followed, as the appreciation of blending. This required public exposure to better wines as well as some degree of public education. Even in that industry there were years of domination by the prohibitionists which was inevitably overthrown by the will of the marketplace.
It may seem a stretch to some, but I can well envision a common growth curve fueled by the desire for something better in the realm of fine tobaccos. Trouble is, today most don't even know there is a choice and for the few who have tried to roll their own, they have all too soon be met with the over-the-counter jug wines of tobaccodom. If with Roll Your Own one ends up with a harsh and hot smoke, why bother? These producers of inferior blends are shooting themselves in their own feet, when anyone with any marketing savvy could consider the new paradigm of becoming industry and marketing leaders with GREAT tobaccos for a HUGE new market!
As regards the education function, this will require making the public aware of the differences between sub-par tobaccos and good tobaccos. All Virginias are NOT the same, nor are all Burleys, Balkans, Turkish, Periques or other varieties. Even in this I recognize that I myself am mixing varieties with processing methodologies. Just as with a Bordeaux from Bordeaux, versus a generic Bordeaux, there IS a difference. As regards tobaccos, a Virginia Bright grown in one country may be totally different from a Virginia grown in another. I have yet to see anyone really break down all of the families/varietals of tobacco, much less clearly delineate the countries of origin and how they impact the flavors, or how the curing even further defines them. When one gets into the Periques, Latakias and many other tobaccos defined by their curing or other processing, things become even more interesting.
To even further exacerbate the newcomer, most now offer blends with proprietary names and cased (sugared or otherwise flavored)tobaccos with names that tel the buyer little about what they are actually getting. Truth be told, it is in the recognition and understanding of what to expect from a good Virginia, Burley, or Turkish tobacco that serves as the basis of truly experiencing the taste, flavor and aroma experience. More reputable blenders recognize this and readily supply information regarding what is in a blend.
Too, there are other factors in making one's own custom cigarettes that directly impact the enjoyment and understanding. For example, when enjoying a good Cognac one doesn't pour a huge glass, but pours a smaller amount into a snifter to enjoy the color, bouquet and many nuances of flavor. If one puts a full rich tobacco into a huge tube as with an injector machine, they may well get too much of a good thing. This is true with several tobaccos. Sometimes, as in the cognac analogy, less is more and a thinner smoke made with a roller may enable the smoker to better enjoy the subtleties. One side benefit that I have enjoyed with custom made smokes is that I no longer smoke nearly as many cigarettes as there is so much more satisfaction realized when I do smoke.
Another side benefit has been the enjoyment of a broad range of my own blends based upon the time of day, mood, or desire for a different experience, such as my dessert blends, some of which might have more Cavendish and others that might have more burley, more Latakia, or more Turkish. In all, I no longer have the congestion, am no longer subjecting myself to countless additives, and the house no longer has that omnipresent stale reek.
Ultimately, the benefits of custom made cigarettes will make themselves known and the general public will recognize and appreciate the differences. My hope is that those in the industry will continue to make the whole process easier and more understandable. With today's incredibly simple rollers and just a few "user-friendly" blends suggested by vendors with an interest in developing longer term repeat clientele rather than over-selling and confusing buyers with today's plethora of machines, rolling papers, and inferior tobaccos all will be better served.
Ultimately custom made cigarettes are to be enjoyed and the simpler this process can be made the better for all.
Clarence W. Walker is the author of five books and an internationally recognized photographer
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