Latakia tobacco is a specially prepared tobacco originally produced in Syria and named after the port city of Latakia. Now the tobacco is mainly produced in Cyprus. It is cured over a stone pine or oak wood fire, which gives it an intense smokey-peppery taste and smell. Too strong for most people’s tastes to smoke straight, it is used as a “condiment” or “blender” (a basic tobacco mixed with other tobaccos to create a blend), especially in English, Balkan, and some American Classic blends.
Latakia is the result of a curing process involving fire curing the leaves over controlled fires of aromatic woods and fragrant herbs. It is probably the most well known spice tobacco. Latakia is mainly grown in Cyprus and northern Syria. After the leaves are harvested and dried, they are hung in tightly closed barns and smoke-cured. Small smoldering fires of oak and pine fill the barn with smoke, and covering the leaves with smoke particles.
Latakia was “discovered” when a bumper crop resulted in surplus, and the excess tobacco was stored in the rafters. The peasant farmers traditionally used wood for cooking and heating in the winter. The smoke cured tobacco unique flavoring and taste was discovered the following spring. Latakia produces a very rich, heavy taste, with an aroma that has a “smoky” characteristic. Latakia is an indispensable ingredient of traditional English mixtures. The content can vary from a few percent to about 40-50%, or even more. A few smokers like it at 100%. This would tend to be harsh, not because Latakia is a strong tobacco, but because it burns very dry.
A modern perfume called Fumerie Turque (Turkish Smoke) was created by French company Serge Lutens, reproduced a fragrance in emulation of Latakian Tobacco.
Availability of Syrian Latakia
Though Latakia tobacco from Cyprus seems to be plentiful in the present tobacco market, the prevalence of Syrian Latakia in boutique tobacco blends seems to have diminished of late. Several popular pipe tobacco blends produced by Cornell and Diehl, manufacturers of the G. L. Pease tobacco blends, ceased the inclusion of Syrian Latakia following a warehouse fire in late 2004 which destroyed most of their stock of Syrian Latakia:
In the morning, our leaf processor’s warehouse containing nearly all of the available Syrian Latakia that was brought into the country burned to the ground. A few pounds remain here and there, but of literally tons of this sublime leaf, all that is left is ashes and dust. As bad as this is for us, it’s far worse for the importer, who still owned the majority of the leaf lost. The business impact is obvious. All of the Syrian Latakia containing blends, from both G.L. Pease and Cornell & Diehl, can not be produced. Whatever is currently on the shelves is all that there is, or will be in the foreseeable future. Trade relations with Syria are somewhat sensitive at present, and while we’re working through every possible channel to replace what was lost, we have no way of predicting when we’ll be able to get another shipment.
Despite this apparent setback, other manufacturers such as McClelland, MacBaren and Solani have been able to continue to produce pipe tobacco blends containing Syrian Latakia.