Whole Leaf Tobacco

Latakia Notes from British American Tobacco Co. Ltd. (released papers)

deluxestogie

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Tens of thousands of documents from large tobacco companies were acquired by court order, and are posted in various awkwardly searchable databases on-line.

The following are from the British American Tobacco Co. Ltd. regarding the details of Latakia production in both Syria and Cyprus. I suspect (though can't verify) that this information is close to what actually was (is) done in Latakia production.

BAT Co. Ltd: 1982 said:
BRITISH-AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY LIMITED
To I . Woodward, Esq., GR & DC
REF JMW/KMC
FROM J .M . Westwood
DATE 20th July, 1982

LATAKIA TOBACC O
Further to your recent enquiry about wood fuels used, sequence of curing, etc., in the production of Latakia tobaccos, I enclose a copy of a letter received from Mike Windus together with other data retrieved from the Izmir records. Some of it is more than historial, but it may provide Roger Penn with some useful background information !

LATAKIA INFORMATION

I refer to your telex to Bill No DDB049 of 1/7/82 and herewith enclose those reports in the Latakia file that are relevant.
It appears that Latakia was extensively bought by I. r. c. , Leaf Dept . in Bedminster, so they may have additional information.
I have come across page 33 of an extensive report on this subject, but the other pages have been lost . As you remember we are very short of space and keep records at present only from 1969 . This Latakia file I kept for interest. The daly-journal kept to the "smoke-house" from 21/7/64 to 15/10/65 is pretty substantial. If you require it, I am sure we can find some way of getting it to you by hand.

Helmut Fischer (B .A .T . G .m .b .H . Hamburg) in July '64 gave some names of woods used in Cyprus, which mentions proper names and may be of use:
[percent used in each cure]
  • MASTIC - PISTACIA CENTISCUS: 90%
  • MYRTLE - MYRTUS COMMUNIS ROMANA: 4 %
  • STONE PINE - PINUS PINEA PINUS PINASTER: 4 %
  • CYPRESS TREE - CYPRESSUS SEMPERVIRENS: 1%
  • KONISON- ? : 1%

He mentions that twigs with leaves are used, not trunks or large branches, and that degenerated Smyrna type tobacco was used.
BAT Co. Ltd: 1964 said:
BRITISH-AMERICAN TOBACCO COMPANY LIMITED
P O Box 482 Westminster House 7 Millbank ' London SW1
Telephone Abbey 1222
Telegraphic Address Vehicular London SW: LD/WJS/EH/527.

R . St . C . Walmisley Esq .,
C/o Sunel T .T .A .O .
Pk . 448,
Izmir, Turkey .
14th July, 1964 .

My dear Walmisley,

LATAKIA .

We have now received the enclosed information on the process of Latakia in Syria and Cyprus from the Imperial Tobacco Co. which may be of some use to you in connection with the experiments you will be conducting in Izmir to produce this type of product.

If there are any specific points on which you may require further details we shall do our utmost to obtain this information.
With kind regards ,
Yours sincerely ,
??? [unreadable signature]

Latakia grown in Syria

Latakia is a variety of N . Tabacum with a flower varying in colour from white to purple . The plant normally, produces 15 - 20 leaves the shape of which is narrowish and pointed with a feathered butt . It is grown in the mountains and on the plains. In the mountains where the setting is closer and the soil less rich, a much smaller plant is produced than on the plains. The plants are not topped and when ripe are cut. They are then cured by being strung between trees or laid on the ground for two to three weeks after which.they are bulked in the house until-fumigated. At this stage the tobacco is normally sold to the brokers who have it fumigated. This process takes two to three months and is mainly done in winter.

The houses are constructed of stone with beams on which to fix the strings of tobacco and one or two fire pits in
the floor. The usual internal dimensions are about 20 ' ft. square by 12 ft. high. There is often no ventilation except through the door. Fires are lighted from any type of brushwood available in the area. Oak is said to produce the best results, though pine is the most commonly used. The houses are all situated in the mountains and the fires are burning during most of the fumigation period. After fumigation the tobacco is bulked and sprayed before being brought to the depot at Latakia. This liquor (water) and the smoke increase the weight by 10-15%.

After the tobacco has been fumigated it is brought to the imperial Tobacco Company factory by the brokers. Most of the tobacco nowadays is destalked. This is done by women who sit crosslegged and pick the leaves from the stalks. The tobacco is then placed in bulks together with the smaller plants from the mountain districts which are not destalked. One of the vaulted rooms is filled with the bulk measuring about 23 ft. x 16 ft. x 9 ft. where it remains from 60 to 90 days according to the weather. During this time the tobacco undergoes a fermentation, which gives it a more mature flavour and helps to drive off the excess moisture. A fair amount of heat is generated in the tobacco during this process. After bulking the tobacco is packed in a frame for export. This usually takes place during the Winter months in order to avoid damage from fermentation in transit. The tobacco arrives in the Imperial Tobacco Company factory containing about 28% moisture and is shipped with about 18%.

Latakia grown in Cyprus

The cultivation and handling of Latakia grown in Cyprus differs from the Syrian product in the following respects:
1) Over 90% of the tobacco is derived from the top of the plant which is grown, mainly for the yellow leaf. The yellow leaf is obtained by priming the lower two-thirds of the stalk and the top portion is cut and used for fumigation.
2) The plants used mainly for fumigation are Cyprus Myrtle and Lentisk [Mastic tree]. Pine, Carob and the Scrub Oak used in Syria are not used though they grow in the vicinity.
3) The method of fumigation is the same in a similar type of stone houses, but water is not added afterwards. It is therefore possible to leave the tobacco in bulk without starting fermentation or without risk of mould.

The following is extracted from Mr . George Mills' booklet:

  • "When ripe, the plant is cut commencing from the top into 2 or 3 pieces, each about 9 inches long, composed of the stalk with the leaves left on. These are then strung into lengths of about 4 ft, the loose leaves picked from the bottom part of the plants being intermingled with the stalky pieces. The "strings" are then either hung on frames for curing or the method more commonly adopted in Cyprus is to lay them on the ground for drying in the sun and keep turning them over every few days until the curing is completed; this generally lasts about 18 to 20 days.

    There is nothing against carrying out this method, especially for irrigated tobacccs, except that the leaf is apt to show a greenish texture and I prefer the former method of curing the tobaccos by hanging, particularly if they should be from dry (unwatered) lands.
    After curing, the strings of tobacco are hung on a wired frame erected inside the fumigation hut. The dimensions of an averaged size but are: 22 ft. length, 14 ft. breadth and 15 ft. height with one or two fire pits in the middle part. The fire pit is approximately 3 by 3 by 6 feet in size and is covered with a raised zinc cover to provent the
    lower rows catching fire.

    In regard to the kind of fuel used, I found that the most satisfactory results were obtained by firing for the first few days with some slightly aromatic shrub such as myrtle, then for the next day or so fire the hut fairly heavily with hard wood, such as pine or oak, for the purpose of producing a considerable heat in order to dry out the leaf as much as possible and then to continue until near completion with mixed scrub wood in a rather green state which imparts a greater intensity of smoke than dry wood . For the last few days, myrtle or such other shrub maybe used again to improve the flavour.

    A hut of the above dimensions will take from 400 to 600 okes [Turkish unit of weight: 1 oke=2.75 pounds] dependant on how close the tobaccos are placed in the rows: it is advisable not to pack too closely so as to ??? [missing text]

    With continual firing the fumigation will last over 20 to 30 days until the tobaccos are properly blackened, the lower rows above the fire-pits being ready first when they should be taken down and the firing continued until the remraining tobaccos are of the desired extent of fumigation.

    Fumigation may also be done with sawdust by filling tins or other similar receptacles with a quantity of wood sawdust and lighting same after soaking with methylated spirits [ethanol denatured with methanol]. These are then placed in the huts.This, however, is a slow method. of fumigation- and I find does not answer to the same satisfactory degree as with wood fuel. The conditioning of the Latakia type is the most troublesome process and requires considerable care and experience.

    During the course of fumigation it often happens that a certain amount of condensation takes place in the huts causing the tobaccos to become over-moist and for this reason great care has to be exercised at the time of taking down the tobaccos to ensure that they are in fairly dry order, just pliable enough to work. This can be accomplished by keeping the doors of the fumigating huts open for several days to dry out the tobaccos as much as possible. In wet or damp weather which occurs in the late autumn and during the winter months, this difficulty becomes greater and the only way in Cyprus to ensure really satisfactory results is to complete the fumigation during the summer period of hot weather or to recommence it in the early Spring.

    On taking down the tobacco from the huts, the strings are placed lengthwise in small piles, after which they are taken and cut in half for making into small folded bundles.
    These bundles are then carefully piled into stacks of 10,000 to 30,000 lbs; this needs a certain amount of skill and experience to obtain closely packed square-formed stacks. They should remain piled in this state for 6-8 months, preferably over a hot season in order to condition and dry out properly, before being ready for baling and export.

    Fermentation of Latakia will only take place in large stacks of at least 80,000 lbs. when allowed to remain over a hot season in stores with reduced ventilation. The process also involves a certain amount of risks as the fermentation heating starts in the centre of the pile to a somewhat intense degree and this is difficult to control on account of the large size of the piles. However, it can be watched by either making a narrow tunnel in the pile towards the centre or preferaby by the insertion of a special thermometer for control. I have seen a similar method used in the Quebec district of Canada for the fermentation of the local cigar leaf.

    During the hot summer months in the year following that in which the crop has been produced, fermentation is liable to start in the bulk and may spread quickly from the
    centre of the pile showing at times intense heat in that quarter up to as much as 180°F. and liable to cause fire mould damage. In one instance I lost the greater part of a
    pile owing to self-combustion resulting in the centre tobaccos being entirely charred.

    The fermentation in piles, however, generally proceeds normally, but on the first signs of the interior showing overheating the pile should be opened by cutting a channel towards the center in order to allow ventilation.

    Undoubtedly fermented. Latakia has superior flavour and improved quality, but on account of the risks and trouble involved it is to the disadvantage of the average producer to undertake the process in the ordinary course of business as I have found that the manufacturer does not appear to appreciate any particular benefits in using the fermented tobacco, although I mention the process as a matter of interest."
Bob
 
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deluxestogie

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I'll muddy the waters with some excerpts from Tobacco: Its History, Varieties, Culture, Manufacture and Commerce, with an Account of its Various Modes of Use, From its First Discovery Until Now. by E. R. BILLINGS. American Publishing Company, Hartford CT, 1875.

The author identifies a specific variety of plant as Latakia, or Syrian,which he considers synonymous. (More modern authors have identified the variety used for making Latakia as either "a degenerate form of Smyrna," or Smyrna Yellow, which would be ovate, but with a fringed stem--kabakalok.) In both Billings, and the BAT papers, cited previously, the leaf shape is designated as "ovate," but with a clear stem. Despite this, the illustration that accompanies Billings' text shows a heart-shaped basibali leaf, suggestive of Samsun, Bafra, Trebizond, and Soukoum.


My opinion (which may be dead wrong) is that historically, little attention was paid by the Syrian growers to specific varietals, and that the identification of a specific variety as "Latakia" may be as fanciful as the illustration.

E.R. Billings said:
On most varieties the color of the flowers is pink excepting Syrian or Latakia which bears yellow flowers while those of Shiraz or Persian and Guatemala are white while those of the Japan tobacco, are purple.

Latakia tobacco resembles in flavor the yellow tobacco of Eastern Thibet and Western China, both of them grown from the same seed.

A field of Latakia tobacco presents a novel appearance, the short straight plants with their ovate leaves bearing yellow blossoms form a striking contrast to towering seed leaf rising fully two or three feet higher than the Syrian plant.

It grows to the height of three feet--each offshoot bearing flowers, the leaves of which are ovate in form, and are attached to the stalk by a long stem. The flowers are yellow, and number only a few in comparison with most varieties. When growing, the leaves are thick, but after curing are thin and elastic. The stalk is small, as are also the leaves. While growing, the plants emit a strong aromatic odor not like that of Havana tobacco, but stronger and less agreeable.
He asserts that the "fumigation" of the tobacco occurred within the homes of the individual growers. This seems unlikely, given the implausibility of living in such heavy smoke. At least he avoids the "camel dung" fallacy.

Bob

Note: The BAT documents describe the variety used for Latakia as having a blossom color varying from white to purple.
 
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FmGrowit

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I'm pretty sure I researched flower colors of Nicotiana Tabacum and of the 1800+ varieties, none have yellow flowers. However, Nicotiana Rustica has many varieties with yellow flowers and the same shape leaf as the illustration. The first article also suggests the flowers are used in the finished product from the small plants that aren't stripped.

My experience with growing orientals suggests a uniquely different quality of Latakia would be produced from each separate variety grown and cured using the Latakia process. Then with each of those varieties, the process could be altered slightly to give yet another affect to the flavor of the finished product.

I think it would be very interesting to try to replicate the original recipe of wood used on different Oriental varieties and compare it to what it sold commercially as Latakia.


CodeDefinitionNumber of Accessions Nicotiana Tabacum

1 WHITE 56
2 PINK 988
3 RED 32
4 OTHER 3
M MIXED 1
P PINK 1206
R RED 86
W WHITE 61
 
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FmGrowit

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A hut of the above dimensions will take from 400 to 600 okes [Turkish unit of weight: 1 oke=2.75 pounds] dependant on how close the tobaccos are placed in the rows: it is advisable not to pack too closely so as to ??? [missing text]
My guess is the missing text would suggest something like not packing too closely as to prevent mold from growing and to allow for the smoke to circular around the leaf.
 

deluxestogie

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Like many 19th Century authors of "comprehensive" subjects, Billings probably never set foot in Syria, but based his assertions on the reporting of others (who also may not have personally seen what they described). He compares the scent of "Syrian" tobacco to that of tobacco from Tibet and China. Certainly he did not travel there as well.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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I stumbled into a brief article on Latakia, published in 1863. The British author apparently traveled to the region prior to submitting the article for publication, since some of the observations are couched in the first person.

On the Culture of Latakia Tobacco, by Charles Edward Guys, The Technologist, London, 1863, [pp 161-165]
Available on-line at Google Books

CE Guys said:
The wood which served them for fuel was a species of the Quercus ilex [Holm Oak or Holly Oak is a large evergreen oak native to the Mediterranean region.], known by the local name of " Ozer".... We have said, when on the subject of Latakia, that the best of the Dgebeli tobacco was called Abou-Riha, but it is the Karn-el-Gazel (horn of the gazelle). The plant grows to a height of a little over three feet, its leaves are numerous, very compact, long and narrow. The flower is large and white, but when the plant has arrived at maturity, it takes a purplish tinge.
The article recounts the legend of the tobacco turning black from the smoke inside the grower's homes. Of interest is the description of several other varieties of Nicotiana, including a rustica, that were commonly grown in the same area. So I would guess that the "Abou-Riha" was a hybridized version of Smyrna / Izmir. Also, the previously cited comments about the appearance and smell of the growing tobacco may simply have been the rustica that is widely grown in the area, rather than the "Abou-Riha" used to produce "Latakia" style tobacco.

Bob
 

Jitterbugdude

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Bob, Later tonight (I hope) I'll post some info here on Latakia from an 1863 book I have. It kind of jives with your latest post. The author says ( if I remember correctly) that Latakia tobacco was made from Rustica as well as a few other types. I suspect that the Latakia that is smoked today is totally different from that of 150 years ago. Tobacco blends/formulas change to meet the changing desires of society.

Randy B
 

Jitterbugdude

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And here it is, from the book: Tobacco its History and Associations by F.W. Fairholt, published 1859

"The Syrian Tobacco (Nicotiana rustica) differs from this ... the principal being the branched stems, each offshoot bearing flowers; the leaves do not clasp the the stem, but are attached by a long stalk, and they are not lanceolate, but ovate in form; the flowers are not pink, but green, and the segments of the corolla are rounded... The Latakia tobacco, and that known as Turkish and Syrian, are both manufactured from this plant"
 

deluxestogie

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Randy,
Interesting find. In the article by Guys, the author identifies three distinct tobacco varieties, as well as a common grade (random variety, possibly volunteer), and describes each fairly carefully, as well as commenting on their taste when smoked. Apparently at that time, the locals grew large quantities of a rustica with yellow blossoms, and used it primarily for local consumption. The author notes that it was quite strong, and not very pleasant to smoke. He also identified a variety that was mostly exported to Egypt for in-country consumption.

I believe you are correct in the assumption that today's Latakia is likely a different tobacco variety than 150 years ago. I would guess that the mid-twentieth century documents, which suggest a "Yellow Syrian" or "Yellow Smyrna" may reflect the current practice. So I would expect that 6 weeks heavy firing of a Smyrna or Izmir variety over live oak and myrtle, would come pretty close. Who knows? This fall, I may try firing some Izmir Ozbas or Smyrna #9 with oak and apple wood for as long as the wood holds out (at least a few weeks), and see if this time I can actually turn it black without burning it.

Bob
 

chillardbee

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I've been reading up on this and I'm glad to know that the fire curing happens AFTER the msin curing (sun cured). What I like about that is that after being cured in the sun, one can fire cure at their leisure.

What varieties would be suggested for use in making latakia?
 

jekylnz

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So I would expect that 6 weeks heavy firing of a Smyrna or Izmir variety over live oak and myrtle, would come pretty close. Who knows? This fall, I may try firing some Izmir Ozbas or Smyrna #9 with oak and apple wood for as long as the wood holds out (at least a few weeks), and see if this time I can actually turn it black without burning it.

Bob
???
 

deluxestogie

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Don's whole leaf Latakia (which I heartily recommend) appears to be comprised of small Izmir (Smyrna) type leaves, though the variety is unknowable. My run (several years ago) of fire-curing Shirazi yielded some lovely pipe tobacco, but it wasn't even close to the dark smokiness of Latakia. I think the woods used are the key--I don't have access to the traditional woods noted in the documents above. In addition, I think you'll have to fire them continuously for several months to approach the black, rich product of true Latakia.

Bob
 

Mad Oshea

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I think with what I was told by an old timer that went to Syria , myrtle would be a rich mans wood not of the area for the poor tobacco grower. and that tobbaco of any Turkish origin would be a good choice for Latakia. I am at this time going to use Izmir, that I grew 2013, and incorperate red alder for mine. (not dung)yuck. I also am going to use honey on the coals to put a sweet flavor to it (I hope) I'm goin to name it Rocky Mntn Izmir Latakia. Just caus I can for My region.
 

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I don't think honey on the coals will give you the desired effect. Better would be to spray the leaves with a diluted honey mixture before you start your fire.
 

deluxestogie

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For all the work it will require to fire-cure any leaf to black, I would be hesitant to apply flavorings until it's finished, and you can separate a tiny test quantity. Honey on Latakia doesn't have the ring of yummy to me. But it may be wonderful. I just wouldn't risk everything on a single innovation.

Bob
 

Mad Oshea

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Good idea. I wasnt sure of that one Myself. burnt any type of sugar may be a bad mix. I'll nix that one and incorperate a small amount of pine.(pinon) I do however use honey on the tips of My cigars w/vanilla for the after tast on the lips. My wife likes it as well. Thanks for the info. Great smell as well.
 
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