Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

Tongue bite is perhaps the most insidious impediment to good smoking that newer pipe smokers experience and can surprise even seasoned veterans. "Tongue bite" is an accurate descriptor for the condition, which can feel like clamping your tongue in a super-heated, coil-spring wolf trap. Tongue bite is the condition most probably responsible for causing new pipe smokers to quit before learning the simple techniques for avoiding it and the pleasurable smoking experiences on the other side. It makes pipe smoking unpleasant, and few will find success if it persists.

Tongue bite is the condition most probably responsible for causing new pipe smokers to quit

We all know how painful it can be to bite our tongues. The tongue is a nearly prehensile organ containing eight different muscles — and it's sensitive. It comprises 8,000 individual motor units, making it flexible and agile for speech and manipulating food. Plentiful muscle fibers and nerves contribute to its sensitivity, which it needs to perceive flavor, temperature, texture, and pain. No other muscle group in the human body is so exposed to the elements and potential injury.

Its sensitivity promotes the perception that objects are large: A hair on the tongue, for example, feels enormous. Whatever our immediate environment or circumstance, a hair in the mouth takes immediate precedence and attracts the majority of our attention. If fallen across a forearm, a hair feels like nothing, but in the mouth it tastes like ropey wretchedness because of the tongue's magnified perceptions.

That elevated sensitivity contributes to the unpleasant sensation of tongue bite for pipe smokers. Like most, I struggled with tongue bite when I was starting out and almost quit. I assumed at the time that it was a matter of heat in the smoke, and I wasn't wrong, but in an epiphany of sarcastic inspiration, I loaded my pipe and put it in the freezer for 30 minutes.

Anticipating a refreshing frozen-dessert effect on my passionfruit-blitz-and-pistachio Aromatic, I lit that pipe and was confronted by the same degree of tongue bite as before, despite its frosty decorum.

It was slow going in those days. I'd smoke a half bowl and then a couple of hours later smoke the other half, then give myself a few days to heal and curse — and the cursing wasn't even satisfying because the tongue burn rounded my consonants and depreciated the crisp emphasis that my immediate vocabulary demanded.

I was astonished that anyone might ever need to ream a pipe because, at this rate, it would take decades to build any respectable cake. I was still attracted to pipe smoking but knew I was doing something wrong, just as I might be attracted to skiing but suspect incompetence the fourth or fifth time I was peeled by rescue teams from the trunk of a Douglas fir. Yet mysteriously, I kept at it, learning by trial and error, like millions before me, and finally succeeded, cherishing the activity of pipe smoking from the time I finally learned how to reduce and then abolish tongue bite.

Trial and error without advice can be a slow way to learn. If you're experiencing tongue bite, the following information will help you understand what causes it, and achieve the pain-free and pleasant activity that pipe smoking should be. It's the information that I wish I had when I was first jamming wet tobacco into a brand new pipe and keeping it lit with a perpetual flame requiring four cans of butane a week.

What the Mouth Senses

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

The tongue perceives taste, aroma, mouthfeel, and thermal and chemical sensations of temperature, according to a presentation by Leffingwell and Associates (2014). It senses flavor through the combinations of five different characteristics: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami (a rich, meaty character such as found in cheese, meat, and mushrooms).

The bumps on the surface of our tongues are called papillae, and they contain our taste buds, inside of which are hair-like microvilli that sense flavor, texture, and temperature and send those signals to the brain. According to what we learned in 7th-grade Biology, different parts of the tongue specialize in different flavors: the front senses sweet, the sides perceive sourness and salt, and the back registers bitter flavors. However, subsequent research has indicated that while some areas are somewhat less sensitive to particular flavors, all areas sense all flavors. Papillae are delicate structures and subject to damage when exposed to excess heat. When we're suffering from tongue bite, our oral perceptions deteriorate until healing can take place.

Different parts of the tongue specialize in different flavors: the front senses sweet, the sides perceive sourness and salt, and the back registers bitter flavors

Mouthfeel is an important factor and comprises slickness, heartiness, viscosity, astringency, oiliness, tingle (such as provided by carbonated drinks, for example), and texture (like grittiness, chalkiness, and crunchiness).

Aroma is determined by the olfactory regions of the nasal passages. These regions are only about 2.5 sq. centimeters but contain around 50 million receptor cells, and they receive their information through either the nasal passages or the mouth. The Leffingwell presentation divides aroma perception into 14 categories: woody, earthy, chemical, pungent (as with vinegar or horseradish), phenolic (smoky and leathery, for example), roasted, putrid, animal, micro-biological (buttery and yeasty are examples), floral, spicy, fruity, nutty, and herbal/vegetable (like mint, grass, and of course our favorite: tobacco).

For the purposes of this discussion, the most important aspect is the tongue's ability to sense thermal temperature, chemical temperature (which is more "tingly"), and, unfortunately, discomfort.

Two Kinds of Tongue Bite

Tongue bite arises in two varieties: temperature and chemical (meaning disagreeable pH levels of relative acidity or alkalinity), but most often they combine for admirable efficiency in making our lives temporarily miserable. Temperature-bite is probably the first type we experience, and it occurs most often because our pipes are improperly loaded and our tobaccos are too moist.

Most tobaccos emerge from their packaging with more moisture content than is easily smoked, but we don't know that when we're lighting our first-ever bowl. It's intuitive to think that tobacco in the tin manifests its most smokable composition, but that's not always so. The moisture is necessary to protect the product, especially in its more delicate forms like flakes or coins. It's more fragile when dry, is subject to breakage, and can lose flavor as its constituent compounds break down with evaporation.

Many seasoned and skillful smokers prefer moist tobaccos. Flavor travels from the tobacco to our taste buds primarily via moisture in the smoke, but one of the special characteristics of pipe smoking is adjustability, and reducing the moisture content modulates the likelihood of tongue bite and makes the pipe easier to keep lit and smoke dryly. Everyone experiments to find their sweet spot regarding tobacco moisture and the way it delivers the flavors of different tobaccos. If the tobacco is too dry, it will have lost flavor and will burn too quickly and too hot, like dry kindling. If the tobacco is too wet, it will again burn hot because excessive heat is necessary to transform that moisture into smoke and vapor, possible only with ambitious puffing that further increases heat.

...one of the special characteristics of pipe smoking is adjustability, and reducing the moisture content modulates the likelihood of tongue bite

Temperature Bite

Different parts of the tongue are differently affected by heat

That's where tongue bite can ambush us with its scorching dragon's breath. With wet tobacco, aggressive puffing is needed to keep it smoldering, raising the temperature of the smoke. Like the tobacco, that smoke contains more moisture than is best, which can more efficiently store heat as it migrates from the bowl to the mouth. We're familiar with the way large bodies of water retain temperature beyond their environments, and that concept works on a micro-scale as well. In extreme cases, the heat necessary for the combustion of overly moist tobacco can even stress the briar and compound the possibility of burn-out. But before that happens, tongue bite will mock and discomfit us, and motivate us to pause and rethink our life choices.

In converting water in the tobacco into heat, smoke, and vapor, we subject our tongues to wet and very hot smoke. It isn't steam, which is 100°C (212°F), but it takes much less heat than that to deliver discomfort, and it takes little time for our tongues to protest. The most sensitive part of the tongue, the tip, can withstand temperatures of 45°C (113°F) for about five minutes before experiencing physical burning sensations, and the tissue will be more immediately burned at 47°C (116.6°F). That's much less than the temperature of steam, but it indicates that water vapor needn't be superheated to deliver aggravation. Although that temperature seems moderate when compared to, say, coffee or tea, which are served at about 70°-80°C, the circumstances are dissimilar. Different parts of the tongue are differently affected by heat, with the tip being most sensitive, and when we drink a hot beverage we avoid contact with the more delicate parts of the tongue, take small sips, and manipulate the liquid to avoid prolonged contact with any one area.

Chemical Bite

Tongue bite is chemical, caused by unbalanced pH

The second category of tongue bite is chemical, caused by unbalanced pH. No one knows why it's called pH. The concept was introduced by Danish chemist Søren Peder Lauritz Sørensen in 1909 as a measurement of potential difference in the concentration of hydrogen atoms in a solution. The "pH" may stand for power or potential of hydrogen, part of the equation for comparing and measuring the acid or base consistency of a substance. The range of measurement is from 0 to 14. Seven is neutral; below 7 indicates acidity, and above 7 is base, also called alkalinity.

Another consideration is that nicotine is absorbed by the buccal mucosa in our mouths more efficiently with higher relative alkalinity. Cigars, for example, possess higher pH than cigarettes and deliver more nicotine in the mouth, whereas the nicotine in cigarettes is released in the lungs only after its pH changes to more alkaline. So the perceived strength of tobacco is partially a function of pH.

...nicotine is absorbed by the buccal mucosa in our mouths more efficiently with higher relative alkalinity

Beverages enjoyed while smoking affect nicotine absorption according to their pH; unsweetened tea, for example, is relatively alkaline and will increase nicotine absorption more than, say, Coca-Cola, which is acidic at about 2.7. Soft drinks like Coke are generally considered uncomfortable for pipe smoking because of the tingling that accompanies carbonation as well as an acidic pH.

The numbers scale logarithmically, so if something has a pH of 9, for example, it's 10 times more alkaline than 8, and 10 is 100 times more. Battery acid has a pH of less than 1; orange juice is between 3 and 4; water is 7.4, bleach is 12.5. Honey, a popular tobacco flavoring constituent, is between 3.5 and 5.5, helping to balance blends that would otherwise fall on the side of alkalinity.

Saliva is between 6.2 and 7.6, which accounts for the different results experienced by different smokers. The closer we can match the pH of tobacco smoke to our own natural mouth pH, the more comfortable it will be. Since we all have slightly different mouth pH, which can be affected by what we drink or eat as well as by our individual body chemistries, we all perceive the balance of tobacco blends slightly differently.

In terms of tobacco blends, pH is difficult to determine because casings and toppings alter the pH. That's among the main reasons for their use, in fact: toppings contribute to flavor and mouthfeel but they also adjust pH. By itself, Virginia tobacco has a pH in the vicinity of 5.5, depending on sugar content and other factors. Oriental is around 5.0. Burley is 5.8-7.0 or more, depending largely on the pH of the soil where it grew, which affects all tobacco. These numbers are difficult to confirm and sources are few. There's some variance to accept.

Any pH that strays far in either direction from the 6.7 average of our mouths, which is slightly less than neutral, can cause discomfort, and the farther from neutral it is, the more uncomfortable prolonged contact can be.

A Blender's Perspective on Tongue Bite

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers-Jeremy Reeves, Head Blender of Cornell & Diehl

"It's not a perfect science," says Jeremy Reeves, Head Blender for Cornell & Diehl. "The way a blend affects my tongue may not be the same as yours." That dissimilarity may be from physical makeup of the beverages we choose to enjoy while smoking, or even the food we've recently chewed. Jeremy says there are popular blends that he can't smoke (from other companies, of course, since he adjusts C&D blends himself). "From the charring light, I can already feel the bite, and it never gets better." He says that they are blends whose flavors he admires but that he is physically unable to smoke, while other people seem perfectly fine.

"My approach to developing a blend is to be sure that it doesn't bite me and to orient the balance such that it doesn't pose a significant danger of bite when I push the blend. I'm a very slow smoker — I delicately sip more than I aggressively puff, no matter what I'm smoking." However, he does push blends in development beyond average conditions to assure that aggressive smokers retain smoking comfort.

Latakia blends are very forgiving in terms of tongue bite, tending to smoke more smoothly and able to perform well even under accelerated smoking cadence. "Whether it's a heavy Latakia blend or something sweet and bright, like a straight Bright Virginia, I just sip, because I get more flavor if I smoke as slowly as possible with the ember barely glowing. Keeping it constantly on the verge of almost going out — that's where I find that I get the most flavor extraction from the tobacco."

"Keeping it constantly on the verge of almost going out — that's where I find that I get the most flavor extraction from the tobacco."

However, Jeremy applies different methods of loading a pipe when he's developing a blend. "I'll try packing tighter than I normally do, and I'll try packing looser than I normally do, and then I also employ different smoking cadences than I normally would, because I want to experience the blend's performance if heavily puffed for a while, or if packed a little tighter, or packed a little looser, and the way it performs through relights."

Tongue bite often signals high sugar content in the blend, says Jeremy. "Leaf that is naturally laden with sugar is typically more acidic in its chemistry, so the scale, from high to low, goes from Bright Virginia, to Oriental, then Red Virginia. Those are your mainly acidic tobacco types. Lighter, semi-fire-cured would be next, and then dark-fired, and then you're veering into alkalinity: White Burley, then Perique, then Dark Burley."

The popularity of Virginia/Perique blends demonstrates the importance of balance. "Even if you don't use enough Perique to impact the flavor, it still takes a little edge off of the acidity. I've used that technique to mitigate tongue bite in a blend that I do every year for the Muletown Pipe Show. There is such a tiny amount of Perique in that blend that I would challenge anybody to recognize it, but it adds a little insulation from tongue bite because the blend is so heavily geared toward Brightleaf and has a lot of natural sugar."

Perique is a remarkable tool for adjusting balance, even in small amounts that don't influence flavor. "Just a little Perique helps to kickstart and accelerate fermentation. I use it as you would a sourdough starter or a biga." As for high-sugar content leaf, like Virginias, other tobacco varieties can subdue their ambition to smoke hot. "One approach is to use a very small amount of say, Dark Burley, or White Burley. You could also use a very small amount of Black Cavendish. You could employ a casing, or you could add just a little bit more Red Virginia, since Red Virginia is less acidic than Bright Virginia and has less sugar. The reason that sugar is a factor is because sugar is an accelerant and causes things to heat up quicker in the pipe."

"Just a little Perique helps to kickstart and accelerate fermentation"

Jeremy offers an example of how to balance components, starting with high-sugar Bright Virginias. "So if you have a flavor that you like but you're experiencing bite, you add a little Red Virginia to balance the Bright Virginia. Or you can add a small amount of Dark Burley or White Burley that won't impact the flavor but it will be noticeable in terms of mouthfeel; the overall chemistry of the blend will be changed enough that it helps mitigate tongue bite.

"Or you can use a casing like molasses or honey. Molasses is more basic, so it has a more impactful effect on the chemistry of the blend. Honey is close to neutral, but adding a little bit of something that is neutral is still reducing acidity." Jeremy approaches both sides of the tongue-bite issue by adjusting for heat generation in terms of sugar as well as pH.

"I don't want to give anybody the wrong impression: that I'm using laboratory equipment to assess the pH of anything. It's just knowing that I can count on Bright sweetleaf to be more acidic and the main source of tongue bite for most people, and I can rely on more alkaline leaf — air-cured leaf, fire-cured leaf, and Perique — to be more basic and provide balance. It's just knowing that some components can contribute to tongue bite, and others can help mitigate bite, and finding the balance of how they come together, keeping in mind the flavor profile. There's almost no quantity of Dark Fired that isn't going to change the taste of the blend. Perique is a little more of a chameleon, so a tiny amount of Perique won't alter flavor but will still offer some relief for acidity, high sugar content, and tongue bite."

The Causes of Tongue Bite and How to Address Them

Moisture Level

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

Because the most common source of tongue bite is too much moisture in the tobacco, the best remedy is to reduce that moisture. How far that reduction should go is a matter of preference aided by some simple experimentation.

Many find that the best moisture level is achieved by laying out tobacco on a paper plate and letting it sit in the open air for an hour or so, though if the room's humidity is high it's more difficult and time consuming. Different tobaccos will dry at different rates. Aromatics, for example, tend to dry slowly because of their flavorings and may take a day or more, depending on the humidity level of the environment. There is no single formula that works for all types of blends in all geographical locations and weather conditions, but our fingers can easily learn to recognize the proper moisture content of tobacco and it takes little time to find the right level for personally optimum smoking.

Different tobaccos will dry at different rates

It's important not to let the tobacco become too dry. As long as it doesn't become crunchy and can still clump together, it's fine and will not have relinquished its smokability. Tobacco with a good smoking humidity level will stay lit easier, produce less irritating hot vapor, and experience less chance of causing gurgle in the pipe during a smoke.

Moisture is a natural byproduct of pipe smoking even when the tobacco's moisture level is low. Moisture will gather in the pipe, but it is easily wicked away with pipe cleaners, and it's important to keep the pipe clean and dry by running a couple of pipe cleaners through it during each smoke, thereby reducing the likelihood of the smoke picking up more moisture as it travels through a wet pipe.

Cadence

As Jeremy has mentioned, sipping slowly produces more flavor than puffing aggressively. Keeping a pipe slowly smoldering on the edge of being extinguished will produce the most pleasurable, flavorful, and comfortable smoking experiences, and will additionally preserve the more delicate nuances of a tobacco's flavor profile. Collaterally, slow puffing also produces less heat and moisture.

...slow puffing also produces less heat and moisture

When the tobacco is at a proper moisture level, sipping slowly is sufficient for keeping it lit, for reducing moisture buildup inside the pipe, for maintaining great flavor, and for reducing the possibility of tongue bite.

Depth of Draw

A deep, long draw, even if slow and even, is contrary to the concept of sipping tobacco smoke. Some smokers puff hard and quick; some take long consistent draws that also produce hotter and quicker burning characteristics.

Consistently deep draws, even when we think we're being careful and slow, will raise the temperature in the pipe. It's better to take relatively short sips and let the ember settle down between. Think of campfires. The more oxygen provided through blowing on the embers, for example, the hotter they burn and the more quickly they expand.

Consistently deep draws, even when we think we're being careful and slow, will raise the temperature in the pipe

Pipes work similarly. If we maintain minimal oxygen flow, we're more likely to experience a slow, consistent, and efficient campfire perfect for cooking than if we keep stoking it for quicker and hotter combustion.

Loading the Pipe

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

Good loading technique is vital. Packing a pipe too lightly or too tightly will both adversely affect the experience. Compressed tobacco requires more heat to keep lit because there is more air resistance, and we all eventually learn to recognize when the draw is correct and to make adjustments if it's too easy or too hard. Unlike cigars and cigarettes, the draw of a pipe is easy to modify and perfect, primarily by adjusting our loading technique until the smoke's airflow is similar to the pressure of drinking a beverage through a straw.

If it's packed too tightly, a pipe's airflow is reduced and harder puffing and higher heat is necessary for combustion. If packed too lightly, the strands of tobacco are not close enough to each other to easily sustain the ember and additional puffing is necessary to maintain the flame. However, when it's just right, optimum smoking is achieved.

It takes only a few bowls of tobacco to recognize when the draw is right, and by paying attention to the way we've loaded the bowl and analyzing the draw, we soon find the best tobacco loading character for our individual preferences.

Climate

Tobacco absorbs moisture. A quick way to revitalize overly dry tobacco is to load it into a pipe and softly blow through the top of the bowl, allowing the tobacco to absorb moisture from our breath. It works fast and is effective because tobacco is a sponge.

The weather can work in the same way. If it's humid, the very air we're drawing into our pipes will increase moisture in the tobacco, while smoking in exceptionally dry weather can have the opposite effect and dry the tobacco. The moisture generated by combustion helps alleviate that issue and is less problematic than smoking in humid conditions.

If it's humid, the very air we're drawing into our pipes will increase moisture in the tobacco, while smoking in exceptionally dry weather can have the opposite effect and dry the tobacco

While there is no substituting the combination of a perfect day outdoors and a pipe, keep in mind that the conditions on other days will affect the experience. Many of us smoke outside exclusively and we may consider adjustments to our tobaccos to accommodate the weather by smoking dryer tobacco in high humidity and moister tobacco when the air is dry.

However, with good smoking techniques, like proper packing and slow combustion, the effects of weather will be minimized.

Lighting Source

Tongue Bite: A Comprehensive Guide for Pipe Smokers

The ignition sources that we use for our pipes will have little consequence if minimally applied, but it may be worth noting that some are lower in temperature than others and may contribute to maintaining a low-temperature smoke.

Matches are the lowest temperature source of fire for pipe smokers. Wooden matches are better than paper matches, and it's best to let the sulfur and accelerants burn from the match head before applying it to the tobacco for reasons of flavor and temperature.

Spills, which are thin strips of wood, usually cedar, are also low temperature, transferring flame from an oil lamp or fireplace to the tobacco. Spills were the most common method of lighting one's pipe before the advent of lighters and matches. Specific tools called spill planes were employed to make them. These days, a pocket knife is adequate unless making thousands at a time.

Hemp-wick lighters are also low temperature but are not as portable as typical butane lighters or matches. They combine in a single device a roll of wick made from hemp impregnated with beeswax and a Bic lighter to ignite it. They are not as convenient as most pipe lighters but produce a satisfyingly low-temperature flame.

Zippo lighters, which also utilize a wick, are cooler than butane and not much higher in temperature than matches. Zippo pipe lighters are designed for ignition without pipe damage and work better in the wind than most other pipe lighters. Let the flame burn for a couple of seconds before applying it to the pipe to avoid the chemical taste concomitant with the lighter's fuel.

Butane lighters, especially those angled for lighting pipes, are the most convenient source of fire. Easily transportable and dependable, they perhaps the greatest advantage in living in the modern era. Though they produce higher temperatures than matches, they are still soft-flame and as long as we keep that flame away from the rims of our pipes, they are very good at what they do.

Jet lighters should be avoided. These lighters produce insanely hot temperatures of around 1370°C (2500°F) and can instantly destroy a pipe's rim as well as overheat the tobacco. If aimed down the chamber toward the last quarter of a bowl, risk of damage to the pipe is high. These lighters are designed for cigars and work effectively in that context, but they should be reserved exclusively for that intended purpose.

How to Soothe Tongue Bite

A low-pH beverage or snack can counter the alkalinity of some blends. Smokers have reported success with Biotene mouthwash, which has a pH of 4.6, as well as honey (3.4-5.5); red wine (3.3-3.6); dark chocolate (5.5-5.8); tea (4.0-6.0, with green tea and ginger tea being lowest); and coffee (with a pH of about 5).

Certainly chocolate and honey are soothing for the temperature-burn aspect of tongue bite, and they also help to adjust the disparity in relative pH that contributes to the discomfort. However, sipping a beverage of your choice will be important. Since we all have slightly different body chemistries, a little experimentation will be necessary. Try water, try coffee, tea, whatever appeals to you, and pay attention to how well it alleviates any tingling tongue adversity.

...sipping a beverage of your choice will be important

A beverage while smoking has always been essential for me, and for many others. When I switch beverages, I often have to switch tobaccos, because the same tobacco does not taste the same with a different beverage. A pleasant accompaniment like ice water or tea helps wash away smoke particulates from our tongues, reset the pH of our mouths, and alleviate some of the effects of high temperature.

Eliminating Tongue Bite

The basic steps to banishing tongue bite forever are simple, but some require a little practice and experimentation:

  1. Dry your tobacco. Experiment to find the proper humidification for excellent flavor transfer while keeping moisture to a minimum. This is the single most useful tip for avoiding tongue bite.
  2. Load your pipe just right, in the Goldilocks zone: not too tight; not too loose.
  3. Practice proper tamping technique. Tamping keeps each level of burning tobacco in contact with the next and permits ongoing combustion, but tamping too hard will compress the tobacco and raise heat and air resistance, so observe the draw characteristics as you progress to find just the right pressure.
  4. Puff slower. Sipping tobacco smoke in a leisurely fashion, with pressure similar to sipping soda through a straw, provides the best flavor and drastically reduces the likelihood of tongue bite.
  5. Try aging your tobaccos, especially Virginia blends. Aging a tin for a couple of years will make a blend more mellow as its starches break down and transform into more flavorful and cooler-smoking compounds.
  6. Drink a beverage while smoking, most often something neutral like water or something slightly acidic to balance the alkalinity of the tobaccos that most often generate bite.
  7. Try other blends. English blends are the most forgiving and comfortable to smoke, but with good technique, high-sugar straight Virginias and highly flavored Aromatics can be enjoyed without issue.
  8. Keep the pipe clean and its airflow clear. Don't let moisture build in the pipe. Run a pipe cleaner through it when you sense higher humidity in the smoke or start to feel the onset of gurgle in the pipe. Pipe cleaners also clear any tobacco particles that may become lodged where the draft hole enters the heel of the tobacco chamber. Restrictions in airflow cause more aggressive puffing and higher heat.
  9. Prepare for the use of more pipe cleaners and even slower smoking in humid environments.
  10. Use low-heat ignition sources.

Tongue bite is responsible for dissuading many new pipe smokers from pursuing what is among the most relaxing and enjoyable pastimes that we can experience. Pipe smoking has provided comfort, meditation, and relaxation for millions of enthusiasts over hundreds of years and is worth pursuing, but no one can advance comfortably without first learning how to beat tongue bite. Experimentation is necessary, but knowing the factors involved and the specific causes of tongue bite will accelerate progress. Practice the advice gathered here and look forward to decades of smoking satisfaction.

Please consider providing your own strategies, tips, favorite beverages, and general tongue-bite solutions in the comments below. We all benefit from the experiences of others.

References:

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Pipe Culture Tips

Comments

    • Sean on August 21, 2022
    • Great write-up. Thank you for the detailed approach.

    • Tom on August 21, 2022
    • I get super dry cotton type mouth feeling, and it's an unpleasant feeling but the mouth isn't actually dry. There is saliva. But I get this feeling after certain aromatics, mostly. I think it's a form of tongue bite but I rarely hear anyone describe it. Mostly after a macbaren aromatic or sutliff mocha strips.

    • Mehmet Ali Y on August 21, 2022
    • Thank you for your spectacular and informative article.

    • Dennis Bordan on August 21, 2022
    • Outstanding overview that includes both science and "art"!Thank you.

    • Frank Porretta on August 21, 2022
    • Great info! It gives me inspiration to slay the dragon of tongue bite on a blend that I love the flavor of, but has consistently raked my tongue over the coals, as it were. I had almost given up, hoping that age would tame the beast. But maybe I can find the formula in all this new information. I hope so! I bought two pounds of the stuff thinking I could figure it out. So let's go see.....

    • Kenn on August 21, 2022
    • Superbly informative article on a subject that may have been insurmountable for many.

    • Gustavo E. Chiaramonte on August 21, 2022
    • Excellent writing! I have already passed it on to my father (90) who introduced me to this beautiful world of shapes and smokes when he lit his pipes for him. I read your historical notes with great pleasure and those that’s help to better understand what we are doing when smoking a pipe.

    • Blake on August 21, 2022
    • Honey is very helpful. I use it daily. Packing notes confirm what I have experienced. Sipping notes confirm my experiences as wellCadence is where I have to be most mindful. Especially with tobacco that I love. What a terrifc article! Back in the 1980's I had to learn the hard way. Enjoy yourselves!

    • Stephen on August 21, 2022
    • Chuck,Thanks for another well researched and well written article. I wish I had seen this 35 years ago when, like others, I gave up cigarettes and switched to the pipe. It tool a long time to realize that fresh pipe tobacco was too wet and that puffing like a locomotive was not the correct method. Now that I have finally figured it out, I agree 100% with your list and am able to thoroughly enjoy my morning pipe with a cup of green tea. BTW, the Corona lighter my wife presented me for my birthday is perfect. Best pipe lighter, ever.Thanks, Chuck!

    • Paul Schmolke on August 21, 2022
    • Should be printed up for distribution at any shop that sells pipes and tobacco. It provides plenty of clues based on chemistry and/or time tested techniques. Even though I’ve been smoking a pipe for nearly 55 years, I still learned some things here. Well written and researched. I prefer a larger capacity bowl and lighter packing to help keep the heat down. I like unsweetened tea or coffee with sugar and cream as a companion drink. Maintaining a reasonable moisture level in tinned tobaccos is done with C&D’s original packaging. Keep the paper insert and pop top lid to cover the tobacco after opening the tin and cover with the plastic lid. Using this approach I can keep an unsealed tin at an optimum moisture level for a few weeks. Good Sunday reading!

    • Chris on August 21, 2022
    • Great article. As a relatively new pipe smoker, there are some great techniques that I try during my next smoke.

    • Michael Cherry on August 21, 2022
    • Another well done!Your Obedient Servant;Mike

    • David on August 21, 2022
    • I started smoking a pipe back in the 70s in college, when it was still common for professors and students to smoke around a seminar table in the evening classes. I learned to overcome tongue bite accidentally when I was given two pieces of advice: first load my pipe in thirds, the first very loose the second a little tighter, and the top tightest of all. Second, to try to make the pipe last for one hour (i.e., “sip”, although I didn’t know the term). Trying to do these two steps, I discovered I no longer experienced bite! Thank you for a very well written article, that I am sure will help new smokers, as well as old ones, like me, to enjoy this wonderful pastime. I learned a lot!

    • Fred on August 21, 2022
    • I am a dentist and I took impressions of my teeth and tongue. I then fabricated a matrix to fit over my teeth and tongue to protect my teeth from the buildup from the smoke and also protect from tongue bite. I’m sure I sacrifice some taste but I get no stains or tongue bite

    • Don on August 21, 2022
    • There are assorted pipe treatments and conditioners available including ordinary honey and alcohol (even the drinking kind 🥴) that aid in keeping one’s pipes fresh. How much or even if at all, I suppose, like everything else to do with pipes, is debatable. I find that the occasional refresher or a Q-Tip with honey makes for a more gentle smoke.

    • Bob Gallo on August 21, 2022
    • If only I had this article before me 50 years ago. It's a wonderland of good advice from a man born to write. Small point: Did you really mean this? "A low-pH beverage or snack can counter the alkalinity of some blends." Or, did you mean, a low-pH can counter the acidity...? Having said that, I've noticed that a little good dark chocolate has been welcome before a pipe - something I've copied from my grandfather.

    • Wayne Johnson on August 21, 2022
    • I got TB when I first started, no matter how slowly I smoked. The mistake I made was always pulling the smoke to the same spot of my tongue. Once I began to let the smoke fill my mouth, and to pass it up to my nasal cavity, the TB vanished. I smoke on the fast side, but still TB isn't an issue.

    • Astrocomical on August 22, 2022
    • I found out packing in too much tobacco was causing me not to enjoy a bowl. One day I decided to pack it really loose for a quick short bowl and to my shock it lasted a third longer and the flavor really came out and it became enjoyable again and the pipe never got really hot and it smoked cool too.Bottom line? Packing it too hard caused the opposite to occur to my surprise.

    • Thomas R on August 22, 2022
    • This was a fantastic and well written article. Thanks!

    • Zach on August 22, 2022
    • "Drink a beverage while smoking, most often something neutral like water or something slightly acidic to balance the alkalinity of the tobaccos that most often generate bite."I believe this was supposed to say "to balance the acidity of lower pH tobaccos (bright VA/Mahogany/Reds), because the more alkaline tobaccos are those that don't generally cause tongue bite. (Burleys)A great write up, Chuck. As usual here. Very helpful to those starting out or still having a hard time. I always recommend first if someone struggles with tongue bite to make sure they're drying their tobaccos enough, and that a slower smoldering cadence always goes hand in hand with this practice.

    • Hutch king on August 24, 2022
    • Chuck, a really well-done article!! I wish I had had this when I first began to smoke pipes. It would have saved me lots of pain! I learned through trial and error. For all the new and upcoming pipe smokers out there and us oldies. Thanks, Hutch

    • 👅🔥 on August 24, 2022
    • 1370°C (2498°F) on a pipe's rim can be devastating;) A most excellent, comprehensive, instructive, and humourous article. Thank you, Chuck!

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