Is Cyprian Latakia Dead or Alive?

This blog is not intended to be an authoritative presentation but I do want it to be informative and entertaining reading for you. I put it together solely to have some fun by doing a little digging to see if I could definitively find the answer to the questions posed by the title of this blog, and I believe that with a lot of help, I have been able to do just that. So, a special thanks to those mentioned in this article and others in the industry who did not want to be quoted, but who pointed me in the right direction when I hit bumps in the highway, so to speak. Lets start by taking a quick geography lesson together. Where the heck is Cyprus? It’s a very small island country in the Middle East (third largest country in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea – capitol city: Nicosia, and sixty miles west of Syria and thirty miles south of Turkey). As you can see by the red arrow on the map, Cyprus is not a large country and almost swallowed up by many of its Middle Eastern neighbors. Cyprus has one of the warmest climates and warmest winters in the Mediterranean part of the European Union. The average annual temperature on the coast is around 75 degrees during the day and 57 degrees at night. Generally, the warm temperature season lasts about eight months. For the leaf and woods used for their precious Cyprian Latakia production, the agriculturally productive soils were vertisols located in the Mesaoria Plain and along the southeastern coastline of northern Cyprus. I purposely used the word “were” instead of “are,” because it has been many years since Cyprus farmers grew and harvested leaves from plants that are extremely close cousins to what we call Smyrna. Without getting too technical, the Smyrna varietals used for making Cyprian Latakia were similar to Xanthi-Yaka (which is a basma type), and Yenidje.

 

Latakia is not a unique type of tobacco like Virginia or Burley for example, but rather the name of the leaf after it has been fumigated (smoke cured). Starting with the Smyrna varietal grown in Cyprus, it was first harvested, and sun dried, before being loaded into smoking barns. They were then smoked, in a manner very similar to Dark Fire Cured Leaf, although more aromatic smoking woods were used. These woods, also located in Cyprus are called ‘Pistacia lentiscus,’ also known as Mastic trees that look somewhat like miniature Evergreen trees to me (see photo at left), and also produce a resin that is used in spices. Research also tells us that a small percentage of Myrtle, Cypress & Stone Pine, are other woods that are sometimes added to the Mastic in small amounts during the fumigating process. In any event, the wood gives the leaf a very unique smoky floral flavor, which has been noted to have uniquely smooth smoking properties, despite its bold aroma. The final preparation is exported in bales, allowing the blenders around the world to finish the product by cutting the leaf to their own specifications such as the broad cut style shown here.

A major reason for concern about the continuing availability of Cyprian Latakia in the future is the political instability of the region and this must be taken into consideration when trying to understand why Cyprian Latakia remains difficult to grow and cultivate and whether or not it will continue to be produced. Below is a bit of very interesting information that I cut/pasted from the official Lobby for Cyprus website, which better explains this little republic’s current instability –

“In 1974 the military junta then ruling Greece carried out a short-lived coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Cyprus. On 20 July 1974, Turkey, using the coup as a pretext, launched a massive military invasion, purportedly to restore constitutional order. Despite the collapse of the coup, restoration of the legitimate government of Cyprus, and a ceasefire agreement, Turkey launched a second invasion on 14 August 1974. Turkey seized 36.2 percent of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus and it maintains an illegal military occupation in the northern areas of the island to this day. In its invasions, Turkey conducted mass systematic human rights abuses against the Greek Cypriots, ethnically cleansing them from their ancestral lands.Human rights violations have been and continue to be directed against Greek Cypriots because of their ethnicity, religion and language. Such discrimination is explicitly prohibited under the European Convention of Human Rights (article 14) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU (article 21). The Commission has found that the acts violating the Convention were exclusively directed against members of the Greek Cypriot community. Turkey has failed to secure the rights and freedoms set forth in these articles without discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin, race and religion as required by article 14 of the Convention…” For further reading here is the Lobby for Cyprus website link: https://www.lobbyforcyprus.org/invasionandoccupation.aspx

Does the above instill confidence in any of us that Cyprian Latakia production is in a “no worries” we’re safe mode for many years to come? It sure doesn’t bring comfort to me. And to further blur the picture, the Bee Trading Tobacco Company in Cyprus, the world’s sole producer of Cyprian Latakia, has its production facility located in Cyprus and its headquarters are located in Turkey! I readily admit that while doing the research for this blog, I quickly determined that trying get to the bottom of that little piece of information was above my pay grade, so I moved on.

More on Bee Trading Tobacco Company – While compiling information for this blog, I went to the Bee Trading Tobacco website and was fascinated by what I saw and read regarding their selling of the completed Cyprian Latakia product. As you can see, they sell their Latakia in three different grades. The photos (taken from the their website and shown here), are the three grades of finished product that they sell; their Cyprus Fine Scrap Tobacco, Cyprus Scrap Tobacco and then their most valuable, the Cyprus Leaf Tobacco. Obviously, the whole leaf is what blenders covet and all of the whole leaf latakia that the Bee Trading Tobacco Company is currently processing for the first time in many years (more on that in a moment), has been back ordered. Here is the direct link to their website: http://www.beetradingtobacco.com/

In perusing the various Internet Pipe Forums where I did some key wording to see what came up regarding interest in the Cyprian Latakia situation, I found this gem from a forum’s member who took the initiative to email the Bee Trading Tobacco Company to inquire about the current availability of their stock of Cyprian Latakia. Here is the response that gentleman received –

Hello,

Thanks for interest in our tobaccos.
Tobacco grades are late 2018, very fresh.

Currently in stock we don”t have Cyprus Latakia Leaf Tobacco, we currently only have 20,000 Kg of Cyprus Latakia Fine Scrap tobacco, from same leaf but in small pieces.
New bales within end of year. But leaf type stocks out early with pre-orders.

Regards,
Mehmet

Interesting, no? And I have included that tidbit because I have information that supports that email and we’ll get to it in a moment.

Time to Slay the Dragon! – As you can well imagine, there are all sorts of speculations and rumors abounding regarding the present state of Cyprian Latakia. Is it still being produced? If not, when will production resume? Is it still readily available? If not, when will it be available again? These are all great questions and I’ve asked all of them to a variety of people whose opinions I trust because they are not only honest people with great reputations, they are also the “troops on the ground,” and not just a peddler of pipe weed like me.

I recently visited with one of our hobby’s most well known personalities, Brian Levine. Brian was given the prestigious Doctor of Pipes Award at the Chicago Pipe Show a few years ago for his more than 25-years in the pipes and tobaccos industry. He has worked for several tobacco blending companies including two of the world’s largest, Mac Baren and Sutliff. He is currently the host of the weekly pipesmagazine.com radio show podcast and has been one of our hobby’s most vocal proponents for a very long time. I recently asked Brian about the state of Cyprian Latakia and whether it is or will be just a memory one day. His reply, “There is always that concern. I’ve been saying for years that quality pipe tobacco of all kinds will never be less expensive or more available than it is today. Packaging, new government regulations, higher taxes, smoking laws, etc., all combine to warrant stocking up on favorite blends now. Cyprian Latakia is a prime example; the availability has had big time gaps. Fortunately, we have blenders who are skilled and creative and always have compensated by making the best product they can with what is available to them.”

Despite what you may have read or heard elsewhere, Cyprian Latakia HAS NOT been produced for many years. My research did not turn up when the last year of production was, but a couple of the speculations from those who should have a good idea told me that it may have been as far back as 2004. All I do know is that it has been many years. To get as much specific information as I could, an obvious choice to interview was the dynamic duo of Mary & Mike McNiel. Their credentials and willingness to always “tell it like it is,” made them the perfect choice. As most of you know, that couple ran McClelland’s Tobacco Company for longer than the Israelite’s were wandering around in the wilderness with Moses. Their contributions to our hobby are well documented and appreciated. Mike absolutely agrees that it has been many years since true Cyprian Latakia was produced, and that is why we are seeing much lower production of famous latakia laden tobaccos from blenders like Samuel Gawith, Germain, and blending houses in the USA. According to Mike, blends that require less Cyprian Latakia are being made more regularly as the blenders are trying to ration what they have left until more Cyprian Latakia comes into their countries. As of right now, blenders around the world are sitting on, or near, empty! That comment sure perked up my ears. The obvious next question was, “when will we see more Cyprian Latakia exported to blenders in the USA and elsewhere?” Mike’s reply, “I’ve heard that we’ll be getting a new shipment sometime in the spring or summer.”

Now, let me say up front that the final portion of this blog is purely speculative because I cannot prove what I am about to say, but am reporting it to you because I trust and believe the individuals who gave me this information and I honestly think that it is more than a rumor. As a former broadcaster, I always follow Journalism 101’s sacred rule of making sure that I have at least two sources telling me the same thing before going with a story. In this instance, I have three. The new Cyprian Latakia that will be exported into this country and around the world is not going to be quite the same as what it had been in the past. The processing will “reportedly” be the same, but the actual leaf to be used for the smoking process (fumigation), “reportedly” is, for the first time, not of Cyprian origin. Instead, the leaf has been sent to Cyprus from growers in Lebanon. Will that produce a different flavor? I have no idea. Lebanon is on the continent and about 164 miles away from Cyprus., The soil may be different and the Oriental varietals grown and the harvesting process is potentially different as well. I have no knowledge of whether either is different or the same and do not want to project the thought that I do.

Finally – and the most important question – will Cyprian Latakia now make a comeback with regular production and distribution? That is an extremely difficult question to answer for many reasons, so, I think  I’ll take a pass, thank you. All I do know is that Cyprian Latakia ain’t dead yet, and that is indeed great news for all of us… at least today!

Keep on puffing,

Steve