One reason flake tobaccos are left in slices after cake-maturing is that they retain their freshness better than in ribbon or cut tobacco. Flakes also enable the smoker to have some control over the burning rate and, to a lesser degree, the flavor.
It is important to prepare the tobacco before packing so that it has an even texture and fills the bowl evenly, no matter what degree of brokenness is preferred. The more fully-rubbed -- meaning gently separated -- a tobacco, the faster it will burn. Similarly, it is true that the thinner the cut, the faster it will burn.
Moist tobaccos should be packed more loosely than normal so they don't pack down to a dense wad and prevent a good draft. The idea is to have the tobacco draw firmly, with a little resistance, throughout the smoke. The smoker should barely be able to hear a little hissing through the pipe as it is smoked. Too firmly packed and the tobacco won't burn at all or one small spot will burn hot and maybe wet as the smoker puffs hard to keep it going; too loose and the tobacco will burn inconsistently and unevenly, perhaps causing the bowl to overheat in spots and moisture to condense.
Five Steps to Success:
1. Put in the palm of one hand the amount of tobacco that it is believed will fill the bowl. Then pinch at the slices with your fingers or rub them tobacco into your palm until the tobacco separates to the degree preferred, keeping the texture even, and avoiding clumps. The denser the tobacco is left, the slower it will burn. This becomes especially valuable on windy days outdoors.
2. Gently, but firmly and evenly work the tobacco into the bowl of the pipe until it is filled slightly over the top and feels firm but still springy under enough finger pressure to flatten the surface of the tobacco even with the top of the pipe. We assume the pipe is clean at the outset, free of obstruction to allow good draft, and well rested).
3. Now, while drawing through the stem, light the pipe evenly across the entire surface of the tobacco. After a few puffs to develop an ash, and while continuing to draw, tamp the tobacco down evenly all around the bowl with a tamper. The goal is to have the tobacco packed so that it will burn as evenly and firmly as a good cigar.
4. Relight the pipe after tamping to get the entire surface of the tobacco burning again. Even burning is very important. Otherwise, hot spots may develop.
5. With only occasional tamping as the tobacco burns down, since it tends to expand and loosen as it burns, the pipe should now smoke evenly to the bottom. The aim is to maintain a firm, even draft throughout the smoke. The process is not difficult to master and with practice will soon be effortless.
A Note on Flavor Expectations:
For those who are used to the "aromatic" or sweetened tobaccos that dominate our market in the United States, it may take some time for the additives remaining in the pipe to dissipate. Many smokers prefer to maintain one set of pipes exclusively for the natural, matured tobaccos and another for the sweetened varieties.
It may be necessary to smoke up to four ounces of a natural product before the mouth adjusts to the clean taste and subtler range of flavors typical of these Matured Virginia tobaccos. The smoker is rewarded for the effort as he becomes able to distinguish the delicate variations in taste and deepening richness these tobaccos develop as they are smoked.