Old, very old, School Nakhla
During my present and seemingly (to me at least) epic series of journeys I got spend some time with a food chemist and tobacco enthusiast named Hilmi Murad in Tunis who holds a passion for recreating tobacco recipes of times gone by. Professor Murad owns a collection of antique narghiles as impressive as anything I’ve ever laid eyes on but even such a artworks paled in comparison to treasure trove of tobaccos he owns and his skill in crafting delightful products from them.
The good professor grows his own tobacco crops and makes moassel from scratch and I got to sample the fruits of his labour which included the original Muassel El-Zaghloul recipe. Professor Murad bought a note book at an auction a couple of years back written by Saleh Mohamed El-Ibiary of Nahkla fame which contained a recipe dated 1912 for a very nice black moassel which my friend managed to recreate.
Apparently the original Muassel El-Zaghloul recipe called for leaf that has been far too expensive to be used in an inexpensive, mass produced product like the Zaghloul known and loved by so many of us. As a result, my friend decided to obtain the needed leaf by getting the right seeds and growing his own tobacco on a small patch of land he developed himself. The Turkish leaf types used in this concoction are as follows:
1) Bitlis which is very aromatic leaf with a sugar content of about 25% from the Şemdinli region
2) Basma which comes from the Gümüşhacıköy region of Turkey which is a celebrated and expensive aromatic leaf highly prized by pipe smokers in the West.
3) The spicy/peppery Yayladağ variety
4) A mystery leaf that he wouldn’t disclose
The vast expense of importing high quality top soil, fertilizing, watering the crop and the amount of effort involved in maintaining such a diverse range of leaf by one man in his spare time demonstrated a level of commitment that deeply impressed me.
The leaves are all flute cured using the American method, destemmed and packed in cedar to age and meld for a full year in a climatically stable cellar. Next, the pieces are cut into finger wide strips about 1cm in length, mixed with an extremely light molasses he made himself and baked at a temperature he wouldn’t reveal although I think I could make an educated guess as to what it was. I would guess that molasses constituted about 30% of the weight of the final product.
I got to try it and I was simply surprised how differently this moassel was compared to anything I tried before. The first thing that struck me was the naturally sweet taste one finds in a few of the more exotic pipe tobaccos with the molasses element off in the background. Other aspects of the taste lent an earthy and slightly spicy note yet in the end everything seemed to meld rather nicely without any thing dominating. A very pleasant smoke that I found to be surprisingly mild and subtle compared to most black moassels.
Enjoying such a tobacco with an all brass narghile from the 1880s and a lovely handmade leather hose made for a delightful respite from normal life. The jazz that played the good professor’s vintage Quad electrostatic speakers managed to heighten the senses even more and the fine range of tea and fruits rounded out a fantastic experience.