I. What is a Hookah?
The hookah is a water pipe used for smoking, and is referred to as a nargile or nargila, shisha or sheesha, and hubbly bubbly.
In social gatherings, a hookah is placed in the center of a group. Smokers pass the hose to the next in the circle, all the while exchanging words and sharing ideas. The popularity of the hookah has grown in recent years, mainly due to an increase in international travel and the allure of the social nature of hookah smoking. The use of hookahs sky rocketed in the United States with the exposure of American troops to Middle Eastern cultures during operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. More locations in the United States are providing atmosphere for hookah smokers. Famous locations offering hookah include West wood, California, Chicago and Miami's South Beach, as well as the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
To smoke hookah, one requires shisha (also known as moassel or hookah tobacco), which is a special blend of fresh, dark leaves, fruit pulp, honey or molasses, and glycerin. The shisha is available in a wide variety of flavors including pumpkin pie, champagne, hazelnut, pineapple, vanilla, pistachio, and butterscotch. It is thought that smoking with a Hookah is less harmful than cigarette or cigar smoking due to shisha tobacco blend containing only 0.5% nicotine and no tar. The major source of carcinogens –the burning and inhalation of resulting carbon, as is the process with cigars and cigarettes, is avoided during the use of hookah. The point in hookah smoking is to heat the tobacco, to steam the juices providing a light, fluffy smoke. Overall, it provides a smoother, more pleasant and less irritating smoking experience.
Smoking hookah is a cultural and social experience that can open people to an ancient tradition that has changed very little since its beginnings in Turkey, with the exception of certain modernizing of features and styles. It is more than a smoking device but an experience that can transport it’s users to another time and place. It increases ones knowledge of a part of the world that is for the most part misunderstood in the Western world. Perhaps as people choose to expand their knowledge through this simple smoking tool, the Modern day Peace Pipe, there will be further efforts to understand our fellow man both near and far.
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II. Common Names
Pipe might not be the first word that pops into your head when you see a hookah, but the origins of the Hookah are very much in line with the evolution of pipes and other smoking utensils. Hookahs and the shisha smoked from them go by many many names, but are widely know in the United States as the "hookah" (water-pipe itself) and "shisha" (tobacco smoked from a hookah).
A. Hookah Names
The hookah, as it is most commonly known in the United States, goes by a wide variety of names, including: hookah, hooka, huka, shisha, narghile, narghila, hubbly-bubbly, ghelyon, and waterpipe.
B. Shisha Names
The tobacco used when smoking hookah is commonly known in the United States as "shisha", however, you may also hear it called: moassel, me'assel, shisha, hookah, sheesha, hookah tobacco.
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III. History and Culture
Before hookahs were made of glass and metal, they were generally made with anything that could act as a water reservoir – things like coconuts and gourds. Since there was no flexible material to create a hose out of, the stems were generally solid as well, giving the hookah the appearance of a complex, long-stemmed pipe.
The first shisha smoked out of these primitive hookahs was also more like pipe tobacco, instead of having molasses or honey added in it was smoked dry in a style called Tumbak. With the introduction of hookahs that were closer to the modern products we see today, dry tobacco became less and less popular, quickly replaced amongst hookah smokers by the sticky, flavored style of shisha.
Though the hookah is ancient and comes from across the globe its appeal is being spread more vastly likely due to its distressing sensation. Smokers are soothed by the bubbling sound much like the audio sensation of a fish tank. It relaxes an individual with soothing sound and the peaceful sensation of drawing in the light flavored smoke and passing the smoke in the air. The room is filled with a delightful aroma and the opportunity to share the experience with others creates an experience that is missing in todays rushed pace. People could learn a few things from Middle Eastern culture such as slowing down, relaxing and enjoying the comfort of conversation with those around us.
The hookah was first created in India or Persia and was made more primitively from a coconut. As the hookah traveled to Turkey it transformed to the more elegant water pipe that is most recognized today. This design has changed very little for over 500 years. Smoking hookah is a common past time in the Arab world and is becoming more wide spread across the word.
In the Middle East the tobacco known as Shisha is traditionally mixed with honey, molasses, sugar and dried fruit for a sweet smoke. Shisha of today comes in a variety of flavors, including: coconut, hazelnut, pumpkin pie, key lime pie, 7 spice and many more appetizing flavors that are experienced through smoking hookah.
1. Traditions and Customs
The art of smoking hookah is one of the oldest traditions of the Middle East, and is a common past time in the Arab world. Shisha sessions can last 30 minutes to an hour providing a fruity aroma in the air and a relaxing and peaceful sensation. It is often a shared process as the hookah hoses are passed around a table as smokers enjoy the flavored smoke and conversation.
When people smoke shisha they have time to think. It teaches them patience and tolerance, and gives them an appreciation of good company. Shisha is not a rush from here to their nicotine fix method of smoking such as that associated with cigarettes. Shisha Pipe Smoking is pleasant, slow paced relaxation tool. It is traditional to place the hookah in the center of a group of people and smoke the hookah passing the hose from guest to guest. As you draw in the full flavored smoke, the room fills with a rich aroma of fruit or sweet scent. Conversation can range from days events discussion to politics and religion. These conversations are shared in a peaceful manner as a discussion and not a debate.
In Western culture every minute is rushed and jammed full of events, destinations and work. Rarely do people take the time to sit with their fellow man and carry on a relaxing enjoyable conversation. Instead it is common that they eat, work, think and smoke fast. It is likely that hookah smoking is becoming more popular because it provides a moment to be at peace. It states that it is okay to take a moment to sit, to breathe, to think and to enjoy the stillness that is a part of shisha pipe philosophy.
Perhaps with the growing popularity of Shisha pipe smoking people from around the globe will see the value in taking time to enjoy the social comforts of conversation. It is not suggested that smoking hookah will solve the problems of the world but any positive aspects that are passed on to make life more pleasant and enjoyable cannot be a bad thing. Shisha pipe smoking has been around for 500 years and it is growing in popularity. That speaks volumes in itself.
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IV. Parts and Operation
The hookah is comprised of many different parts, all of which have their specific place and purpose.
A. Common Part Names and Functions
Bowl (or “Head”)
A hookah “bowl” or “head” is what holds your shisha and sits at the very top of the hookah. Bowls are normally made from ceramic or clay, however you can find hookah bowls made from a wide variety of materials, such as pyrex, marble, wood, and metal. People also commonly fashion their own bowls out of fruits and vegetables.
Hookah bowls also come in a wide variety of styles or designs, from the standard clay Egyptian bowl, to more advanced bowls like the Sahara Vortex, funnel, and freezable bowls.
A Rubber or Silicone grommet used to achieve an air tight seal between the hookah stem and bowl.
A metal tray that rests below the bowl to catch any ash or coals that may fall off the bowl, the tray is also used as a place to put hot coals that are not being used or to knock the ash off of the coals you are using.
The stem is the “body” of the hookah that is most commonly made of metal. The stem is a vital part of the hookah as it is what connects all the other parts to each other. It is very important to make sure all seals are air tight to ensure proper function of the hookah.
Most hookahs come with a purge value, which is simply a port used to empty or “purge” the hookah of smoke. The purge valve is a one way valve that remains air tight until you blow into the hose to purge the smoke.
The hose port will generally be a metal tube originating from the base of the stem, allowing you to connect your hose to the hookah. It is important to get an air tight seal between the hose and hose port using a hose grommet.
Rubber or silicone grommet used to create an air tight seal between the hose port and hookah hose.
Hookah hoses come in a wide variety of styles and designs, and allow you to smoke the hookah from a distance instead of position yourself around the hookah. Hookah hoses are made in a wide variety of materials, usually fitted with a connector piece on one end that fits into the hose port on your stem, and a handle of some sort on the other end with a mouth tip.
Rubber or silicone grommet used to form an air tight seal between the stem and vase.
Also referred to as a “base” or “water jar”, this important piece of the hookah holds the water that filters the smoke and also serves as the “smoke chamber” between the water and stem.
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V. Shisha Styles
The tobacco or "shisha" smoked from a hookah comes in a wide variety of styles and flavors. The styles are influenced by the location of origin of the company making the shisha.
Shisha is available in a wide variety of styles, from modern to traditional, in an even greater variety of flavors.
The "Cut" of shisha refers to the actual tobacco in the shisha, more specifically the size of the tobbaco bits. Some shishas have thick leaves cut into small pieces, others have thinner tobbacco leaves cut into thin, long strips.
The "wetness" of a shisha is simply the amount of flavoring, glycerin, and molasses in the shisha as compared to the amount of tobacco.
3. Heat Preference
The "Heat Preference" of a shisha is simply how much heat it takes to get a brand or cut of shisha smoking at its best. Some shishas with thicker cut tobacco usually require more heat, while shishas with thin strips can get nice fluffy clouds with much less heat. You can control the amount of heat on the head by potitioning coals closer to or further away from the center of the bowl, you can also control the heat by adding or removing coals from the bowl.
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VI. How to Set Up a Hookah
A. Water Level
Finding the optimum water level on a hookah is an important part of setting up a great hookah session. The suggested water level of any given vase depends on the stem being used with it and how far into the vase the towntube goes. You want to try and get your water level about one inch above the bottom of the downtube, from here you can pull through the hose and adjust the water lever to increase or decrease the resistance to your preference.
B. Bowl Packing
Packing a good hookah bowl takes practice and is a skill you develop over time. Different styles of shisha burn differently, so its good to keep this in mind when packing so you can determine if you want to pack the shisha dense, fluffy, or maybe somewhere in between. Make sure to keep the tobacco below the rim of the bowl, as tobacco touching the foil may have a tendency to burn which will make the smoke harsh.
1. Fluffy vs. Dense Packing
Fluffy packing is simply packing the shisha loose and fluffy in the bowl, which creates more air flow between the tobacco leaves allowing you to get nice clouds with less heat.
Dense packing is when you pack the shisha down when packing a bowl, this creates less air space between the leaves and uses more shisha, but allows you to use more heat, giving you thicker clouds and better flavor.
There is no one right way to pack a bowl, so experiment with different ways and see what works best for you.
2. Foil vs. Screen
Foil is a fast, easy, and disposable way to keep your shisha separated from the red hot coals, but some people do not like to spend the time wrapping foil on the bowl and poking holes jsut to throw it away when they are done, this is where the screen comes in. A screen is simply a thin piece of metal with holes already put in it, so all you have to do is pack your shisha, lay the screen over the bowl, and put your coals on.
3. Hole Pattern
The hole pattern is simply the way you poke holes in the foil when packing a bowl. Depending on the style of shisha you may need lots of holes or maybe just a few. A good rule of thumb is to make sure you poke holes evenly around the bowl to ensure even air flow so you dont burn on side of the bowl while the other doesn't get hot enough. A common hole pattern is 3 concentric rings circling the center of the bowl.
C. Charcoal Preparation
Lighting your hookah charcoal properly can save you lots of time and result in a better smoking session.
1. Instant Light vs. Natural
Instant light charcoal are a great way to heat your shisha when you dont want to wait for coals to light. They typically come in disks and have an accelerant on the outside so they can be lit with a typical pocket lighter. Instant coals have a tendancy to smoke a lot when lighting due to the accelerant and sometimes can be tasted over the flavor of your shisha.
Natural hookah charcoal take much longer to light than instant coals, but they burn more evenly for a longer time span. Natural coals do not have an accelerant so they must be lit over a constant heat source such as a coil burner on a stove top for around 10 to 15 minutes until they are red hot all over. Natural coals normally do not smoke when being lit and do not add a flavor to your shisha.
2. How to Light Instant Coals
Istant light coals can be lit using a lighter and a pair of tongs to hold onto the coal with. Just grab the coal with your tongs and hold the flame under the coal until it catches, once it catches, wait for it to spark all the way around the coal, you can blow on it gently after the sparking to speed up the time until it is red hot.
3. How to Light Natural Coals
Natural coals take a bit longer to light and require a stove top or other comparable heat source. To light your natural coals, turn on the coil burner to high and place the coals onto of the coil, let them sit for 5-7 minutes, flip with your tongs and let them sit another 5-7 minutes, or until they are red hot all over.
D. Heat Management
Heat management is a skill you develop over time and is simply the act of making sure the shisha in your bowl is getting the right amount of heat. Coal rotation is an important part of heat management, as leaving coals in one spot for too long can burnthat area of tobacco or even form a cold black layer of coal on the bottom decresing heat output to the shisha. Managing the heat of your bowl will depend on the style of shisha, kind of coal used, packing method, hole pattern, so it's really a trial and error learning experience, but a very valuable skill to have.
1. Tending to Coals
Tending to your coals during a hookah session is a very important part of heat management, some coals ash more than others so its always good to grab the coals with your tongs and knock off the ash in your tray, which helps keep ash out of your shisha as well.
2. Coal Rotation
Coal rotation is another important aspect of heat management, as some coals burn hotter than others, its good to make sure the coals aren't given enouh time in one spot so they don't burn the shisha and make the smoke harsh.
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VII. How to Clean a Hookah
Cleaning your hookah regularly is an important part of ensureing your pipe will smoke porperly and will help it last a lot longer.
Using a stem brush and water, scrub the inside of the stem with the hose and flush water through it, repeat until clean.
Use water and lemon juice as a cleaning solution and swish it around the vase, if your vase is extra dirty, use a vase brush to get those hard to reach areas. If you remember to change out the water after every session, you won't have as much trouble cleaning the vase.
If your hose is washable, simply run water through the hose until the water coming out is clear, then hang your hose so that the remaining water may drain out of the hose. Allow ample time for the hose to dry, as leaving water in a hose can do damage in some cases.
Cleaning your bowl after each use will help keep it looking clean, using hot water and a scrubber sponge, simply scrub out the bowl like you would a normal dish.
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