Coal-tivating good smoke: hookah heat maintenance and coal rotation
This blog was updated on 01/25/2019
Welcome to our series on bowl loading and heat maintenance! In the previous blog, Bowl me over: tips on loading and tending a hookah bowl, we gave some general guidelines on loading a great bowl of shisha. In this one, we'll discuss heat management and coal rotation made easy. By this point, you should have your loaded bowl with the foil or screen in place on the hookah (note: charcoal rotation is not required as much when using a heat management device).
Hookah Heat Management
Once the coals are ready (fully glowing, without black showing on the surface), they're ready to go on the bowl. It will often take a couple of draws through the hookah before the tobacco is sufficiently heated to smoke. We allow up to 5 minutes before the first inhale, this will save you the headache of rapid inhalation. Once you began drawing smoke, you'll want to pay careful attention to the taste of the smoke, and the smell in the air.
If the shisha begins to overheat or burn, the change in the taste and smell will be the first indications that the coals need to be "rotated". Rotating coal simply means using your tongs to move the charcoal to a new part on the bowl to heat up a cooler section of the bowl, and cool a hotter section of the bowl.
Smoke rising out of the bowl also indicates overheated shisha, and the need to rotate the coals. If the smoke becomes very harsh, you may need to remove the coal from the top of the bowl for several minutes and gently blow air in to your hose to purge the stale smoke out as the tobacco cools down before replacing the coal and trying the smoke again.
More Heat Management Devices
The hookah industry is full of new ideas and there's no way we would be left with hookah foil as our primary heat management device. Over the years many devices have entered the market as improvements to the heat management area, and we've provided you with the best of the best. The first game changer was the Kaloud lotus, shortly after its release this device became a go-to choice over tin foil. The device is built to last and also serves as a wind cover, the design allows for cleaner flavor with less charcoal particles within your smoke.
As one heat management device hit the market, new tools became available for existing products like the Apple on top Bowl, and their Provost Heat management controller. The provost is design to be used with the AOT bowl, but you can use it atop tin foil (remember to poke holes) and it provides a longer flavor within your session. There was also a recent release of a simple heat management device that could be used on any bowl, and this hidden gem goes by the name Flavor Saver. Sure it looks like a simple aluminum ring, and that's essentially what it is but the spacing between the charcoal and bowl will prolong your flavor life.
What Not To Do
You'll want to avoid placing coal directly in the center of the bowl until the very end of the bowl or session. Because coal radiates heat in all directions, the center of the bowl is always receiving some of the heat from the coals around the edge, but if coal is placed directly in the center, too much heat is radiated into the tobacco, and it will quickly begin to burn. Depending on your bowl style having the coals in the middle will also lead to the taste of coal within your shisha flavor.
Once the coals burn down to small embers, they emit less heat than larger pieces and you will need to add fresh coal to maintain the temperature of the bowl. When adding a fresh coal to the bowl, I find it helpful to balance the heat by placing the embers adjacent to the fresh coal, moving the embers side-by-side around the bowl together (as one would move a single coal).
As personal preference, I like to place a new coal so near the rim of the bowl that part of the coal hangs off the edge. One may consider this a very 'gentle' way to heat the bowl because the least amount of heat transfers from the coal to the bowl; I find that heating the bowl more slowly decreases the chances of burning the tobacco and facilitates the balance of heat.
Dealing With Hookah Charcoal Ash
For ease of heat maintenance and cleanliness, you should scrape or gently blow the ash off of the surface of the foil when needed. Don't worry about ash falling through the holes of the screen or foil, for very little ash will fall through, and it won't fall any lower than the surface of the top layer of tobacco.
The tiny amount of ash that falls through won't impact the flavor or texture of the smoke. You may also want to knock ash off of the coal periodically by picking it up with the tongs and dropping it in the tray a few times. As the coal hits the tray, the outermost layers of ash will be knocked into the tray, and the clean coal is ready to be replaced on the bowl.
Bear in mind, too, that there are almost as many unique ways to manage a bowl as there are unique smokers out there. This guide is one easy way to tend a hookah bowl, but don't be afraid to adjust this system as you see fit! By experimenting with the way you load and tend a bowl, you'll develop your own feel for your hookah and gain experience invaluable to smoking perfect bowls.
When in doubt, WIND COVER!
Everyone knows what wind covers are for right? To prevent outside winds from affecting your charcoal temperature.
If that was your answer you would be correct, but this outdoor device works wonders indoors. When you have that moment of time in between lighting your second round of coals while smoking with the smaller size first round, toss a wind cover on top to increase the heat on the bowl. These wind covers can also be used to start up a hookah by focusing all the heat on the bowl, and you can remove it whenever you feel the time is right.