How To: Make Your Hookah & Shisha Taste Better
This post was updated on 12/19/2018
Do you ever have sub-par hookah sessions where you don't get much flavor from your shisha? Or perhaps the flavor tastes burned or harsh? If so, this is the perfect blog post for you.
In this post we are going to cover 6 different aspects of the hookah smoking experience that can affect the quality and flavor of your hookah smoke. If you follow our tips on your next session we think that you will get the best flavor and smoothest smoke of your life.
Hookah Heat Management
The first rule of heat management is that too much heat can kill your flavors. Each brand of shisha is going to react to heat in different ways. Haze, for instance, likes a lot of heat, as does Nirvana super shisha. Most modern brands such as Starbuzz, Social Smoke, or Fantasia, don't react as well to high levels of heat and can taste burnt if you add too much heat at once. We recommend doing a bit of research (google and youtube are your friends) on each brand to see what longtime smokers recommend in terms of heat levels for each brand you plan on smoking.
The second rule of hookah heat management when it comes to maximizing your flavor is to always, always, always use coals that are GLOWING RED. If your coals are not fully lit then they may impart a certain unpleasant taste to your bowls and it is incredibly difficult to remove this flavor once it's attached itself to your bowl and shisha. It may mean you have to wait an extra minute or two to smoke, but making sure that your coals are fully lit will ensure a clean tasting bowl.
Hookah Bowl Packing Techniques
As with heat management, the way you pack your bowl will depend on the type of shisha you are smoking, as well as the bowl you use. Once again, for the best results, we recommend doing a bit of internet research on your brand of choice, but there are some general guidelines you can follow to get a great smoke.
A fluff pack, or semi-dense pack, will work for almost all brands aside from Tangiers and Haze. Just sprinkle the shisha into your bowl and lightly pack it down to just a bit under the edge of your bowl. You want to have great airflow so that heat can evenly pass through your shisha and in turn evenly heat your tobacco. A fluff pack will allow for proper heat distribution.
A great general tip is to use a toothpick or foil poker to make lots of small holes in your shisha once your bowl is packed. Poke all the way down to the bottom of the bowl. If you are wondering what we consider to be the best style of bowl for general smoking sessions, we generally recommend phunnel style bowls these days as they tend to work best across a wide variety of shisha brands.
When poking holes in your foil (we recommend using one sheet of a hookah specific foil, or heavy duty kitchen foil) always make at least 3 full rings of holes around the central spire of your bowl and then one hole directly in the center of the spire to prevent your foil from getting sucked down and clogging the spire hole. Make sure that the holes are evenly spaced for the most even heat distribution.
One final tip is to check your airflow once the bowl has been packed and wrapped in foil. Hold the bowl above your head and check to make sure there is no excess shisha or juice in the neck of the bowl and then place your lips directly on the bottom of the bowl. Inhale through the bowl to test the airflow. If it feels restricted you may need to rethink your packing techniques.
The Hookah Base
When it comes to your hookah base the most important thing is to ensure a proper water level. If you have too much water your hookah will be very restricted. Too little water and your smoke will be very dry and hot. This can lead to headaches when smoking and a sore throat. We recommend having the end of your downstem, or the highest holes on your diffuser, submerged below the water by about 1 - 2 inches.
Never leave water in your base after your session is over. Stale water will trap or "ghost" the flavors that have already been smoked in the hookah and mold can also build up very quickly in the warm environment of a hookah base and that mold can absolutely ruin your shisha's flavor. Not to mention that it's really gross and unhealthy to be inhaling mold.
While it may be popular to add ice or cold water to your base to get cooler, smoother smoke, be aware that cold will lessen the flavor you get from your shisha. It's analgous to trying to brew tea in cold water. You just won't get the same level of flavor that you will with room temperature water. Oh and by the way, if you are wondering what liquid to use in your base to get the best flavor, we always recommend plain room temperature water. Nothing else compares.
Using A Kaloud Lotus
For the best flavor and clouds possible, we love smoking with both a Kaloud Lotus and a HEBA diffuser at the same time. Make sure that the air vents on the bottom of your Lotus are over the bowl and shisha as this is imperative to your Lotus working right.
Pro Tip: With the Lotus on top of your bowl, but with no coals in place, use a foil poker or toothpick to clear any shisha that may be clogging those air vents to ensure proper air flow.
Keep your hookah coals towards the outside of the Kaloud Lotus so that the heat can effectively move from the coals, through the air vents, and into the shisha. The vibration of your rumbling hookah can cause your coals to move towards the center of your Lotus and this is why we always recommend using the Heba diffuser when you are using your Kaloud Lotus. The reduction in vibration that the HEBA brings will keep your coals in place and your hookah smoking great and will also help to ensure a smooth smoke.
Finally, always be sure to give your Lotus a thorough cleaning before using. If there is burned up shisha stuck to the bottom of the Lotus it can give an unpleasant flavor to your bowl. If the burned on shisha is really stuck on there, you can soak your Kaloud Lotus in hot water for an hour or so and then scrub the burnt shisha with a light scouring pad or brush.
Your Hookah Hose
If you are using a traditional leather hookah hose, you may be quite susceptible to ghosted flavors. Since leather hoses are not washable, one thing you can try is to blow out any smoke that may be lingering in your hose as soon as you are done smoking and then hang the hose on a peg with the tips facing downward to allow any moisture in the hose to drip out. That lingering smoke contains moisture which can be absorbed by the porous materials of your hose while it sits out.
The Hookah Stem
Metal hookahs should be washed or, at a minimum, rinsed out between each session to ensure the best flavors and to eliminate as much flavor ghosting as possible. If you have a stem which is severely ghosted we recommend using a hookah cleaner like Bling or, in lieu of that, lemon juice mixed with water.
Pro Tip: If there are any particularly strong flavors trapped in the hookah you can also mix in a small amount of baking soda with your lemon juice and water for a deep clean.
This will get the majority of the ghosted flavors out of your stem. Be sure to thoroughly rinse out your stem with plain water after cleaning.
Most hookahs come with metal BBs in your purge valve which function well but are prone to rust or oxidation over time. We recommend swapping those out with plastic BBs if possible. This eliminates most gunk and buildup in the purge valve. If you decide to stick with your metal BBs, make sure that the ball is kept clean and shiny. If it is tarnished, make sure to clean it off before smoking. If you have a clean hose, stem, and base but your hookah still tastes funky, the purge valve may be the culprit and should be cleaned thoroughly.
There you have it, a massive collection of all of our best tips to ensure that you get the best taste from your hookah. We hope that these tips will allow you to get the best tasting hookah session of your entire life. Good luck and, as always, happy smoking!