How To: Smoke Like You're in a Hookah Lounge
You did it! You made the plunge! After trying hookah in a hookah lounge, you decided to take the next step and pick up a setup of your very own so you can experience the thick, flavorful shisha smoke in the comfort of your own home.
You pack your bowl, light your coals, and after the first few puffs you think to yourself: “why isn’t my hookah smoking like the ones I get in a lounge?”
It’s one of the most common questions we get asked, and for good reason. Most hookah smokers’ first experience with flavored shisha tobacco is typically in a lounge or cafe setting and that experience tends to “set the bar” for most people’s expectations when they purchase their first hookah pipe.
It can be a real disappointment when your home sessions just don’t hit quite the same as those nights in the lounge, but not to worry, we’re here to help!
So how do you get your hookah to smoke like you’re in a lounge?
***While we certainly have been to our fair share of hookah lounges over the years (and even worked in some), there are hundreds if not thousands of lounges in just the USA (and even more outside the US). Every lounge is unique in its own way and will use a variety of different equipment, flavors, and methods to create their sessions. The information provided here is based on our experiences and may vary depending on the lounge and local setting.***
How do hookah lounges prepare their hookahs?
As we’ve said before, every hookah lounge is unique in its own way and that also includes how their hookahs are prepared. The information provided here will be a baseline method of preparation that will get your hookah smoking and tasting like it does in a lounge (or maybe even better!)
We’re going to assume that you know how to properly assemble your hookah, meaning you know how all the individual pieces fit together. If not, we recommend taking a look at our hookah setup tutorial here.
First things first, let’s get your actual hookah pipe set up and ready for a bowl. The main varying factor here is going to be your water level, i.e. how much water you put in the bottom base.
The amount of water needed in a hookah varies depending on the actual hookah itself, as well as personal preference to some degree.
If the water is too low, then the shisha smoke won’t be cooled and filtered through the water, resulting in a very unpleasant experience.
On the flip side, if you put too much water in your base, your “draw” or “pull” will feel extremely restricted and you run the risk of sucking water up into your hose.
Through our extensive experience, we have found that about a ½ inch of your “down stem” (the long metal pipe that comes out of the bottom of your stem and extends into your base) needs to be submerged in the water to provide a smooth draw that minimizes restriction while also allowing the shisha smoke to be properly cooled.
Once you’ve filled the water to the proper level, you can finish connecting the stem, base, and tray to your hookah.
Okay, so you’ve got your hookah all set up and ready to go; now we need to pack the bowl!
We will be using a standard Egyptian clay bowl as an example here, since these styles of bowls are the most common ones found in lounge settings, however the ideas presented here will work great with most other bowls and tobacco brands as well.
To pack your bowl, take the shisha tobacco flavors you chose (in our case it's Al Fakher Blueberry Mint) and use either your fingers or a small shisha fork to “break up” the tobacco and stir it, allowing all of the flavor juice to fully incorporate with the chopped up tobacco leaves.
Next, grab a pinch of your shisha and, channeling your inner salt bae, lightly sprinkle the tobacco into the “dish” of your bowl, taking care not to block or plug the small holes in the bottom of the bowl.
You’ll want to keep sprinkling tobacco into the bowl until there is an even, “fluffy” layer that is filled up to the outer edge of the bowl, or just barely below the edge.
For most shisha brands, you don’t want to be pressing it down hard or “dense packing” it to try and fit more flavor in, as this can cause issues with airflow restriction and how the tobacco cooks.
To test to see if your tobacco is “fluff” packed, you can take your finger and lightly press down on the shisha. You should see it “bounce back” a little bit, like if you were to lightly press on a sponge.
Aluminum Foil and Poking the Holes
Now that you’ve packed your shisha tobacco into your hookah bowl, you’ll need to cover the top of it with aluminum foil! Foil acts as a sort of "shelf" for your charcoal and helps provide a barrier between your tobacco and coals.
You can buy “pre-punched” foil packs that are specifically designed for hookah, however a normal roll of foil you can find at the grocery store will work great as well.
NOTE: Avoid any foil that is advertised as “non-stick” as these are coated in a non-stick chemical that you DON’T want to smoke.
While any regular foil will work, there are a couple tips and tricks we can provide that will help improve the overall quality of your session.
We recommend using heavy duty aluminum foil (at home I use Reynolds Wrap heavy duty), as this will be a bit thicker than the average foil sheet and allows for a more even heat transfer across your bowl.
The other tip would be to use TWO layers of foil on your bowl instead of a single layer, and this helps whether you're using heavy duty or "regular" foil. The extra layer provides a slightly thicker barrier between your shisha and coals, and can really help with overall heat management.
Once you’ve chosen your foil, tear yourself off a square that is somewhat wider than your bowl. Lay it gently over the top of your packed bowl, covering the tobacco.
Then, gently pull the overhanging edges of the foil down around the sides of the bowl and “crimp” them against the sides. At this step, you should see your tobacco being covered by a smooth, flat layer of foil that is securely affixed around your bowl.
If you were to try and pull smoke through the bowl at this point, the foil would prevent any air from coming through the bowl, so you’ll need to poke some holes!
It’s a simple step in the hookah preparation process, but incredibly vital. All you’ll need to poke holes is something like a thumb tack, sharp toothpick, or a foil poker. Basically anything that is thin and sharp like those examples will work just fine.
Everyone seems to have a different method to how they poke their holes, but we basically start along the outer edge of the foil, making quick jabs with our tool of choice, and proceeding in a “spiral” around the foil until you reach the center.
This will result in small, evenly placed holes in your foil that will allow adequate airflow through your shisha. You can now attach your bowl to the very top of your set up hookah!
Preparing Your Charcoal
Okay let’s see, you’ve set up your hookah pipe, you’ve picked your shisha flavors, you’ve packed your bowl, put your foil on, and have poked your holes. You’re almost done and ready to smoke, I swear!
The final thing you’ll need to prepare is charcoal!
There’s not much as far as actual coal preparation goes, so this part should be pretty easy. Light your charcoal using the necessary method (either a flame lighter or coal burner, depending on your coal type) and allow proper time for them to fully ignite.
Your coals will start off as black, but as they light they will turn either a light grey ash color, or a glowing orange color, depending on the exact charcoal being used. You’ll know they are fully lit when there is no more black visible on the coal.
Once they are fully lit (and ONLY once they’re fully lit), place your charcoal on the top of your clay bowl that you’ve covered in foil.
If you’re using the round “quick light” coals, we recommend starting your bowl with 1-2 pieces of coal or, if using natural coconut coals, starting with 2-3 pieces.
While it may seem tempting to put the coals directly in the center of the bowl, this can cause too much heat to get concentrated on your tobacco resulting in harsh smoke and shorter sessions.
We recommend spacing out each piece of charcoal around the edge of your bowl as this helps regulate overall bowl temperature and allows for the shisha to get cooked more evenly.
The combined system of your bowl, shisha tobacco, foil, and coals is responsible for creating both smoke and flavor in a hookah session, so this is where the magic will start to happen.
NOTE: If you’re experiencing weak clouds, no flavor, or harsh smoke, this system will be the FIRST place you should start troubleshooting.
And that should be it!
Now that you’ve put your charcoal on your bowl, you’re ready to sit down and smoke! We typically recommend letting the charcoal sit on your bowl for about 4-5 minutes before taking your first puff, as this allows your bowl and tobacco to get fully up to temp.
You certainly can start taking puffs off of your hose right away if you want to, however you will likely get nothing but air, or very weak wisps of smoke, as the tobacco has not had a proper chance to fully heat up.
If you’ve followed these steps, you should now have a hookah that is putting out thick, flavorful clouds of smoke that are on par with (or maybe better than?) what you experienced in a hookah lounge!
HOOKAH LOUNGE VIBES
Okay, sure, your hookah is now smoking great with full flavor and clouds, however the vibes might still seem kinda off?
There’s more to hookah lounges than just the hookahs themselves, and the provided atmosphere in a lounge can play a big part in the shisha experience.
Some lounges are more like coffee shops that are well lit and quiet, while others might give off “night club” vibes with loud music, dark lighting, and flashing multicolored lights.
Everyone has different preferences when it comes to the atmosphere in a lounge, but the good news is that YOU get to decide the vibes in your home hookah lounge.
Like to play video games? Turn your hookah cave into a game room. Just want to relax and vibe? Throw down some bean bag chairs and hang some string lights to create a relaxing hookah smoking atmosphere.
The point is we’re not here to tell you what the atmosphere in your home hookah lounge should be, and we encourage you to explore different aesthetics and focus on what brings you the most happiness, whatever that may be.
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! This was a hefty piece and we threw A LOT of information at you.
By using the recommendations and instructions above, we’re confident that you’ll get your hookah sessions smoking and tasting just like they do in a lounge setting, or who knows, maybe they’ll be even BETTER than your local lounge!
If there’s anything we talked about here that you’re unsure of, or need some additional guidance on, please reach out to our friendly customer service team and we’ll be happy to walk you through any step in the process that you need assistance with!
Want to tell us about your ideal hookah lounge experience? Or just want to flex your home setup? Drop us a comment below!