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So You Bought Your First Hookah. Let's Set it Up!

So You Bought Your First Hookah. Let's Set it Up!

By john / October 24, 2023
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Look at you, you've got your first hookah and I'm sure you're ready to smoke it. I remember buying my first hookah and not quite knowing what I was doing. Thankfully, I had friends around to help me figure things out. Let me be the friend that helps you figure it out. Like Drake, we'll start at the bottom.


Fill up Your Base

Close up of hookah base filled with water showing the downstem submerged 1 inch

A defining feature of any hookah is its base. The water in the base acts as a bit of a filter and cooling for your smoke, but how much water do you add? The basic guidance for water in a hookah is to fill the water one half to one inches above the bottom of the downstem (the tube that submerges into the water of your base).

Assemble the Hookah Stem (if Needed)

MYA Bambino hookah stem and downstem disassembled

If you have a hookah with more than one piece to its shaft [aka the stem], assemble the shaft. (i.e.: Many modern hookahs, like MYA and Amira/BYO hookahs have an unscrewable downstem. Screw this into your stem.)

Put the base grommet onto the hookah stem/shaft (or, in some cases, inside the lip of the base).

Once this is done, you can place the stem/shaft into the base of the hookah. Place the tray onto the top of the stem, then place the hose(s) into the hose port(s).

This is a good time to take a test pull from the hose and see if you like the draw, keeping in mind that it will tighten just a little when you add the bowl to the hookah.

Prepare Your Bowl

Various types of hookah bowls

How do you pack a bowl? Well, we could write a whole blog on this (and we did! here and here), but put simply: break the shisha tobacco apart in your hands, sprinkle it lightly into the bowl, and make sure it's just under the rim of the bowl. Give it a light pack down, adding more shisha if needed. 

The key point here is to pack the shisha into your bowl a little more loosely than how it arrived in its packaging.  For dark leaf shisha, you'll want a more dense pack in most cases. 

Profile of hookah bowl with foil wrapped tight on top next to hookah bowl with holes punched into the foil

Place your foil onto the bowl as tightly as you can. If it's pre-punched, you're good to go. If not, evenly poke holes into the foil. If you’re using a traditional style bowl where the holes are located in the very bottom, blow through the bottom of the bowl with your hand near the bowl's top. You should be able to feel cool air come through the top of the bowl; if not, your bowl is too tightly packed and needs less shisha.

Once your bowl is packed and foiled, put the bowl grommet onto the bowl stem. Put the bowl on and you're oh so close to your first session. Make sure the bowl's fit is nice and snug.

If you're using a heat management device [aka a HMD] you can obviously skip this step. However some people (including a few of us) like to use foil with HMDs like the AppleOnTop Provost or chimney style HMDs that come with hookahs like the Smokezilla Muto

Get Your Charcoals Ready

Lighter next to two pieces of quick-lighting hookah charcoal

If you're using quick-lighting coals (round coals that come in a roll), light the coal with a lighter. Wait until the coal is done sparking and it has ashed over fully. Blowing on the coal can speed up this process. Once the coal is ready, put that bad boy on top of the bowl.

Natural hookah charcoal pieces on a hookah coal heater in three phases of lighting process from beginning to complete

For natural coconut coals (square coals in a rectangular box), place 2-4 pieces on an electric burner for about six minutes, then flip the coals. Once they're glowing orange all the way through and covered in a nice coating of ash, they're ready to go on top of your bowl.

Smoke Clouds of Flavor!

Man exhaling clouds of smoke from a hookah

Take a couple pulls to direct some heat down through the bowl. Wait a minute or two to let the bowl eat up nicely, then start smoking. Keep in mind that the session will get stronger in both cloud density and flavor given a few minutes time.

If you have a small bowl (like those that come with MYA hookahs and some of our traditional Egyptian hookahs), you might will not be able to use a second round of coal depending on how long your first round lasts; large bowls can sometimes go for two rounds of coals, but I typically prefer one round anyway - to each their own.


Bravo!  You’ve done it! Congrats on setting up and smoking your new hookah!

If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to ask us. We're friendly dudes and dudettes over here, and we can help ya out. Leave a comment down below if you have any further thoughts.

Until next time, I've been John, you've been you, and see ya next time.

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