Special Guest Blog Author: "So What Is This Hookah Anyways?"
By Frank / July 14, 2008
Howdy Hookah Lovers! Hookah-shisha.com presents our third guest blog author and finalist in our blog contest. Frank C answers the familiar question, "So what Is This Hookah Anyways?" We can't think of a better question! The best way I have found of describing a hookah is through cultural references that people are already familiar with. Do you remember the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland? Or Jabba the Hutt from the Star Wars franchise? Do you remember those funny looking pipes they had? Those were hookahs. Essentially a hookah is a single or multi-stemmed (often glass-based) water pipe that can be used for smoking a variety of herbal preparations including tobacco, hashish, and opium. Excluding the grommets, hookahs are made up of five basic components, four of which are essential to its function. These include: the bowl; the hose; the body, gasket, valve combination; and the water jar. To these, can be added the plate and grommets. The bowl, also known as the head, is made of coal, marble, or even Pyrex glass. It contains tobacco or other herbs and the coal during a smoking section. It is filled with tobacco and then covered with perforated aluminum foil or metal or glass screen which holds the hot coals which heats the tobacco rather than burning it. The smoke (actually vapor) is drawn through a slender rubber hose fitted with a wooden, plastic, or metal mouth piece. Depending on design hookahs can have from one to eight hoses, regardless of number, hookah smoking is usually a social activity. The body of the hookah consists of a (usually) metal pipe with a gasket at the bottom. The gasket seals the connection between the body of the pipe with water jar and also contains the port or ports for the hose and may contain a valve to evacuate smoke from the water jar. A second pipe extends from the gasket into the water jar. The water jar forms the base of the hookah. As the name suggests it contains water through which the smoke passes before entering the hose. The water adds moisture to the smoke making it less harsh and functions as a filter removing some of the harmful particulates. While the jar is traditionally filled with water, other liquids can be added to compliment the flavor of the tobacco such as wine, spirits, fruit juice, or even cola. The plate rests just below the bowl and is essentially an ashtray that catches ash from the coals and acts as a receptacle for spent coals. Grommets are often used between the bowl and the body, the gasket and the jar, and in the hose ports to seal joints between the parts in order to minimize the amount of air flowing in and maximize the amount of smoke flowing up the hose. However, the same effect can be achieved with paper or even tape. The hookah is ancient and its origins are obscure, lost in the mists of time. Thought to have originated in India, the hookah, known by a variety of names such as sheesha, narghile, or ghelyan ; spread throughout Asia and the Near East through contact with various Islamic empires. Hookahs were originally used to smoke intoxicants such as hashish and opium but through contact with the New World in the 15th and 16th century those intoxicants were gradually replaced with tobacco. Originally hookah tobacco, known by a variety of names such as ma'sal (from the Arabic for “honeyed”); shisha (which may also refer to the hookah pipe); or jurak (an Indian term for either traditional sweetened tobacco or contemporary fruit flavored tobacco), was a mixture of either honey or molasses, tobacco, and dried fruit which produced a thick, sweet but flavorless smoke. However in the 1980s, in an effort to gain more female customers, tobacco companies began adding fruit and candy flavors to their mixes. In the countries where hookah culture originated, smoking is a social activity. It is not uncommon to find hookahs being shared in cafes, clubs and restaurants. As with the coffeehouses of Europe and the Americas, hookah cafes are often the center for discussion of arts, poetry, religion, philosophy, and politics. In homes they are often the center for socializating with friends and family. It has been said that cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run. When one smokes a hookah you have time to think, and contemplate your world. Hookahs teach tolerance and patience and to appreciate good company. It is perhaps that quality that has lead to the hookah's popularity amongst many Westerners, especially students, artists, hipsters, and other Bohemians. Many larger cities and college towns are likely to have at least one hookah lounge and several stores that sell hookahs, tobacco, and accessories.