Whether you call it shisha, mo’assel, or tumbak, it’s all fodder for your hubble bubble. Peoples worldwide have cultivated, praised, hoarded, and prized tobacco for millenia.
Shisha arrived in Egypt in it’s earliest form, tombak, by the Ottoman empire*. Tombak, also spelled tumbak, is dried tobacco leaves that require soaking before smoking. According to one popular tale, a tobacco enthusiast, while enjoying dessert with molasses, decided to mix his tombak with molasses before smoking it. He discovered that the addition of molases lent a pleasant taste to the tobacco as it simmered, and it smoked more smoothly. The popularity of this form of tobacco spread quickly, and it wasn’t long before people begin adding spices and fruit oils to create moassel as it is smoked today.
The molasses and honey used to make shisha is a natural preservative that keeps the tobacco fresh. An unopened packet of shisha tobacco will be smokeable for at least 2 whole years – possibly more! After opening, shisha will stay smokeably fresh for at least 6 months, depending on the care invested in storing it. Shisha should always be protected from air, light, and temperature extremes. Many shishas now come in self-sealing jars, and some people like to store their tobacco in tupperware or ziplock-style baggies. Frequent smokers (such as myself) may find that the plastic wrappings of the shisha adequate protection if wrapped tightly enough.
Unlike cigarette tobacco, which is commonly adulterated with industrial chemicals and artifical additives, true moassel and shisha is comprised of only natural substances. While most commercial shisha uses washed tobacco, some brands, such as Nakhla or Tangiers use unwashed tobacco. Unwashed tobacco has a more pronounced tobacco flavor – closer to the taste of cigars and pipes – and contains more nicotine than unwashed tobacco. Shisha tobacco differs from cigarette and cigar in another important respect – it isn’t burned. While cigarette and cigar tobacco is incinerated at high temperatures, shisha is “simmered” at a temperature several hundred degrees lower. Some studies indicate that the temperature of the tobacco has an important effect on the tar created; many believe that the lower the temperature, the fewer dangerous compounds are created**.
Contemporary shishas are available in a wide range of flavors. In addition to traditional fruit flavors, some brands have began producing shishas flavored with coffee, liqueur (like Starbuzz’s Irish Cream) – even deserts like pumpkin pie and sweet drinks like horchata (a rice milk drink with a hint of cinnamon). No two flavors of shisha taste alike. Many brands produce apple or double apple (considered to be one of the most classic flavor) although each brand’s apple flavor will be unique. Part of the fun of hookahs is exploring the boquet of available tastes, and learning more about yourself and your personal preferences in the process. Hookah enthusiasts love to experiment with more than one flavor at a time. For example, almost every fruit flavored shisha will mix wonderfully with some mint shisha in the same bowl. Another popular combination is Romman’s chocolate shisha mixed with another fruit flavor, like strawberry – it tastes like chocolate covered strawberries!
Aside from the pleasure of taste, smoke itself must have an interesting connection to humans. People of past generations couldn’t have helped but associate the unhurried plumes with their combustive birth: where there was smoke, there was warmth, light, society. How does one explain the dreamy requiescence that watching clouds elicits? Who hasn’t marveled at the spume of smoke after a particularly smooth pull on a hookah? Of course, you can’t have prodigal smoke without the fecund fire; don’t miss the next segment in this blog: Fire and Air
This way for the first segment: On the Pleasure of Hookas Part One