Since the dawn of history, fire has been revered by humanity with near religious regard. According to the Greek myths, it was a tool stolen from the gods and given to humanity. When once fire was a mysterious phenomena, a source of fear and destruction for early humans, we’ve now tamed this immortal power for one of it’s most noble applications: smoking a hookah.
Just as fire depends on air for its survival, a hookah depends on air and fire to generate the flavorful smoke through your hookah. Air, heated by the charcoal, passes through the shisha warming it up, and travels down the shaft. The smoke is then drawn through the water, which filters and moistens the smoke before it travels through the hose to your delighted tongue. Since the air passes around the charcoal, it captures any extra flavors given off by the burning coal, so you’ll want to choose the type you use carefully.
A cursory glance at the market reveals a wide variety of hookah charcoals. Hookah coal is separated into two major groups: natural and quick light. Natural coals are typically composed of a single type of material – wood. The wood in natural coals come from several sources, such as lemmonwood, olive wood, or even coconuts, and undergoes very little processing. Unlike instant-light (or quick light) coals, natural coals require a steady external heat source to ignite into glowing embers. Some like to use commercially available electric charcoal heaters to start their natural coals, others simply use a pan over a hot stove. Whatever lighting method is used, natural coals are regarded as the cleanest burning coals available. They emit no smoke once ignited, and give off virtually no fumes or flavors that can contaminate the flavor of the shisha. Natural coals also burn at a more consistent temperature ideal for shisha tobacco. Instant or quick lighting coals are made of compressed carbon, and contain additional igniting ingredients. One must exercise some caution when selecting a quick-light coal to use- some brands use petrochemicals as catalysts that can create fumes that taste bad and may be hazardous. When selecting an instant lighting coal, make sure you choose one that uses all-natural ingredients, such as the Golden Coals. Managing the heat given off of the charcoal is considered the true artistry of hookah smoking. If there is too much heat, the top of the shisha will start to burn, creating harsh acrid smoke that tastes terrible. With too little heat, the shisha won’t heat up enough to impart the essence of the flavor and tobacco to the smoke, which will be thin with little flavor. On the next blog, we come to the final and most important element of hookah enjoyment – the enjoyment itself!
Don’t miss the previous installments of this blog, On The Pleasure of Hookahs II: Shisha of the Earth and On The Pleasure of Hookahs I