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A Winos Guide to Smoking Shisha

by Tatum Vayavananda I enjoy the opportunity to write for Hookah-Shisha.com. I enjoy being able to express myself and let my ideas, rants and raves run free into cyberspace. However, I have to admit; I have a secret agenda. Yep, all this writing, ranting and raving is not only for sheer joy, but I want to get a message of my own out, for my own greedy purposes; I want people to appreciate, enjoy and think about shisha. I am heavily involved and immersed in the wine culture. We “winos” drink wine differently than you “normals” do. We sit around and talk about how it might have been made, what it makes us think about, and why the producers might have made it a particular way. We argue about aromas and flavors, discuss history and tradition and spent countless hours reading, learning and growing. To you, we are dorks and nerds, but to the wine world, we are connoisseurs and oenophiles (which means a wine appreciator). But if wine tastings, knowledge and certifications have taught me anything, it is that almost anything can be appreciated for what it is; where it’s from and what it tastes like, from delectable cuisine, to a perfectly-aged cigar, to an exquisite bowl of shisha. So, if you will, allow me to taste, talk and think about shisha the way I would with wine. Please indulge me as I take you through steps that will help you refine your taste and your knowledge of your own palate, and help you fully achieve the full flavor components of your shisha. With these skills, you will be able to more intricately describe and review shisha flavors, and find out how your palate, or your “pal,” and you work. First, let’s discuss what we see and feel. When you take your tobacco out from its jar, how does it feel? Is it sticky or just moist? Is it juicy or dry? Observe the cut of the shisha, whether it is long strands, short strands, mushy, full of stems or stemless. What color is it, Caramel, pinkish/purplish, brown, or clay? Is it washed or unwashed? Do you know what kind of shisha it is? Where was it grown? Was it shipped from Egypt, or was it grown right here in the United States? Cigar aficionados do this before every smoke. Tobacco is a plant, and the way it comes to you can be a sign of how much care and attention to detail the grower put into their product. Cigar tasters look at the leaf, the shape and size of the cigar as well as any discrepancies in the wrapper. Now, there’s no wrapper for shisha, but you can also look at the package of the shisha. Did it come to you moist or did it come bone-dry? Were there holes in the package? Leaks? How is the container? Was it cardboard, aluminum tins or plastic jars? The look might not be of much importance, but it is definitely worth note! There are a variety of different types of shisha. To my knowledge there are tobamel, usually sweet, made with honey, ma’sal, honeyed as well, such as Nahkla, tumbak, a Turkish tobacco, usually lacking in sweeteners or flavor, and jarak which contains fruits or aromatic oils to provide sweet or fruity flavors. If anyone knows of anymore, please let me know! Furthermore, different companies flavor their shisha with different methods. Some rely on artificial flavors and sweeteners, while some stay away, opting for more flowery scents or aromatic oils. Challenge yourself to try these different types and note their differences and similarities, as well as your likes and dislikes. Those familiar with wine tastings will know that smelling is a huge part of wine appreciation. This is because the scent and the taste are very much connected. Have you ever smelled a delicious meal before you enjoyed it? The smell of a savory meal can remind your senses of what it will taste like. This in turn gives you cravings for the same delectable flavor. The scent of your wine, or in our case, the shisha, will very much affect the way we will taste it. Smelling our shisha is a preview into what’s to come. So, breathe deep. If you’re smoking pineapple shisha, how does it compare to real or canned pineapples? Do you sense any chemical flavors? How strong is the flavor, and how pungent is the scent? Does it breeze out of the jar right when you open it? Is the smell displeasing to you? These are things you should think about as you take your primary whiffs at your shisha. It will help create a flavor profile in your mind for later, when you taste it. What other flavors does it remind you of? Honey, molasses, candles? Any description is fair game. In wine, common descriptions for a Sauvignon blanc are pineapples, hay, sweaty socks, minerals and rocks and even cat urine! Big, robust Brunellos are often noted for their scents of dirt, tobacco and cigars, cedar wood, oak, and barn yards! As you can see, when I say “anything is fair game,” I mean it. When you pack your bowl, take notice of how you pack it. What kind of bowl are you using, a Vortex, Phunnel bowl, Egyptian bowl? Does it have a coating on it, or is it just clay? Are you packing it extra loose, or did it turn out to be a bit tight? How are you poking your holes? Are you using a thumbtack, a tooth pick or a knife to poke it? By making little observations in how we prepare your hookah experience we can create “muscle memory” if you will, to create the perfect smoking experience. Think of it as “guess and check.” In this manner, you will be able to figure out how your shisha, tobacco and coals behave. This is the only way to become “one” with the shisha.  Haha, just kidding! Did I lose you yet? Haha, well if you’re asleep by now, it’s probably because thinking like a wine connoisseur is hard! But if you take the time to fully indulge yourself; this is a great way to appreciate what you smoke. In my next post, we will delve into the best part, the smoking experience. So stay tuned! You will find that shisha does not just have to be something you do at parties; you might find that shisha is something that you can savor, enjoy and relax with, just like a fine glass of wine or a delicious cigar. So until next time Hookah friends, keep thinking about what you’re smoking, why you’re smoking and how happy it makes you. Cheers!

Comments (2) -

  • I completely agree.  Taking time to really think about the flavor and the smoke as well as other qualities of the shisha make for a more satisfying smoke.  In a party situation, most people probably only care about whether it goes well with their beer or alcoholic beverage of choice.  Really taking in every little perception about the shisha helps one to appreciate it more and find out what makes hookah so enjoyable.
  • I tend to agree. But as for all things there is a place and tim. I think that it is equally important to be able to enjoy a "party" hookah where you don't care about all these things and just want to have thick smoke that doesn't fight with your beer.

    Therefor I order a new "flavour" set from a different brand every now and then to keep exploring everything that's out there, but I also have a larger bowl of "whatever" that goes for any occasion where the hookah just isn't the center piece of the evening.