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Romancing The Smoke: A Beginners Guide to Loading the Perfect Hookah Bowl

If you're just tuning in to Romancing The Smoke, this is a blog following my journey to becoming a hookah know-it-all. If you're also a beginner, or a pro who wants to offer some advice, then I hope you'll follow along!
I decided that the best way to kick off this hookah education was to...smoke a hookah! Luckily, working at a hookah company, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a smoking sensei.I got together with Hookah Master Scott and told him to drop some knowledge on me - I wanted to know what was the most essential part of a successful hookah session. Hookah Master Scott assumed the lotus position, and with a face taut with wisdom he said: “Sometimes, when starting a journey, one must begin at the top of the mountain.”
Loosely translated, Master Scott was trying to tell me that preparing an A+ bowl is the key ingredient to attaining the best taste, the best smoke plumage, and just the best possible hookah experience. Up the mountain we go! Before we start with the bowl, go ahead and start heating your coals. This process will take about 15 minutes. For the average hookah, you’re going to need 2-4 coals, depending on your preference. There are two main kinds of hookah coals - quick light coals (which can leave an odd taste, but are very convenient) and natural coals. Master Scott suggested that we use Coco Nara Natural Hookah Charcoal; clean burning coal made from compressed cononut shells.
You can use a conventional oven stovetop to heat them, just place them directly on a burner set to ‘high’. Flip them once during the 15 minutes, they are done when the entire coal is lightly covered in gray ash. While that’s heating, let's go to the bowl. The bowl is the piece that is on the very top of the hookah, this is where you will load your shisha and will place your coals.
Once you’ve selected your shisha tobacco (a process that we’ll explore soon), take your washed and dried bowl and fill it with shisha until there is just a small space between the tobacco and the rim. You can use a shisha fork or another instrument to do this, since the shisha is very sticky, but generally it’s done by hand. It is important not to pack the shisha tight, it should be loosely arranged so that air can move throughout the bowl and maintain an even heat level. Next you’re going to place your metal hookah bowl screen over top of the bowl. If you don’t have a screen, then hookah foil will also work. Make sure that the foil is laid tight around the mouth of the bowl. When using hookah foil, you have to poke tiny holes in the foil to allow for the coals to evenly heat the shisha. Take a small pin and poke holes all across the tautly laid foil, making sure that there are plenty holes and that they’re evenly distributed. Hookah Bowl
Woo hoo! You’ve got yourself a loaded bowl! Now pop that baby onto your hookah, use your coal tongs to grab your coals from the stove (don’t forget to turn it off!) and place them evenly across the top of the foil. Sometimes it helps to heat up an additional coal and place it in your tray just in case you need to add a little extra heat during your session. I sat down with Master Scott, both of us in the lotus position this time, with the hookah between us. Before he handed me the hose, he closed his eyes and said, “A journey of a thousand hookahs begins with a single puff.”
Until next time, happy smoking! -Katie
To see tutorial videos on this subject, and others, check out our How-To Playlist on YouTube!

Comments (14) -

  • I must say I disagree with one of these directions. I prefer to overfill my bowl until it is over the top. Still packing lightly. I find that I get more smoke from overpacking
    • Good to know, Chris! From everyone I've talked to, they said that over filling the bowl will result in burned shisha (because it will be in direct contact with the foil). Have you experienced that at all? Maybe it depends on what brand you smoke or the type of bowl that you use?
  • I was told by a guy at a local smoke shop of mine that a great way to pack a bowl is to load the shisha along the wall of the bowl, leaving the center untouched. You guys think that's a good way? I was told it brings out more flavor and your session lasts longer. I've been doing it ever since and I can tell sometimes, but other times I don't even know. I just use a Vortex bowl most of the time now. Anyway, great guide for beginners!
    • Hey, Taylor! It is definitely a good idea to start loading the bowl around the edges first. Since the coals are supposed to sit on the edges of the bowl, you will want the shisha to be more densely gathered in that area (but still very loosely packed). I have been told to then put some shisha in the middle, but just enough to cover the area. I don't think you want it to be completely empty. But, like you said, if you use a Vortex bowl, then it doesn't matter anyway! Let me know if you hear different.
  • Katie, from my experience, it is safer to make them by the rules of not overfilling. It does seem certain types of shisha are more susceptible to burning (the drier varieties, Nakhla etc) Bear in mind different coals have different heat outputs, so this can also be a factor. Also sizing of holes can affect the probability, larger holes (with fewer in number) across the foil can produce hot spots increasing the chances it will burn. I personally will stick to the method of leaving a small gap, seems to smoke just as well but with a reduced risk of burning. Also if my coal causes my foil to sag slightly it adds as a bit of a buffer. No one wants burnt Cuban Mojito Frown
  • Bowls make all the difference in the world. As soon as you can, pick up a better bowl. Vortex or phunnel bowls are the natural next choice. But if you're like me and dont mind dropping a dime for a good smoke, grab a flip bowl.
  • The only bowl you have to "Lightly Pack" is the conventional bowl with the holes in the bottom. The Phunnel and the Crown bowl both are tightly packed, with certain foil hole patterns to make the air flow where you need it to most effectively.
  • As informed and well meaning as a lot of these comments are, it's important to remember that each shisha is different, and will work the best in a different bowl.

    A standard bowl will work with most tobaccos, whereas a tangiers bowl will work best with tangiers tobacco. Now hold up and don't jump in to tangiers right now! It's a process in itself to pack it and work it, and the nicotine will give a newbie smoker a rush to the head unlike any other!

    The most important thing to remember about making an A+ bowl, is that this is for YOU. You may have a friend sharing, or what have you, but this is YOUR shisha in YOUR bowl on YOUR hookah, everything should be about YOU (it's okay to be conceited in this regard). Find the methods you like best and work the best for you, and continue to use the methods you like to improve the session, it's personal, so make it yours.
    • Thanks for the sage advice, Alex! I like your styleSmile
  • I will never go back to a traditional bowl from a crown bowl. I wish you carried them here because I love this site and buy everything from you, except in this case. The ceramic bowls seem to have a much higher chance of burning or becoming harsh.

    With the Pyrex Crown Bowl there is little to no coal management because of how pyrex withstands heat much better than ceramic. I put 2 CoCo Nara on top and it is good to go after the first pull.

    I pack the bowl VERY tight and have never had a problem, usually lasts about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the shisha used. In order of session length  Shortest->Longest: Fantasia, Social Smoke, Starbuzz, Fusion, and a local blend from my buddy who owns the lounge in town lasts the longest.
  • Great advice! One tip I've learned is if you place the coals on the burner long enough for the coals to become lit or an orange glow it will still suffice. if you wait for them to become ashy on the burner, transfering them to the bowl will be messy, plus it will cause the coal to go out quicker. Also, you can get heaviest smoke If you completely cover the bowl with coals. Haven't tried lightly packing the bowl, I'll take that tip and see how it goes! Smile
  • Well I use Fantasia shisha, usually a very wet brand. And to answer your question Katie, no I have not had a problem with burning. I also usually use quicklight coal, which dont get as hot as natural. Also I dont pack the shisha into the bowl, I just fill it up more. It lets the heat get through just the same as packing it below the line.
  • Actually ur advice it's a good one I strongly believe u one has to know the amount of flavor u put in a bowl and areas u need to place them around the suface of the bowl,and again quick light coal helps makes it burn faster and enjoyable feel the sensation