How Long Does a Hookah Last?
Ah, yes, the age old question that scholars and philosophers have discussed and debated for thousands, nay, MILLIONS of years: How long does a hookah last?
Okay, so maybe it hasn’t been discussed for millions of years, but it’s definitely something we get asked relatively consistently so we’re here to help do our best to answer it!
So...how long does a hookah last?
The answer is: It’s complicated. If I had to put a number on it, the average hookah session lasts approximately 45 minutes to one hour, but it really is a little more complicated than that.
There are so many different factors at play when preparing a hookah that can change how long your hookah will smoke for. These factors include:
We will explore all these different variables so you know what effects they can have on your session.
Bowl Choice: Does Size Matter?
The bowl (sometimes referred to as the “head”) plays a large part in how long your session will last. Bowls come in all different sizes and styles, so we’ll be diving into how these can affect the length of a hookah session.
First things first, does size matter? YES. The size of your hookah bowl can absolutely determine how long you’re able to smoke for. Generally speaking, a smaller bowl will hold less shisha tobacco while a bigger bowl will hold more.
A bowl that holds less tobacco, such as the Swift bowl, can smoke for a shorter amount of time than a bowl that holds more tobacco, such as the Chubbs phunnel bowl. This is because, in those smaller bowls, there is less tobacco to smoke. If there’s less tobacco to smoke, the session will be shorter.
This same logic can also be applied to larger bowls! A larger bowl holds more tobacco, so the session can last longer.
Hookah Bowl Shapes & Designs
While size definitely plays a part in how long your hookah session can last, the “style” of bowl will also have an effect!
When talking about bowls, there are three main styles to look at. There are traditional “Egyptian” style bowls, “Vortex” style bowls, and “Phunnel” style bowls.
When we say an “Egyptian” style bowl, we are talking about the old school style designs that you would find on a Khalil Mamoon hookah. Often made of clay, these bowls will have several smaller holes that sit in the bottom of the bowl.
You would pack the tobacco over the holes in the bottom, taking care not to block those holes. While these bowls are definitely solid options, the holes being in the bottom of the bowl can cause your session duration to be diminished.
Why you might ask? Well I’ll tell you dear reader! Shisha tobacco contains liquid ingredients, such as honey, molasses, glycerin, and flavoring. When putting this juicy tobacco directly over holes, gravity will take hold and a lot of that flavoring juice will start to drip down through the bowl into the hookah and base.
If that flavor juice is in the hookah or base, you know where it isn’t? In your bowl! If there’s less flavoring and juice that stays in the bowl, there will be less to smoke and could cause your session to end up being shorter or not taste as flavorful as expected.
Knowing and understanding this, we can move into the other styles of bowls I mentioned: the “Vortex” style and the “Phunnel” style.
Vortex bowls and Phunnel bowls are actually very similar in design with just a few minor differences, so we will be discussing these two bowls together.
With the “Vortex” style, rather than having those smaller holes at the bottom of the bowl, these actually contain a raised center “spire” with holes around the side of said spire. These holes sit a little higher in the bowl allowing them to not be directly underneath the shisha tobacco.
Because the holes sit higher in the bowl and not directly under the shisha, the flavoring in your shisha tobacco won’t drip down into your hookah or base. All of that delicious flavor remains right there in your bowl, allowing the session to be more flavorful for longer.
As I mentioned previously, “Phunnel” style bowls are very similar to the “Vortex” style. The main difference is that, in a “Phunnel” bowl, the raised center “spire” has one large hole in the very top instead of several smaller holes in the side. There are different sizes or gauges of openings on Phunnel bowls that can play a part in the air flow of your session.
Much like the “Vortex” style bowl, the “Phunnel” bowls allow the shisha flavoring to remain in the bowl (rather than dripping into your hookah), allowing for a longer lasting, more flavorful session.
Shisha Tobacco! You Gotta Have it.
Now that we’ve covered how your bowl can affect how long your hookah lasts, let’s move into how what you put in your bowl will affect the length of your session. That’s right, we’re talking shisha tobacco!
When talking about shisha tobacco in terms of how it can affect the length of your session, there are two main things to consider: juice content and Blonde Leaf vs. Dark Leaf.
Let’s start with the juice content!
As mentioned previously, shisha tobacco contains several liquid ingredients including: honey, molasses, glycerin, and flavoring. When smoking hookah, you shouldn't actually combust the tobacco leaves themselves. The clouds and flavor come from heating up those liquid ingredients and turning them into vapor/smoke.
Knowing this, you can probably start to see the importance of juice content in your bowl. In general terms, if there is more juice in your shisha then there will be more potential for the session to last longer. This is because there is more of the main cloud and flavor producing ingredients. Juicier shisha = more flavor = longer sessions.
The opposite can be said for drier shisha tobacco! In general, drier tobacco (such as Nakhla) has less flavor juice in the shisha. If there is less of that cloud and flavor producing juice, there will be less of it to smoke, therefore your session will not last as long as if you were smoking something a bit juicier.
Just a quick note about juice content: there is such as thing as too much juice in the shisha. If there is too much liquid/juice in the bowl, the heat of the charcoal can cause that juice to end up boiling and burning, causing your hookah to taste bad and/or harsh. So just remember, while the flavor and clouds (generally speaking) come from the juice content in the shisha, there is such a thing as too much.
Battle Royale: Blonde Leaf vs. Dark Leaf Tobacco
When looking at the different types of shisha tobacco, there are two main types to consider: blonde leaf shisha and dark leaf shisha.
Let’s start with the most common, and arguably the most well known type of shisha tobacco: blonde leaf!
“Blonde leaf” tobacco is a term used to describe brands such as Social Smoke, Starbuzz, and more. Blonde leaf blends will usually contain a tobacco leaf that is lighter in color and contains lower levels of nicotine. Depending on the brand, you will most likely see the tobacco cut up into larger, thicker pieces.
When packing blonde leaf shisha, you will always want to make sure the tobacco is just sprinkled in the bowl and not packed down tight. You will want it to be “fluffy” and leave plenty of room in between the leaves to allow for air to pass through and allow the shisha to be completely cooked.
With “dark leaf” tobacco, there are several key differences. Most obvious at first is going to be the actual color of the shisha. Instead of the lighter, “blonde” color of blonde leaf shisha, dark leaf shisha will be much much darker. A VERY dark brown or even black color tobacco will be found in dark leaf shisha.
Dark leaf blends are also typically cut MUCH finer than the blonde leaf stuff. Rather than those larger, thicker cuts of tobacco, dark leaf goes with the thinner, finer cut. Along with the specific leaf used, the finer cut of the tobacco causes it to be much more sensitive to heat and typically requires a different packing method than blonde leaf.
For this type of shisha, you would need to “dense pack” the shisha into the bowl. This means that, unlike blonde leaf, you will want to pack that tobacco down into your bowl super tight. You do this to help regulate the heat that gets to the actual shisha so you don’t end up burning this more sensitive tobacco.
But how does all of this affect how long the hookah lasts?
Well I’ll tell you, dear reader!
Due to the “cut” of tobacco and the packing method required for blonde leaf tobacco, blonde leaf blends will not typically last as long as dark leaf blends. Additionally, these blends are typically more resistant to heat than dark leaf blends, so end up being smoked with higher heat on the bowl. This is great for cloud output, but the more heat you put on the bowl the less amount of time it will be able to last (typically speaking).
Dark leaf blends, such as Tangiers, Trifecta Dark, or Azure Black, can actually end up lasting a much longer amount of time than a blonde leaf flavor. Due to the finer cut of tobacco and the packing method, you are packing quite a bit of shisha down into your bowl and leaving fewer pockets for airflow. The more shisha you put in the bowl, the more potential for longevity you will have.
Another key factor with dark leaf shisha is that it is heat sensitive. It all depends on your smoking preference, however most average dark leaf smokers end up using a lower heat output on their bowls by either using less charcoal or smaller charcoal.
The low heat output that gets applied to a dark leaf tobacco is definitely a reason for increased longevity. I mean think about it. If you’re “cooking” the tobacco at a lower heat, the tobacco isn’t going to burn/get harsh too quickly. The lower heat allows the juice and flavor to be cooked off of the tobacco leaf in a slower amount of time, allowing your session to go for longer.
Managing Your Heat Output
While everything we have talked about so far is important, heat management, as it relates to the longevity of your hookah session, is arguably the most important factor. It is also one of the most difficult to talk explain!
When you hear the words “heat management,” your mind should automatically be thinking about the hookah charcoal! The heat produced by the charcoal and how you manage it can be one of the main variables that will make or break your hookah session.
What makes heat management more difficult to talk about? Well, everything really. There are so many different products on the market that affect your heat output that it can make it difficult to really nail down the perfect balance. For example, different charcoal brands will have different heat outputs, will last for different amounts of time, and can affect your session in different ways.
Additionally, products such as wind covers, screens, and heat management devices will also have an effect on how your hookah smokes and how long it lasts.
What Are My Hookah Charcoal Options?
With charcoal, the two main options for styles are the “quick lighting” charcoal and the “natural” charcoal. Quick lighting charcoal contains an accelerant that allows you to light the coals with a normal flame lighter while natural coals require the use of a charcoal burner to light.
“Quick light” charcoal tend to be lower in heat and ash more quickly than the natural charcoal options. This means that the quick light charcoal will put a lower amount of heat on your bowl but also end up burning out more quickly.
“Natural” charcoals are typically made of compressed coconut shell but can also be made of compressed wood. Broadly speaking, these natural charcoals put out a higher amount of heat than their quick light counterparts. They also do not ash as quickly, so the charcoal itself will end up lasting a little longer.
The type of charcoal that you decide on, whether it be quick light or natural, will definitely have an impact on how long your session lasts. That being said, the amount of charcoal you use on the bowl, where you place them, and how often you change them will also affect your session.
If you pile a whoooole bunch of charcoal on top of a bowl, there is going to be too much heat on the shisha. While the clouds might be awesome for a short time, the flavor will burn out rather quickly due to the shisha getting cooked too quickly.
On the other hand, if you don’t put enough charcoal on your bowl, the shisha will not heat up enough to allow the tobacco and flavoring to cook properly, giving you weak flavor and whispy clouds. That being said, putting low heat on the bowl does stretch out its potential to smoke for a much longer amount of time, albeit with weak flavor and weak clouds.
Finding a good charcoal balance is key to getting the most out of your session.
Aside from the charcoal, there are a variety of devices/products than can enhance or affect your session. Products such as a wind cover help protect your charcoal from wind, allowing them to burn for longer. A wind cover will also help concentrate the heat from the charcoal which will end up giving you a higher heat output on your bowl. Using a wind cover can help you learn to regulate your heat and prolong your hookah session.
Are There Any Tools That Can Help Extend Your Session?
And finally, we get to a relatively newer category of products called “heat management devices,” otherwise known as an “HMD.” HMDs, such as the Kaloud Lotus, Phoenix HMD, and Starbuzz Nar HMD, actually replace the aluminum foil on your bowl. The device itself actually sits directly on top of the shisha, no foil required.
These HMDs have a couple of beneficial effects to your session. These devices were designed to move the charcoal further away from the tobacco while simultaneously heating the tobacco up completely evenly, much like how an oven works. The shisha gets cooked thoroughly and evenly, and with the charcoal being further away from the tobacco, the flavor will ultimately taste a lot cleaner.
These HMDs were also designed to be wind covers as well! On top of the benefits listed above, these devices will also protect your coals from wind, allowing them to last longer. Longer lasting charcoal provides better potential for a longer lasting session.
Heat management devices take a lot of the “guess work” out of heat management, making it easier to manage the charcoal on your bowl. Due to the design of the HMD, you may not even have to touch your charcoal once you put it in the bowl! The HMD will help keep everything regulated so you don’t have to worry about it as much.
Some hookah smokers believe that an HMD takes away a lot of the “control” of the charcoal as opposed to smoking with foil, and therefore prefer foil. Many hookah smokers who use foil like to micromanage their coals in order for them to have more control over how their session smokes and how long it smokes for.
Others believe that HMDs remove some of the more difficult aspects of smoking a hookah, allowing you to get great flavor and a longer lasting session without having to worry about all the “fuss” of moving your coals around.
“Who is right?” you may be asking. Well that is kind of tricky, friend. Neither of them are right! Or...both of them are?
That brings us to our final, and most important point.
Personal Preference Is KEY
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every hookah smoker is different and every hookah session is different. Hookah is a mix of both science and art, but it’s honestly mostly just art.
Everybody has their own personal definition of what they consider a good “hookah session.” Some people like super hot bowls, some people like very little heat, some like smaller bowls, some like dark leaf rather than blonde leaf.
And in terms of our topic today, some people like super long, marathon hookah sessions while others like quick, 30 minutes sessions. What may be a good length session for you may be entirely too long for someone else.
So let’s go back to the main question of this blog: How long does a hookah last? Like I mentioned above, the average session usually lasts between 45 minutes to one hour. But hopefully you now understand what I meant when I said “it’s a little more complicated than that.”
There are so many variables in hookah that allow you to create your own ideal session that it makes it impossible for someone to definitively say how long a hookah should last, or can last.
With all the different preferences out there for hookah, I’m sure that there will be someone out there reading this and thinking of all the different ways I’m wrong. So take anything I say here with a grain of salt because maybe my sessions are different than yours.
With so many aspects of hookah to explore, we always recommend experimenting, getting creative, and finding your ideal hookah session. And remember, the most important thing in hookah is that YOU enjoy it.
It’s YOUR bowl, YOUR hookah, YOUR shisha, so as long as YOU enjoy your sessions, that’s all that really matters.
TWO PUFF TONY