Following is the instruction on how to prepare a hookah the right way along with Hookah Smoking Tips on how to get the best out of your hookah.
Before we get started, remember: “A good hookah takes as long as a well done steak to make“. So don’t rush it.
First things first wash your hookah thoroughly. This gets the old tobacco smell and dirt (and coal ashes) out. Don’t ever use the old water in the hookah base.
Starting from the beginning, what makes up a hookah? Well all hookahs consist of the following:
- Tobacco Bowl
Hookahs typically vary in size from around 19” to as tall as over 6′. They can also range in type from the modern hookahs, featuring cool and interesting add ons like self sealing hose ports (for multiple hose hookahs) and screw in components (for better seals), to the more traditional hookahs.
There are also components of a hookah that are consumed components. These components consist of the tobacco itself, the foil and the coals.
Wash the hookah
You should have washed your hookah after you last used it. Wash it again to get all dust and dirt out of the hose, base, and bowl. For this use warm water and your hookah cleaning kit.
Fill the vase with water.
- Make sure you leave enough room in the vase for smoke and so you won’t have water bubbling into the hose.
- A good rule is to have just enough water in the base so that the end of the stem is submerged about 1.5 inches into the water.
- Never ad milk or dairy to your vase. It adds nothing to the smoke and will only cause problems. These problems can include a rotten milk smell in your hookah, ruined hoses, mold and foaming in the vase.
Place The Grommet On The Stem
Most hookahs come with a plastic or rubber seal which joins the vase and the stem. The grommets are essential to the function of a hookah as they keep everything airtight. Modern style silicone grommets offer the best seal. Some people use electrical tape to make a custom grommet in the perfect size.
Place The Tray On The Hookah
The tray is used to put extra coals on, ash the coals support the wind cover, hold coals in case they fall and for a place to keep your tongs. The tray should always go on before the bowl as most trays will not be able to fit over the bowl.
Put The Hose In The Hose Port
- Insert the shortest end of the hose into the hose port. A grommet is most often used here to ensure a tight seal.
- Some hookahs have more than one hose port. If some of the hose ports are not being used they will need to be plugged with a rubber stopper, available at most shops. Many modern style hookahs have autoseal ports which make stoppers unneeded.
Pack the bowl with tobacco
This is the most important step to ensure a smooth smoking experience:
- First, mix your tobacco thoroughly. You want each and every bit of the hookah tobacco going into the bowl to be evenly coated in flavoring and molasses.
- How tightly you pack the tobacco depends heavily on the style of bowl and type of tobacco you are using. As a general rule of thumb it’s best to fluff up the tobacco and drop it loosely into the bowl.
- Maintain at least 2 millimeters of distance between the top of the shisha and the bottom of the foil. This stops the tobacco to sticking to the foil when is burned which may add an off flavor to your smoke.
Place the aluminum foil on top of the bowl
- Cut the aluminum foil in a square shape about 2 inches larger than the bowl’s mouth.
- Don’t worry about shiny side or dull side up. It makes no difference.
- Place the foil atop the bowl and wrap it downward around the sides, pulling fairly tight to create a drum skin effect on top. The foil should be smooth and taught.
- Heavy duty foil is suggested as it regulates heat better than normal foil. It also sags less and maintains it’s tension better which is very important for funnel style bowls.
Put holes in the aluminum foil
- Use an object with a sharp tip such as pin, sharp tip pen.
- There are different hole patterns that you can use. Experiment with them and find the one that works the best for you and the bowl you are using.
- For a typical Egyptian bowl just start with a circle around the edge of the bowl and spiral inward.
- Funnel style bowls benefit greatly from 3 concentric rings of holes. One around the edge, one around the spire and one between those two.
- The more holes you put doesn’t necessarily mean more smoke. You have to strike a balance between the holes, coal, and type of tobacco to get the optimal amount and thickness of smoke.
- Be careful not to shred the foil. Using something with a sharp point will help avoid this.
- For quick light coal users: typically you’ll be lighting this coal with a lighter or match. Start by using the tongs to hold the coal, preferably somewhere far away from any other people or anything flammable. Sparks are going to fly. If you’re indoors, stand near a window or go outside. Light the coal with your lighter of choice by holding the flame to one corner of the coal. Wait for the coal to start sparkling and emitting smoke and pull the flame away. Allow the coal to finish sparking and smoking. The entire coal should be glowing orange. If it isn’t, blow on the coal until the still blackened parts have all turned orange.
- Read the Hookah Coals Guide for more information on coals.
Once this is complete, set the coal down on the foil and check again. On either side of the coal (where your tongs were), the coal should still be unlit. Blow on the coal until these portions are also lit. NEVER light the coal on top of the bowl. This will cause accelerant particles to get into the bowl and change the flavor of the tobacco.
- For natural coal users (ex. compressed coconut Coco Nara coals): light your coals on the stove (or on fire) until they are completely orange. Flip them while on the stove (or on fire) as necessary to ensure that the entire coal is glowing orange all the way around. Blow as necessary to ensure the coal lights properly. Do not light natural coals on a glass top stove as there is a high risk of cracking and marking the glass. Most people prefer a coil stove but a gas range stove works just as well with a little finesse.
Smoke the hookah
- Allow the bowl to heat up naturally. Trying to kick start the hookah taking hard pulls from it only increase the chance of burning the tobacco.
- A wind cover may be used to heat the bowl up more evenly.
- Take slow and well spaced out draws from the hookah. It’s not a race so sit back and relax.
Hookah Heat Management
Read our complete article on Hookah Heat Management.