Charcoal is the spark of life in the world of hookah. Without heat we have no smoke and you’re just sucking air through a fancy pipe. These coals come in two major varieties: “Natural” and “Quick light“.
Let’s start off with one very basic pointer. Your charcoal needs to be fully lit before it goes anywhere near your bowl. Partially lit coals result in nasty flavors and harsh, toxic smoke smoke thanks to partial combustion and the release of the starter chemicals. Make sure the coals are fully lit and ashed over on all sides.
If you’re very industrious you can also make your own coals at home. Correct use of coals is a huge part of hookah heat management. Here are few more useful articles:
What are the Best Hookah Coals?
This is really a matter of opinion. Quick light coals are usually lit within 20 seconds and are more convenient. However they often add unwanted flavors and chemicals to the tobacco while costing more money. Natural coals take longer to light up but they are much better for the session than quick light coals in that they don’t add flavor or smell and last longer. Natural coals are generally the top choice for those smoking at home or in a place where they have access to a fire or stove. Coconut charcoal has become the standard over other forms of natural coals as they are uniform, reliable and pack a lot of heat into a smaller package.
Time for a little more detail.
Natural hookah coals contain no additional chemicals and require a prolonged heat source to light. These can come in two major categories. “Natural lump” has not been reformed and still retains the shape of the original wood. Second is reformed charcoal which takes crushed charcoal and forms it into a standardized shape to make for a more consistent and controllable product. Reformed charcoal can be made from hardwood, bamboo or coconut shells.
- Pros: Good quality natural charcoal does not add flavor to the smoke and burns very cleanly with less carbon monoxide. Less smell when lighting. Long lasting.
- Cons: They take a long time to light and require a constant heat source like a campfire or stove burner.
I have omitted natural lump charcoal as there are too many brands to list and they are practically all the same.
Coco Nara is made from compressed, carbonized coconut shells. Fairly expensive but very high quality. Long lasting and very clean. Very popular.
Coco Mazaya is a coconut charcoal made by Coconara. Cheaper than the original Coconara coals and in a slightly different shape in the form of a cube. Considered to be of the same quality as the original line but some people like one shape over the other.
Another coconut coal considered to be of mid range quality. Cheaper than some higher end coals but there is debate as to the ratio of quality vs cost.
A cube shaped coconut coal that is produced by Coconara. The cheapest of the coconara produced charcoals. High quality for the price. Rumors that these are being discontinued have been circulating. Considered to have a very high quality compared to their relatively low cost.
A coconut coal that has been released by Ultimatehookah.com. Very affordable. High quality. A bit smaller than some other coconut coals but they produce good heat for their size.
A brand of coconut charcoal that has been released by Hookah-shisha.com. Out of stock as of the most recent update to this article.
A large, cube shaped coconut charcoal widely used in Europe. About twice as large as the more standard coconut charcoal found in North America. These coals are hard to find in the US and have only recently been picked up by a few vendors.
A brand of compressed wood charcoal that is the product of Exotic Imports LLC. These coals have a large bar shape that is meant to be broken down to the size you need for your bowl. Newer version have come pre-scored with lines to make the bars easier to snap.
Exotica also produces a Japanese silvertab style charcoal.
Exotic Stellar 8.1
A bamboo charcoal produced by Exotica. Shaped similarly to the original Exotica coals in the form of bars.
Another popular brand in Europe. Made from compressed coconut charcoal these are considered to be high quality. Now being distributed in North America.
Social Smoke Coconut Coals
A good quality brand of coconut charcoal with the usual brick shape and size. Reasonably priced. The inclusion of a silica pack helps prevent humidity issues. Available in two differently sized packs. 16 pieces or 108 pieces.
100% coconut charcoal.
A 100% coconut charcoal made with no fillers and using sustainable sources for their coconut shells.
A Starbuzz product. Coconut charcoal with similar price, performance and shape to CocoNaras.
A Starbuzz product, this is a larger coconut charcoal known to have a very long burn time. Claims to burn for at least 2 hours.
Fantasia Air Flow
An oddly shaped charcoal designed to reduce surface contact between the coal and the foil. This is to improve airflow and reduce the occurrence of charcoal going out on one side. The effectiveness in this regard is questionable. Expensive. Quite large.
Chronic Hookah Natural
Produced for and distributed by Hookah John. Coconut charcoal. Moderately priced.
Produced by CocoTama and distributed by Hookah John. Claims to be the only coconut charcoal on the market that uses 100% coconut shells without filler and produced by the original makers of CocoNaras. Priced similarly to CocoNaras.
Quick Light Coals
Coated in easily ignited chemicals so that they light very quickly. I have also included silvertab coals in this portion of the list as they claim to be easier to light than purely natural charcoal.
- Pros: They start burning very fast in less than a minute. Some can easily be lit with a single match.
- Cons: They cost more than natural coals. Some of them add unwanted flavor to the tobacco. An unpleasant smell is released when lighting.
Belgian makes two kinds of coals. A reformed natural that comes in a 40mm disk and a quick light version that comes in 33mm and 40mm sizes.
Three Kings are the most commonly used quick light coals. Disk shaped and available in 33mm and 40mm.
A very fast lighting, disk charcoal best used outside because of how violently they light. Lots of smell when lighting but very clean smoking. A very coarse texture.
Social Smoke Silver Tab
A Japanese silvertab style charcoal branded for Socialsmoke.com. As with all silvertab coals you want to let these light fully and to the point where the silver coating is easily coming off.
Golden Coals are disk shaped, quick light coals with a very fine texture. not to be confused with Golden Canary.
Disk charcoal. Widely considered a bad brand that causes headaches and off flavors.
Golden Charcoal Canary Japanese
At one time considered to be the best hookah charcoal on the market. Produced in Japan. A silvertab style charcoal.
A Chinese reproduction of the Japanese Golden Charcoal. Lower quality and very cheap silvertabs.
A Japanese made charcoal in the form of tabbed bars. Considered by some to be second only to Golden Canary.
Al Fakher Quick Lights
Comparable to 3 Kings, a disk shaped QL of decent quality.
A brand of disk QLs. Only available in 33mm. Known to burn fast and hot.
Chronic Hookah Instant
An instant version of the popular Chronic Hookah charcoal. Coconut block charcoal coated in flammable chemicals. Easily lit with a pocket lighter. Strong smell when lighting and quite violent in their ignition.
Rayon November 6, 2018 at 2:34 am
Good reading and information. I often suffer from headaches after a session if I used quick light coals. I have tried quite a number of brands with the same results. What type of chemicals/ accelerants do the manufacturers use that can be the cause of these headaches?