By now you've pretty much finished putting together your hookah, and you've packed your bowl to the right level with your mix of choice. Now it's time to prepare for your session and start smoking some shisha.
Part 2: How to smoke a hookah
1. Cover the bowl with a screen or foil
If your bowl came with a screen, simply place the screen on top of your bowl. If you don't have a screen or prefer the traditional method of using a foil, you will have to make one. To do so, grab some aluminium foil and cut out a 250 mm x 250 mm square (approximately 10” x 10” for those who use the imperial system). Fold the square in half twice so that you're left with a smaller square a quarter of the original size (the extra layers will help support the weight of the charcoal and prevent the foil from sagging onto the mix). Be sure to press down the folds so that the layers are sitting close together. Then, position the foil on top of the bowl in the centre and press down the sides firmly so that the foil is taut on the bowl.
Holding the foil down taut with one hand and using a toothpick with the other, start to puncture the foil to create little holes about 5 mm equidistant to one another. Make sure the holes go right through all the layers of the foil. How many holes you make depends on many things including the size of the bowl and ideal smoking temperature for your setup. More holes equal more heat, so you'll need to experiment with what works best for you. With your foil or screen in place, fit the bowl over the rubber bowl grommet attached to the top of the hookah to complete assembling your hookah.
2. Choosing the hookah charcoal
Hookah charcoal (coal) can come in various shapes and sizes, as well as different lighting methods. Although they take a little bit longer to prepare, we recommend only using natural coals, as they're free from the harsh chemicals found in quick-light coals that can spoil the taste of the shisha tobacco. Firebrand Premium Coconut Shell Charcoal Fingers are a great choice, as they burn longer and cleaner than most coal options on the market. Also, the stick shape fits around chimneys better than charcoal cubes.
3. Light some hookah charcoal
When using natural coal, it's a wise investment to buy an electric hotplate for lighting the coal. You can always resort to lighting the coal on a gas or electric stovetop (avoid glass-top stoves), however the ash can be a pain to clean up depending on the design of the stovetop, and you don't want to risk the ash getting mixed into any food you might be preparing before you've had a chance to clean up.
How much coal you use is determined by the size of your bowl, and subsequently the size of the foil / screen above. You want the coal to sit evenly on top of the foil / screen so that heat is distributed equally to your shisha mix. You also want to cover as much area on top of the foil / screen so that the bowl heats up properly. For most bowls, 3 coal sticks or cubes are ideal. If you have a smaller bowl, opt for 2 sticks or cubes, and if you have a large bowl that can fit 4 without hanging over the sides, give it a shot. One thing to remember is that the coal should sit within the diameter of the bowl; there is no real benefit of burning more coal if your screen is a larger diameter than the bowl.
Using a pair of tongs, place the coal sticks or cubes on the electric hotplate for about 10 minutes. During this time it's a good idea to regularly turn the coals so that they light evenly. When the coals are glowing orange, you can transfer them to your foil / screen. Don't forget to turn off the electric hotplate after use!
4. Preheat the bowl
Position the coals towards the outer edge of the foil / screen, and leave for 5-10 minutes so that the bowl can warm up. As the shisha mix heats up it expands a little, and by allowing it to warm up gradually without drawing air through the mix your session will be much more enjoyable. Remember, all good things come to those who wait, and shisha is no exception.
5. Start off drawing gently
Okay, we're finally ready to start smoking shisha! When you first start drawing air through the mouth piece, don't try to draw too hard because it will result in the mix overheating and a harsh experience. Just breathe in naturally and in short bursts – after a few minutes, you can start smoking normally.
6. To inhale or not to inhale?
Inhaling shisha smoke (drawing the smoke into the lungs) is down to personal preference, and also what type of shisha you're smoking. Shisha tobacco contains nicotine which can make you feel sick if inhaled; it can also give you a nice rush when inhaled. On the other hand, shisha teabacco (such as Heaven Leaf teabacco) has no nicotine and is less likely to cause nausea when inhaled, although smoking newbies should start off slow and gradually inhale more of the smoke if they're feeling fine. With flavoured shisha, you still get to enjoy the taste without inhaling, so don't feel like you have to inhale. Also if you want to perform smoke tricks, the more smoke the better so don't inhale in this instance.
7. How long before changing bowls?
The average bowl will give you up to 45 minutes of smoking time if you've followed all these steps correctly. Make sure you flip/turn the coals every 15 minutes during the session to regulate the heat as best as possible and extend the bowl time.
8. Dispose of your coals properly
Last but not least, when you finish your session you need to dispose of your coals properly by making sure they're not a fire hazard. If the coal is not completely burned through you can drop the sticks/cubes into a cup of water to ensure that they're fully extinguished, then place them in a bin. If they've turned to ash, temporarily empty the ash into an ashtray and only dispose of the ash when it is fully extinguished.
We hope that this 2-part series has helped you learn how to correctly set up a hookah and enjoy the wonders of smoking shisha.